Consider Samare's portfolio a primer in Canadian heritage. Case in point: The Montreal design studio's latest launch - arrow-shaped rugs featuring patterns borrowed from the colourful sashes worn by fur trappers - could be regarded as a history lesson in 19th-century French-Canadian clothing. Working with Belgian textile designers Linda Topic and Antonin Bachet, the firm created the pieces using a process called felting: Cloud-like pieces of wool almost a metre long were stitched into multi-hued patterns and then dampened and dried several times to shrink them down to almost a third of their original size. The four-piece collection was unveiled at last month's Salone Internazionale del Mobile as part of the Milan Does Beirut group show organized by Lebanon's Carwan Gallery. It marked Samare's second-ever collaboration with international partners.
In fact, the Salone de Mobile has hosted most of Samare's milestones. Five years ago, the four University of Montreal chums who founded the studio - Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, Mania Bedikian, Patrick M. de Barros and Laurie Bedikian - had attended the show to help define and develop the mandate for their venture. "Quite a lot of thought was put into who we were, where we're from, the direction we wanted to take and what we wanted to show and embody," Mania Bedikian says. "The way design was headed was a lot of the same old, same old." In the end, the foursome felt that the future of high-end design was in the hands of cultural experts, artisans and craftspeople, although they also recognized the importance of creating envelope-pushing work and "very new objects." Their first collection, Awadare, launched at Salone two years later, appearing very new indeed: The line consisted of chairs, a stool and a lounger made of powder-coated steel frames supporting woven seats made from babiche, a rawhide lacing usually relegated to snowshoes. In 2010, it delved even deeper into Canada's history with its Pays D'en Haut Legacy collection: Beaver- and sheepskin-lined seats and ottomans evoked an old trapper belief that lying on a piece of fur regenerated them after days in the woods, a side table celebrated the country's Scottish influences with a top made from a curling stone, a leather-upholstered bench's pattern was based on the quilts offered to brides as part of their wedding trousseau.
Even the studio's product names - Mountie, Metis, Provincial - scream true patriot love. But when Samare started exhibiting internationally, the designers were surprised to find that the global community saw something else. Northern Italians recognized the weaving technique in the Awadare line as a now-extinct arts-and-crafts technique indigenous to their region, while Japanese visitors saw the same pieces as reminiscent of their country's woven wood. Scandinavians saw the fléchée motif in the new rug collection as similar to their Lapland weaving technique. "Every culture found its vernacular in what we presented," Bedikian says. That the global market doesn't see Samare's work as distinctly Canadian isn't a problem for the studio - in fact, it jives with the mandate it's been working with since the beginning. "People are attracted to it for what it is," says Bedikian. "We don't have to explain the narrative of what it is and where it's from."
Not that Samare doesn't want to share how its pieces are made - it's actually considering publishing a book on the subject. For the studio, sustainability is all about celebrating and preserving these endangered techniques for future generations, although the designers are quick to point out that they're not historians. "We don't wake up every morning thinking about how we can preserve Canadian culture. It just happens that it's a big part of what we do," says Bedikian.
Another part of what the studio does is marry old with cutting-edge new. In 2009, it collaborated with Korean designer Kwangho Lee on a one-off piece - an otherworldly, almost alien-like mess of bright blue inflation tubes woven into the headrest, arms and legs of Samare's Capitaine Armchair. And it's always been keen on the international market - sometimes at the expense of its North American presence. (Because its Milan show will restaged in Beirut this month, Samare's presence at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York will be limited to one of their new rugs on the floor at the Matter showroom.) "Design is very global," says Bedikian. "It would be a shame to do this work and not travel around with it." That said, Samare keen to foster its North American market in the coming months. It will be launching new pieces at the Interior Design Show in Toronto next January, though Bedikian is hesitant to discuss them just yet. "Different scales" is all she'll offer. "A change of scale will be welcome." The only downside to a growing presence at home, it seems, is the local inclination to link the studio to Canadiana, a term that many designers cringe at for its evocations of canoes, maple syrup and beavers. "It's easy to put us in a box," says Bedikian. "In reality, defining Canadian design is as tricky as defining a Canadian."
Special to The Globe and Mail