She has Diabla in her veins. In fact, we can even see it in her last name. An interdisciplinary professional and with a degree in Arts, Alejandra Gandía-Blasco is the designer and creative director of Diabla. She is also the creative and project director of our catalogue &mdashdownload it here if you still haven’t had the chance to explore it&mdash. It is for this reason that, page by page, we are able to glimpse her passion for landscape photography and experimental and abstract art. We enter into the inspiring universe of creative freedom, travels and dreams that is her life.
Let’s talk to Alejandra on what moves and inspires her. On not being afraid to combine the antagonistic, to live in the outdoors and shake up the status quo. And maybe, even reveal this ´je ne said quoi´ that emits from every spark in Diabla.
Diabla’s new catalogue celebrates the beauty of less known places and extreme landscapes, real in spite of looking invented. In a year where travel has been particularly difficult, have you achieved what appeared to be impossible, that we can see the latest launches of the brand all over the planet? How did the idea come about?
Perhaps this is precisely why, as in the literature of Homer, Jules Verne, Joseph Conrad… it arises from the illusion of the journey. It is an exercise of imagination. We imagine ourselves there, even if we cannot be there at the moment, to mimic those breathtaking natural landscapes and feel that sense of freedom in the open air, unrestricted, in connection with their wild beauty. A beauty, in some cases, so exuberant that it seems like science fiction.
Being an outdoor brand, one of the most surprising things about the catalogue is that it devotes as much weight to the spring and summer season as it does to autumn and winter. What does the passing of the seasons represent for Diabla?
Time passes and the sun does not stop moving around the Earth, life carries on according to the cycle of nature that we all form a part of. If the days last 24 hours and each year lasts 365 days until we stop counting, why not enjoy the outdoors 365 days a year, with the same intensity, hot or cold? This is where Diabla's inspirational proposals come from. It is more a question of adapting to the circumstances, leaving the comfort zone that characterizes the 21st century, accepting those contrasts of temperature, darkness and light, and other sensations associated with each season depending on the place on the planet.
For Diabla, the passing of the seasons could represent, in its own way, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This ode to life in which each season represents the appropriate tempo, accompanied by verse that describes the emotions associated with each moment of the year, however hard they might seem. Even to winter he dedicated this verse composed for an allegro: “We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling. Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up. We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights”.
For the new Diabla campaigns we wanted to compose our own soundtracks for the 4 seasons but we lacked time and resources.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the creation of this catalogue? Which part of the process did you enjoy the most?
The biggest challenge has been to give sense and order to these proposals that are so different from what is usually seen in furniture advertising, since, in short, we publish design furniture. We had never designed a furniture catalogue like this before, but it was a challenge that Diabla could take on.
To be understood, the concept has to be worked very well throughout the catalogue. It is a working tool for our sales managers and agents to share with customers all over the world, so its concept and story must be based on authenticity and be easy to understand, straightforward. The content, editorial work and layout of each page must contribute to make the result as attractive as possible.
In this sense, collaborating with the design studio P.A.R. has really helped us in giving it shape and creating our own graphic language for each season &mdashVivaldi's 4 seasons, with their marvelous compositions and verses dedicated to each time of the year are an inspiration. The cultural journalist Tachy Mora, with whom we have had a very good relationship for many years, has elaborated the written content.
We have enjoyed and learned a lot from each other during the whole process, including our in-house team of designers, Maria Coll and Maria Bellod.
In which images or concepts of the catalogue is your creative identity most visible?
Diabla's images and catalogue have been created with almost total creative freedom, they are dreamlike journeys to real landscapes that stand out for their natural exuberance. They seem fictitious, almost magical realism. For me it is a sublimation of the enjoyment of outdoor life and the nature that surrounds us. I love nature and the experience of travelling, especially on foot and by train, the literature of classical and contemporary authors... I really enjoy this physical and mental journey.
We have heard you say a few times, that for you, art and design are different but also the same. Has the creation of a project such as this, or even the artistic presence of some of the collections, like GRILL, forced you to delve deeper into this idea? At the end of the day, do you choose art or design?
I believe there exists a bridge between art and design that you don’t cross because you find limitations on the way. In design the functionality is clear, it is designed for a purpose. Art can be useless on a functional level, but for me it is viscerally emotional and can be abstracted and open to infinite interpretations: it is not used, it is contemplated, it shakes you up on the inside.
In any case, more and more emotional objects are being designed, and design no longer concerns only the creation of industrial products but rather ideas applied to all kinds of interdisciplinary processes. In this sense, the designers Alberto and Edu, from MUT studio, are very emotional. Personally, I think their work is halfway between art and design, and GRILL is proof of that.
At the end of the day, it’s all about emotions.
In some of the images, starring these swimmers who seem to reincarnate the soul of Esther Williams, we see reminiscences of Slim Aarons, Gray Malin... are we right? Can you reveal some of your most recurrent artistic influences?
Yes, although we do not know if the models in our photos have her same lung capacity. I did not know the work of Slim Aarons and Gray Malin, thank you for introducing me to them! The truth is that we photographed the first female swimmer more than 15 years ago in GANDIABLASCO for a collection of my father's work. The inspiration to define DIABLA's identity came from that photo.
My artistic influences are very varied, my tendency towards nostalgia and introspection always leads me to more romantic and decadent or overly conceptual authors, but I also identify with more expressive and colorful works of abstract art. I have a penchant for artists who in their socio-cultural context brought about a radical change and provided a unique point of view, even if they were treated as madmen. I admire that attitude.
