With "a perfect sense of reality." Insights into the famous Vista Alegre porcelain and glass manufactory.
iF spoke with Senior Designer and Creative Director Alda Tomás on the responsibility of the brand for creating artistic and tailor made products and its ability almost to innovate and compete in new fields of the Portuguese and international market.
Vista Alegre Atlantis operates in areas as diverse as tableware, decorative porcelain pieces, hotelware, chinaware, ovenware, crystal and handmade glass pieces, as well as retail and distribution networks.
As she celebrates a decade of work for Vista Alegre, we spoke with Alda Tomás, senior designer, creative director of the brand and responsible for the ID Pool - the artistic residency program - about the universe of a brand that carries the responsibility of preserving and consolidating aspects related to Portugal's cultural and artistic heritage.
Alda Tomás - Senior Designer and Creative Director at Vista Alegre
In her academic career, Alda was divided between design and music, but ended up opting for a career as a designer. She graduated in Equipment Design at the University of Fine Arts of Lisbon and attended the final year of the piano course at the National Conservatory of Lisbon. In 2009, she received a Special Mention at the National Design Competition, Sena da Silva Award.
Currently, she works as Creative Director at Vista Alegre, where she's been since 2011 and is also responsible for the ID Pool, the artistic residency program.
Her works have been awarded with the most distinguished international design awards.
Vista Alegre's design team is made up of twelve designers and one administrative, who is focusing on aspects related to quality criteria and certificates, thus freeing the designers from these concerns. Design and marketing are within the same direction. While Alda Tomás coordinates the design team, Nuno Barra, CEO of Vista Alegre, is in charge of marketing, e-commerce and design.
iF: What are the special traits of Vista Alegre and its design team?
AT: Even though the design team has a lot of freedom in creating things, the entire team also has a perfect sense of reality. They all understand, that they can't be too eccentric in their approaches to new products, because we have to be timeless in our creations. Regarding Vista Alegre in its whole, there is a need to develop different levels of products, because the brand has a vast and diverse set of ranges, all of them having special artistic and technical features. In addition to the brand , there are also products developed for the hotel industry and works, that are classified as customized - tailor made-, a business, that - at times - many people and the market do not notice.
Due to having an enormous range of product types, we have to think even more about each product's suitability for the different corners of the market. And generally, we are aware of the brand's responsibility as state heritage and that it comes with a whole set of aspects and facts linked to the Portuguese cultural and artistic heritage.
iF: Looking at the brand, many will say, that it is not accessible to everyone. Do you agree?
AT: Well, what we do is our idea of affordable luxury. This is the brand's flag in its premium segment. We are continuously trying to offer the highest quality possible, for example in the new textile collection. These new products are worked on in factories that produce parts for several foreign luxury brands. Vista Alegre also works with them, producing with the same raw material but with lower sales prices than its competitors. And the brand starts this new expansion, in terms of product diversity, with a deep knowledge of its own manufacturing complex in Portugal, where it already produces all pieces in porcelain, earthenware, stoneware, crystal and glass.
iF: So with other words, Vista Alegre lacks the pretentious notion of luxury?
AT: Everyone has to win in the process, that is, the brand, the producer and the consumer. The textile collection is a new business area, because of the brand's need to open up new concepts. In the same way that fashion brands entered other business segments for example producing home ware, Vista Alegre decided to do the same - just the other way around. This new textile line is made up of scarves and blankets. It is also proof of the brand's ability to innovate and compete. Take the lighting line of Vista Alegre for example: We are not a brand in that specific sector and we do not intend to enter that specific market. We are part of a set of products with special characteristics such as the lamps created by Ross Lovegrove.
iF: Does the company stand for anything else in particular - in addition to affordable luxury?
AT: Yes, it's also a synonym for charm. The wide range of decorations, for example the very large color palette and many other details, distinguish Vista Alegre from others. The production methods and the accumulated heritage of techniques and know-how, allow the brand to reach incomparable levels of perfection, detail, and finishes. As a whole, the group, made up of Vista Alegre, Bordallo Pinheiro, Casa Alegre and Cerutil, produce entirely in Portugal.
iF: Vista Alegre's work also integrates collaborations with foreign designers. How does this whole process take place without losing the brand's identity?
AT: Of course there's a need to establish certain commitments before any collaboration. But until now, it was always a very positive experience due to the designer's professionalism. As many of them are business managers leading their own teams and demanding a high technical level and emotional intelligence themselves, it was even less problematic: Their own experiences helped them comprehend the process with all its requirements. In some cases, our involvement with designers such as Marcel Wanders or Ross Lovegrove goes even beyond the joint projects already carried out because of the complicity and the mutual respect.
iF: You also got the ID Pool, the artist residency program, going on. Can you please elaborate, what this program does and what it's currently up to?
AT: Well, unfortunately the ID Pool has been on hold due to the ongoing pandemic. I gladly explain, what it is:
It all starts with inviting four artists from around the world to stay at a home residential next to our factory for three months. In this period they interact with the team, visit the factory and speak to the technicians. The artists have a room close to the design office, where they develop their proposals (see image).
After finishing them, there is a personal follow-up with me as well as from Vista Alegre technicians. Depending on the pertinence of the proposal, they would move on to modeling and prototype production. At last, prototypes are presented to the marketing division, that decides if it's going to be a part of the collection. Many of these proposals already belong to the brand's range and many of them have even won international awards.
iF: The company has been internationally recognized through winning several prizes in reputable but different design competitions abroad. How important is this for you?
AT: Well, I am aware of the different opinions on questions like 'what is good design' or 'what are good practices in each discipline'. I won't hide the fact, that each product submitted in competition by Vista Alegre is selected in order to approach the spirit of each of these competitions. An American and a European competition have inevitably their own peculiarities. But that is also a good thing - as quality is also perceived in different ways.
iF: That concludes the interview in a brilliantly honest way. Thank you for your openess and for your time!
The interview was conducted and recorded by Tiago Krusse, Editor-in-Chief at Portugal-based "Design Magazine".