ORB PORTRAIT

Laura Azzalini of Reixue directs our gaze backward in the name of sustainable progress

Laura Azzalini by Andrew Pitchko

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH, 2020
MONTREAL, CANADA
CATEGORIES: #ENVIRONMENT #DESIGN #ART

INTERVIEW WITH LAURA AZZALINI
AUTHOR: KRISTIAN KAHN
EDITOR: MAÉVA CARREIRA
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: TAMY EMMA PEPIN

Old films are remastered in 4K. Best-selling books are republished with fresh forewords. Classic albums are rereleased with updated cover art. Laura Azzalini, founder of Reixue, reissues vintage furniture and design objects with a new context: the world today.

As the divide between creation and curation continues to collapse, the 28-year-old design enthusiast and curator culls furniture from history to renew our interest in what is already there. She considers it sustainable creation.

Tramp Art Mirror Hanging Cupboard
Favourite Piece, Reixue - LilyChair - Laura Azzalini
Custom Flower Print Chair
Reixue - Favourite Piece Hoop Lounge by Piero Palange, 1972
Hoop Lounge by Piero Palange & Werther Toffoloni for Germa, 1972
Laura Azzalini is the founder of Reixue – pronounced “reissue” – a Montreal-based shop that sells vintage 20th century furniture and design objects. The store operates mainly online – with a showroom in the Mile-End – via a frequently updated Instagram, where you might find a bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, a set of Hammer dining chairs by Arne Jacobsen, or wooden milking stools. The selection is eclectic, yet with a tight through line. “Good design is good design,” Laura says. She also emphasizes the importance of research. “I love constantly learning new things.” It’s a sentiment she hopes her clients share. “Ideally, I want people to discover more than furniture. I want them to discover an idea, a philosophy, a piece of history.

Laura has an eye for pieces that seem tinged with nostalgia, and delights in mixing folk crafts with renowned designers to stimulate the imagination.

Growing up in a big Italian family, Laura was exposed to classic Italian design at an early age. “My earliest artistic influences were Enzo Mari and Archille Castiglioni,” she says. Laura shares the two designers’ interest in sustainable design practices, even if that meant something slightly different during their prime. The late Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione project offered instructions on how to build his furniture at home with the use of simple materials that could be purchased locally. Archille Castiglioni and his brother Pier Giacomo placed their designs into categories such as readymades – designs that utilized pre-existing components in their manufacture – and redesigned objects – updated to suit technological developments.

At university, Laura dabbled in art and architecture, and made sculptures of discarded materials such as scrap metal and reclaimed wood. She admired the multidisciplinary approach and social consciousness of female designers Gae Aulenti, Charlotte Perriand, Lina Bo Bardi and Elieen Gray, among others, and hoped to follow in their footsteps one day. But upon graduating, she felt overwhelmed by the amount of products already in the world. “I asked myself if it was sustainable to be designing new products. And if I did, could I even contribute something that hadn’t been done before?” she says.

Mobilia Azzalini, Furniture Factory in Mezzaville, Fregona, 1955, Source - Book : "I cimbri: da Roana a Fregona nella foresta del Cansiglio", Giovanni Azzalini, De Bastiani, 1988

While researching her first trip to Tokyo, Laura discovered Yanagi Sōetsu, a Japanese art critic who coined the phrase Mingei to describe a folk art movement from the late 1920s. His credo was simple: “Make beautiful things. Make things to be used. Eliminate everything that is unnecessary.” The last sentence resonated with Laura and set her on a new path. Inspired by pioneers like Johnson Trading Gallery and Patrick Parrish, now staples of vintage design stores-cum-something-more in New York City, she decided to launch Reixue with her fiancé Andrew Pitchko, whose entrepreneurial spirit and experience have been invaluable assets in building and growing Reixue.

Reixue Showroom, Montreal, 2020

The shop quickly grew from a part-time endeavour to a full-time small business. In the first year, the inventory was predominantly sourced from flea markets and estate sales. But as the business grew, Laura’s network expanded, and people began approaching her with vintage pieces to sell. It’s not uncommon that the same client sells to and shops from Reixue, making it a stellar example of a circular economy on a local scale. “In terms of the environment, progress depends on what we do with our past,” Laura says. She’s not alone in holding this view. IKEA has committed to becoming a fully circular business by 2030, encouraging consumers to sell their lightly used furniture back to the multinational. “I’m all for big box retailers doing it if it means less impact on the environment,” Laura says. Incidentally, iconic Niels Gammelgaard designs for IKEA have already been sold through Reixue.

"I asked myself if it was sustainable to be designing new products. And if I did, could I even contribute something that hadn’t been done before?"

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COVID-19: A chance to reimagine the future

Small businesses have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Reixue has actually seen growth in 2020. This reflects the macro-trend for rallying stock prices for home-oriented companies like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Sherwim Williams. As people are forced to work remotely, they begin to reconsider their immediate environment. Laura sees the positive side of this, hoping that the pandemic can be a lesson in the importance of local, environmentally-friendly practices.

Recently, Reixue has begun selling Montreal-produced furniture, such as multifunctional benches and studio trestles. “We had similar items for sale, and people really responded to them, so we wanted to give everyone a chance to own pieces based on items we already sold,” Laura says. These objects fall somewhere between vintage design classics, original designs, and high-end replicas. Not too far from the design philosophies of Archille Castiglionie and Enzo Mari. And so, we’re back where it all started.

University Project, Scrap Chair, 2016 - Photo by Laura Azzalini
University Scrap Chair, 2015, by Laura Azzalini
University Project, Scrap Chair, 2016 - Photo by Laura Azzalini

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