A precocious talent, that of Riccardo Candotti, from Padua: in 1977, when he was just 22 years old, with his father he founded the company COBRA (an acronym for Capsule Occhielli Bottoni Rivetti & Affini), specializing in the production of molds and the molding of snaps and metal accessories for sportswear.
Over time the firm developed and patented many new products. With a passion for design, he also created the office block of the new factory, furnishing it with the help of Marc Sadler.
Thanks to the Cobra experience, Candotti has come into contact with the finest fashion designers and worked with the main fashion brands in the world of sportswear, taking part in over 30 years in the development of more than 20,000 custom items for leading brands in the clothing and footwear sectors (including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès, Chanel and many others).
By nature reluctant to rest on his laurels, Candotti sold the company to an investment fund in 2006 and changed his activity in 2009, when he began to work as a strategic consultant for manufacturers in areas connected with the business of Cobra.
He thus began to work with Okinawa (clothing labels) and then returned to more familiar ground, becoming a strategic consultant for Finma and managing the startup Sincro, a company in the field of small metal components for clothing and leather goods.
Today, his latest entrepreneurial challenge has to do with the new launch of Leucos – the historic company founded in 1962 at Scorzè, Venice, famous for its decorative glass lighting products – which Candotti acquired in 2015 through Rara Res, the holding company he helms. We met with him in the guise of president of Leucos, to talk about strategies, possible paths of growth and his personal inclinations.
‘Leucos Refresh 2016’ is the title of the new Leucos catalogue, and seems to mark a turning point with respect to the past. Is this the message you want to convey?
The title refers, in part, to an ideal way of starting over, because Leucos Refresh contains catalogues that were previously divided into three generic brands (Modo, Studio and Idea) that took the place of the historic brands (iTre, MuranodueGallery), which instead I wanted to revive. So ‘Refresh’ for me means, above all, picking up, improving and renewing those brands that had great value with our clientele and in our history.
Before 2015, the year in which you acquired Leucos, you were at the helm of a company that operated in the fashion sector. How did this new entrepreneurial challenge get started?
The fashion sector is very lively, full of stimuli, a constant revolution. It is an area in which creativity and speed are indispensable, together with communication. We might say that the speed typical of that sector is what enabled me to immediately seize this opportunity, passing from the world of fashion accessories to that of lighting.
The opportunity arose by chance: in November 2014 the Italian holding company Rara Res, where I am the president, sold the last 30% of the shares owned by the Swiss group Riri (previously Cobra, ed.). Precisely on that occasion, the accountant who accompanied me to sign the papers told me about the possibility of acquiring Leucos, and I immediately took this coincidence as a sign of fate.
What are the historical values of Leucos you would like to shift into the near future?
Undoubtedly the fine craftsmanship of decorative blown glass, and the creativity of the Venetian master glassblowers. These are unique and thrilling qualities we will attempt to revalue and bring to the fore, because what can be done with glass, lights, colors and transparency, with the various undulations and forms of the material, is truly something magical, a tribute to the love of beauty.
From an industrial and commercial viewpoint, what are the strategies you intend to develop to nurture the brand on a national and international level?
First of all, I want to focus on zero-kilometer production. My intention is to produce the best of our collection here, a few kilometers from Venice, to make the company much more flexible, innovative and independent than in the past, when Leucos had become a commercial firm more than an industrial firm.
We want to develop the contract sector, a channel that is rapidly growing. Our brand has made special projects for over 40 years, in fact, but without publicizing this and taking advantage of these skills. From now on, I have decided that major projects have to be clearly communicated to decision makers and the public. The contract market already accounts for over half of our sales in Europe, and an even larger percentage in America.
Therefore we are reorganizing and improving our affiliate Leucos USA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, opening a new showroom with a big party at the headquarters in Edison, New Jersey, this coming October.
What are the specificities of the other three brands of Leucos: iTre, MuranodueGallery and JJ?
I have decided to concentrate, under the Leucos trademark, all the contemporary decorative glass products, while MuranodueGallery covers all the projects with a classic approach, based on the Venetian tradition of finely crafted chandeliers.
Under the brand iTre, on the other hand, I have gathered all the products made with materials other than glass: aluminium, wood, polymers, carbon and much more… these are very versatile, timely pieces, more architectural than decorative, perhaps.
Then there is the section for JJ, which includes the universe of all the possible interpretations of the milestone, the L1 by Jac Jacobsen with its spring-balanced arm, for which we have also just produced two very fascinating sizes for the suspension lamp, in white and colored blown glass, crafted by hand.
Tell us about the Aella lamp designed by Toso & Massari in 1968, which Leucos now offers in a new technological version. Is it the forerunner of the new Leucos approach?
