What MatchesFashion men did next
The modernist Villa Borsani in Milan is a veritable hive. A photo op is in full swing as elegantly etched champagne coupes and vintage decanters are laid out on a gilded bar, and mismatched patterned plates and embroidered napkins are set on a marble table. At the center of the maelstrom is entrepreneur Tom Chapman, who is excitedly bringing his highly anticipated new design venture to life.
Saved New York
In 2015, Brooklyn-based Sean McNanney created his first line of blankets working with Mongolian artisans. Today, the Saved New York brand encompasses cashmere throws and cushions whose vibrant illustrative patterns are created in collaboration with various designers and artists.
Chapman is best known as the co-founder – with his wife Ruth – of the MatchesFashion empire, which was born in 1987 as a multi-brand boutique at Wimbledon and grew into a pioneering e-commerce business. It was valued at around $1 billion when the Chapmans sold their majority share in 2017. Now, alongside co-founder Nicolas Pickaerts, Chapman is getting into interiors with Abask: a new e-commerce platform “designed to do the light “. [hence the name] on the world’s most exceptional craftsmanship and design”. It’s a selection of Chapman’s obsessions, ranging from Connolly leather trays and Rose Uniacke blankets to polished brass fireplace tools handcrafted in Carl Auböck’s fifth-generation Viennese workshop. , and an intricately marquetry backgammon board by Alexandra Llewellyn, its inlaid patterns inspired by designs by Gio Ponti.
“There’s been a buzz about this project from day one,” Chapman, 59, says as he shows me around the rationalist-style residence completed in 1945, pointing out pieces from designers, artisan brands and specialist vintage dealers. Cardboard boxes rise from stacks of plates, stacks of glasses and rows of cushions. Upstairs in the book-lined study, desk accessories and stationery include a superlative pencil sharpener and cute patterned notebooks. Elsewhere there are leather baskets and embroidered tablecloths, ceramic candlesticks and a giant globe.
Chapman worries that this new project will be compared too closely to MatchesFashion. “I’m incredibly proud of what Ruth, me and the whole team have achieved,” he says, “but this is a whole new adventure.” He acknowledges that there are similarities between the companies. “At Matches, we were known for celebrating interesting designers and emerging talent,” he says of the synergy. Pickaerts, former director of e-commerce at matchesfashion.com, is another link. At Matches, he helped drive site traffic to 120 million annual visits.
The move to housewares was inspired by Chapman’s own experience decorating his Los Angeles home with interior designer Pamela Shamshiri. “We were finishing the house last summer and Pam was suggesting what they call ‘the little ones,'” he says of those final details, which range from table lamps to drinking glasses. “I wanted to get involved in the process because I really believe in the impact that specific things can have on how you feel. But it was so hard to find pieces that I thought were interesting.
Vintage and Modern Pens
Based near London, Ray Walters is an avid pen collector and dealer. “We bought him old and vintage pens,” Sheridan says, showing a yellow Parker set from the 1920s. “He also developed his own perfect pen,” she adds of an exclusive design with a special nib that comes in a range of vibrant colors.
To that end, Chapman and Pickaerts tapped Bryony Sheridan, the former director of home and interiors buying at Liberty London, as well as interior designer Hubert Zandberg as style director, and the idea from Abask went from inception to launch in just 10 years. month. During this time, the team has assembled an offering that includes well-known heritage names and small artisans, as well as a selection of vintage finds. In some cases, products are manufactured exclusively for Abask. “We’re launching with 2,000 products,” Chapman says. “We have 105 brands. We’ll have 150 by December – and we’ll keep building.
The initial selection will be divided into four sections per room: the office, the bar, the dining room and the games room. “I like the idea that everything is useful as well as beautiful, and I think the selection is very interesting,” says Osanna Visconti di Modrone, a Milan-based designer whose sculptural brass objects will be part of the Abask range, including including pomegranate paper. weights and textured candle holders molded to look like melted wax.
Chapman doesn’t want to be a Harrods or a Saks. “We want to share the great manufacturers that people haven’t heard of,” he says. Visiting the villa, I make several new personal discoveries: Nick Plant, a British manufacturer of contemporary backgammon sets; the Perla Valtierra ceramic from Mexico, whose heavy matt black plates have tactile pinched edges; and Los Vasos de Agua Clara, a Barcelona-based female duo who started producing playfully painted drinking glasses just four years ago.
“There’s a lot of glass,” says Sheridan, highlighting pieces crafted by Austrian glassmaker Lobmeyr, over 200 years old – from a modernist, monochrome cocktail set by turn-of-the-century Viennese designer Josef Hoffmann to contemporary color. – pop cups created by Martino Gamper. Murano makers also feature prominently: Nason Moretti’s glasses are a resurrected archival design from 1988, while the undulating Venini Fazzoletto (handkerchief) vase comes in exclusive transparent shades and stripes, rather than the finish usual opaque. “A lot of the time we dig into brand archives to come up with something unique,” Sheridan says of a number of exclusive reissues.
The London-based designer launched her brand of artistic backgammon boards in 2010. For Abask, “she has created poker and backgammon sets inspired by Gio Ponti and Hilma af Klint, and the marquetry is just amazing,” says Sheridan. “It’s really cool.”
For Leonid Rath, managing partner of Lobmeyr and sixth generation at the head of the family business, the common point of the Abask selection is “authenticity”. These are all “brands that stay true to their mission – with passion,” he suggests. And preserving traditional craftsmanship is a key goal of Abask’s mission statement. Another is to “celebrate the incredible stories behind every room, person and place” – something that will be achieved on the website, Pickaerts says, via “meet the creator” sections including interviews, videos and photographs. “Digital allows us to really explain craftsmanship,” says Chapman, taking a brass toe from Carl Auböck. “We can’t tell you how a piece feels online, of course. But we can show you Carl Auböck in his studio, and he can tell you about his design process.
ZDG by Zoe de Givenchy
The ZdG floral Camaïeu range is handmade in Provence in an exclusive color for Abask. “Being part of the launch is a natural progression of my friendship with Tom,” says de Givenchy.
The website will also provide inspiration on how people can use the pieces in their own homes, Zandberg says. “We want to give people the tools and the confidence to mix and juxtapose different styles, and have fun with it,” he says, giving the example of pairing Givenchy’s very classic flower-adorned Zoë tableware with the most graphic, serpent – plates illustrated by Laboratorio Paravicini.
“It’s very important for us to be global,” adds Chapman, citing brands ranging from Japan (Edo Glass) to Ghana (The Baba Tree Basket Company). In terms of the size of their offering, they have mapped out a plan for rapid expansion. “Every eight weeks we will launch another room,” says Chapman. “Next will probably be cooking, which is going to be fun. The room is large: think of sheets and international bed sizes. Other ‘rooms’ will be less literal, including a ‘candle cabinet’, a ‘carpet basket’ and a space dedicated to ceramics. “We won’t do furniture, though,” Chapman concludes. Never, I ask? “Well, never say never about anything,” he laughs.