But without going that far, I feel that the inspirational influences one can have come from any cultural manifestation, from the people you learn or unlearn from, from your parents because of how they have educated you, from travelling and observing different habits and customs, from living the streets of different cities. You find it in yourself, on your walks or in the middle of nature.
Biophilia, one of the macro trends in design that will be most evident throughout this year, can be seen on every page. For Diabla, what is nature? Romance, commitment, escape, inspiration...?
Nature is romance, inspiration, commitment and a way to escape for Diabla and for every human being, whether we are conscious of it or not. We have an emotional ancestral link with the nature that surrounds us. Although it seems that lately, due to climate change and the new reality we live in, there seems to be a wave of greenwashing in the sector.
But we want to go much further. In reality, it is a question of being and being present in the psychological and existential sense, there is always something romantic and contemplative about it. Nature in its pure state is always an inspiration, it is a source of life. If you abstract, they are shapes, vivid colors of very subtle nuances that follow the order of the ecosystem. Not all the leaves of a tree are the same, even if they look the same.
Diabla respects and admires nature, it is inspired by it. Today is it not a totally sustainable brand in the literal sense of the word, although the durability of the designs that we offer is definitely contributing to it. We are in the process of incorporating recycled materials and improving processes in accordance with environmental policies.
You usually define Diabla as a brand of nomadic spirit and even experimental. The images of the catalogue represent well this idea. Can you tell us more about Diabla’s character traits?
Imagination is bold, and Diabla's attitude allows us the license to push the boundaries between spaces and ways of living them. The answer lies in the type of designs we produce: they tend to be light products, with sober lines, eclectic but never extravagant color schemes, portable, suitable for a nomadic lifestyle and rather small spaces, although they can be mixed to furnish larger spaces, such as hotels and contract projects.
As for Diabla as an experimental project, we do not stand out for experimenting with new materials but rather with the attitude transmitted by the brand and the images that define it, imagining and exploring new uses and contemporary spaces in which to place our designs.
Why do you think Diabla pieces move so well between antagonistic concepts such as inside-outside, hot-cold, real-imaginary...?
Because they give you the freedom to move them and use them wherever you want. They have the physical characteristics to adapt them to different spaces and uses, to make them yours as you like. Some are larger and others smaller, depending on the type of furniture or complement. You will always like one combination more than another, but in the end, they are fairly sober basics that give that versatility.
I think Diabla's identity transcends the fact that it is a brand that publishes designer furniture. It has such a marked personality that it transmits emotions through the products that are the protagonists of its imaginary and, to do this, you have to dare to dream, to move between antagonistic concepts, to suggest and inspire connections.
Although the aesthetic and visual strength of all that Diabla envelops us could blind us, we can guess that all that sensuality is rooted in ideas and experiences. Explain to us why Diabla also has that more reflective side of rethinking objects and the reality that surrounds us.
Diabla is sensual in its own way. I think sensuality appeals to the emotions to a degree of aesthetic and conceptual sensibility that goes beyond tastes and customs. Sensuality is a universal language that intensifies the moments of life, transcends them and is capable of changing acquired habits, making us reflect and rethink the objects that surround us from a positivism different from the ordinary. I believe that this emotional attachment to objects can awaken our conscience and improve our consumption habits, make us more responsible, value quality over quantity, and distinguish responsible design from that which is not.
You may remember a loved one by the armchair where he or she used to sit and read the newspaper on Sundays. Even if that armchair no longer exists, you remember that person sitting in it. The object disappears and the emotion, the memory, remains.
If you had to choose, where and when in the year would you escape to with Diabla, and which of the latest releases?
I think I would escape to Greenland with the penguins, sitting in one of the ARP armchairs wrapped in a merino wool blanket enjoying the glacial landscape. The cold clears the mind.
In addition to being creative director, you are the author of several collections that appear in the catalogue: PLISY, PLISY UP and VALENTINA. Would you be able to confess which of them is your fav?
I don't consider myself a designer in the strict sense of the word, I'm not interested in designing beautiful objects. For me, designing Valentina was an exercise in synthesis. When you learn to understand the limitations and cost overruns involved in making, for example, an armchair, and you are aware of the saturation of products on the market, you realize the uselessness of many superfluous ornaments that don't add anything substantial to the product.
The armchair I designed for Diabla is an example of designing with the minimum using the simplest possible structure and giving value to the cheaper and less valued parts of a product. In the case of Valentina, we made the cushions the real protagonists of the piece. The collection is made up of different pieces of furniture manufactured with the same system. It won an award at the Ibero-American Design Biennial, held at Matadero Madrid, precisely because of its simplicity. It is honest and simple, I like it.
With Plisy and Plisy Up the processes have been different. In short, with them I wanted to rescue an object that is very present in the collective memory, the pleated fabric lamps that we have all had at home, translated with outdoor materials and portable LED technology. It is an object with an emotional weight that particularly interests me.
I wouldn't know which of the two is my favourite.
At the moment we have learned that having an outdoor space at home is a treasure. What advice would you give us to learn how to make the most of it?
Knowing how to enjoy the small pleasures of life, the people we love, the places, objects and moments that transmit wellbeing, mixed feelings or even discordance, why not. Happiness is unstable. If not, we already know that imagination is free and has no limits, nor does it take up any space.