When I saw the Leucos catalogue for the first time I realized that most of the iconic pieces offered by the company bore the signature of Renato Toso and Noti Massari. So I wanted to meet them, and I discovered a pair of exceptional people, erudite, inspired. With them, we decided it was time to reissue some of their classics, redesigned in an LED version.
In particular, the very powerful lighting circuit we have installed inside Aella enhances the glass in an unexpected way and generates, in the central part of the lamp, an extraordinary holographic effect in the form of a cone, white, impalpable: a sort of luminous eddy where the reflection of the LED disk is concentrated. The result amazed everyone, especially the two designers, who had given the name Aella to the lamp precisely because it means ‘tornado’ in Greek.
Among the upcoming new proposals of Leucos, there will also be an Aella in the suspension version: we have hung it with cables that are so slender that the lamp seems to float in the air.
Are you already working on projects for the next edition of Euroluce? Are you planning to get designers involved?
I have always had a very precise idea on this theme, and I believe companies should wager on the best designers, but also on the idea and the essence of design itself. This means that in the projects of Leucos there is undoubtedly the intention to continue to work with the professionals who have collaborated with us in the past (whom I am recontacting and meeting, personally), but also to invest in the most promising students from design schools, like the IUAV in Venice and the Milan Polytechnic, with the aim of creating new opportunities for work, to help these young talents emerge and gain the visibility they deserve.
The success of a project depends on the idea, that original intuition that allows a designer to create something unique and inimitable, that appeals to the public thanks to looks, but also thanks to functional quality… only in this way can you make timeless objects, ready to become design icons, known and coveted all over the world.
I believe a brilliant idea can come from a big name, but also from young ‘unknown’ talents… this is why I want Leucos to act as a talent scout capable of offering interns or designers making their debut an opportunity to make a good idea a real product.
In the collective imaginary Leucos represents light combined with the magic of glass and the skills of Venetian craftsmen. Will this still be the case in the near future?
Absolutely. I want anyone who buys a Leucos lamp to consider it an investment, and a source of pride. We are now also producing limited editions that will become collectors’ items of great value: the first will be Fiola, a lamp designed for Leucos by the famous designer Tobia Scarpa. There will be 99 certified pieces, signed one by one.
We are also about to produce some small objects, not more than one per year. We will start by reissuing Rin: an old glass designed by Toso & Massari in the 1960s. We will do it not so much to increase sales volume as to promote and pay tribute to the art of blown glass.
The slogan of the new Leucos ad campaign is ‘Adorable lamps.’ What do you want to communicate?
I have observed the expression of the master glassmakers at work, and I have noticed that when they remove the object they have blown from the mold, or as they are crafting the item, they put into it such loving care, such expertise in touch and handling that glass, that they seem to be removing a creature from a crucible or an oven, like a doctor delivering a baby. That respect, that intense smile, reminded me of the word adorable, because it is precisely as if they are adoring the results of their creative work. The slogan comes precisely from this impression.
As a design lover, it would be interesting to know which designers you prefer, which styles you prefer for your homes, and which lamps from the Leucos catalogue are your favorites.
I have had the honor of working with many architects and designers, including Philippe Starck, many years ago. I spent time in his studio and he even invited me to his home, because he also likes to work there, even in the bedroom. I think all his creations are fabulous, surprising, brilliant. I have collected many of his objects from the 1980s and 1990s.
I also love the futuristic design of Tom Wright, Jean Nouvel, the sculptural force of Antonio Citterio, and of my friend from Bologna, Massimo Iosa Ghini. I love the dreamy works of Alessandro Mendini, without overlooking the wit of Karim Rashid and the brilliance of Patricia Urquiola, with whom I would like to work, sooner or later.
Where architecture and furnishings are concerned, I have very versatile tastes: basically, I think I am something of a minimalist, and a perfectionist. The homes I live in reflect my style, diversified for the various needs connected with places of ways of living in different geographical contexts. I like to use white lime wash, natural stones, glass, stainless steel, pale oak. Considering my passion for things well made, both in my house in the city and in my homes by the sea and in the mountains, I have not only always personally supervised all the phases of renovation, but I have also designed some of the furnishings and architectural details, working together with designers and craftsmen. My homes share a close dialogue between the beauty of the interiors and that of the external views, a real priority for me. And when the sun goes down, the light inside becomes the protagonist, enhancing every space!
Among the glass lamps in the Leucos catalogue, my favorites are Nia by Roberto Paoli (like a sort of Brazil nut, with which it is possible to create multiple configurations), Aella by Toso & Massari (above all in the latest suspension version) and Trigona by Danilo De Rossi (composed of three diffusers in blown borosilicate glass with triple LED circuit). Among those not in glass, I like Volta, the aluminium LED lamp designed by From (Tobias Nitsche, Cesare Bizzotto and Manuel Amaral Netto), a very beautiful minimal object that after a slight delay caused by the filing of a couple of patents is now finally ready for its market launch.”
Text by Andrea Pirruccio