Anaïs Sandra Carion interviews Manuel Barbieri and Marco Magalini, co-founders of MM Company. Anaïs is a long-time friend, passionate about fashion, design and art, and area communication manager at Hermès.
1. You have both been very connected to the world of design and fashion in different aspects. Can you explain how this has influenced your current way of working?
MNL: I felt in love with design unconsciously, when I was very young. I liked and still like to discover how things are produced, their production process: from the idea to the finished product. I am intrigued by the industrial and managerial side behind a product. Fashion, on the other hand, was a surprise. Arriving in Milan in 2012 made me discover this world. I was lucky enough to work behind the scenes of an industry that for many people is all about glitter, and I understood the meaning of many things: the hard work, the dedication, the passion needed to get an apparently simple bag onto a shelf. I love this aspect. I have analysed these two worlds from various points of view: the creative one, the marketing one, the economic and financial one. I have learnt many things, which I have then meticulously applied to my own way of doing business.
MRC: My work as a journalist for fashion magazines has allowed me to interview, and therefore get to know, some of the most important fashion entrepreneurs. They have taught me that, behind any result that is judged by many mainly for its aesthetic value, there is actually work made up of knowledge, passion, care, detail and sacrifice. These characteristics have shaped my approach to work, both in fashion and design: whether the work is small or complex, the approach must always aim at perfection.
2. Sustainability has become a huge topic lately, how do you think you (and maybe you were from the beginning) consider this topic in your work?
MNL: Sustainability is now an everyday topic. In my everyday life I am sensitive to it, but I am not ‘obsessed’ with it. In our work we raise awareness and try to guide our customers towards more sustainable choices, such as using eco or bio materials. The road is long and uphill, but I’m sure it will gradually become the norm, if only because some products will no longer be available, some logics will be cancelled and so on…
MRC: Since my university studies I have been actively involved in issues related to ‘Made in Italy’, and I have associated the concept of sustainability with the ethical sphere (respect for labour, use of local resources, local production within a district, protection of the community, genius loci) even more than with the purely environmental sphere. My sensitivity to environmental issues has grown in recent years, and now all our projects also consider green issues as fundamental, but always associated with the question of ‘ethical sustainability’.
3. If you could name one main goal or project you would like to achieve, what would it be?
MNL: In the last few years I have certainly proved to myself first and foremost that the mistakes I made in the past have been useful and have created the basis for the satisfactions of today. Learning from my mistakes is what I have achieved. And I am proud of it. When Marco describes me, he says that I am a builder. Every day I think and rethink about how to develop our agency, how to improve it and how to grow. I read, study, analyse. I take the time to metabolise, make diagrams, register, write pages of reasoning and design. In ten years’ time I imagine myself managing various agencies, managing a crazy network of creative and managerial minds. I imagine myself cheerful, with a few wrinkles but always with my explosive energy. I would also like to write a book, who knows?
MRC: To be a diffuse agency: a network of partners (each with their own specificity, but united by a working method and a univocal vision) located throughout the world, able to provide integrated services to our clients. Always with a boutique approach, like the one that already distinguishes us, but simultaneously engaged on several fronts, always relevant. If I had to choose, on impulse, the next MM Company branded location, I would choose Rio de Janeiro.
4. What is your favourite object at home, and how does it inspire you?
MNL: I have a special relationship with my home, which has only just begun. For years, I considered the office more like home. I love being on the sofa as much as I love lying in bed reading. I don’t have a particular object, but many memories, many small things that remind me every day of who I am or who I was. My first prototypes, some photos, some drawings, some glasses I picked up at a market, some old cutlery, some dishes I picked up in Bogota, some gifts I received. Let’s say that it is the whole that inspires me. I like to lie in bed, look around and reflect. In fact, I insisted on having a totally dark green room to calm my energy and allow me to think.
MRC: A lithograph by Floriano Bodini, which was my fiancé’s 30th birthday present. We were moved by that work, the protagonist of an exhibition he had organised in Carrara ten years earlier. He remembered it and managed to acquire it through the artist’s daughter for that special occasion. Every time I look at it, I remember all the years we spent together.
5. How would you describe your collaboration and balance in your work?
MNL: We are two strong, fearless, generous and stubborn people. We are completely different, but we have common characteristics. We are accomplices and we compensate each other perfectly. We have been lucky enough to know each other, but all the rest we have built, shaped, corrected, amplified and developed together. Day after day, year after year. A constant and beautiful path of growth where no one is left behind, we both learn from each other every day and where being together wins over everything.
MRC: Manuel has a dual vision: either in the present, or projected into the long (very long) term strategies. For me, however, there is (almost only) the medium-term dimension, which leads me to work today to achieve ‘visible’ objectives. This leads us, in the projects that concern us, to be truly complicit. The same complementarity also occurs in another area: Manuel is a pure idealist, I am a disenchanted realist (a little too much so). Two characteristics that must coexist in a business project. From a personal point of view, I have also realised that the keys to a long-term relationship are to know yourself, be respectful, value your partner and communicate.
6. How important is the working environment and employees to you?
MNL: The agency is the place where we spend most of our time. We strive every day to make it a creative, professional but at the same time carefree and welcoming place. Every day I go to work with a smile on my face and that is a great achievement. I think our employees are happy, they understand my vision and know that I get out of bed every day to make them feel better. There is clarity, honesty, respect, gratitude. Elements that make everything beautiful and stimulating. For me, they are fundamental: without them, none of what we do today would be possible, nor would the management of the agency’s workload.
MRC: At a very early stage, the office was also our home, so I have a special emotional bond with the space we work in because it is the starting point for so many things. Although I understand that work efficiency comes from structure and inevitably from rigour, we try to make the office a place where the whole team can feel at home, welcomed, and free to express themselves (“but not too much”, as one sentence in the entrance hall says).