Thomas Fuchs: An Exclusive Interview With The Men Behind the Brand
Recently Love Happens connected with the delightfully whimsical Thomas Fuchs Creative, and love happened! Eager to know more about the playful yet classically sophisticated home decor company. And it’s talented creative director Thomas Fuchs, we set up an interview. Read on to learn all about Thomas. Michou Mahtani (Thomas’ pivotal and equally talented and delightful partner in business and life). And the story and inspirations behind their fabulous brand.
But before we go on, and in their words (because they say it best!). “Thomas Fuchs Creative is a design company that encompasses three unique divisions. Otium, a Murano glass lighting company that offers table lamps, chandeliers, and vases. Thomas Fuchs Creative (TFC), a high-end barware company that uses traditional techniques such as hand carving, lost wax casting and glass blowing. And Foxware by Thomas Fuchs that offers hand-blown, hand-carved drinking glasses previously only available to architects and interior designers.”
A Young Thomas Fuchs
From a very young age, Thomas Fuchs loved art. And thanks to his parents’ encouragement. And the gift of growing up surrounded by NYC’s many museums and cultural events. His passion for art was well nurtured.
“I have been very fortunate to have had strong influences throughout my career”, Thomas told us. “At a very young age, I knew the importance of other people’s life experiences and how that could help guide my professional life. There are too many to mention but that said, the foundation of my professional, design and personal life is based on what my parents gave me as far as morals, integrity, and compassion for others and a security to take chances.”
Thomas’s first job was at the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house. A position sought our of his passion for antiques. A passion he tells us that “is not just based on the aesthetic of a piece but the story that object tells and the lives it passed through. For example, an 18th century Sterling Silver teapot tells a million stories. It shows the international trade at the time (importing tea from China), Technology (how it was made), Commerce (the value of silver), Social (what was the societal etiquette or ceremony to serving tea), Agriculture (the import and growing of tea).”
Falling in Love with Glass
After Butterfield & Butterfield Thomas became the Design Director for Donghia Furniture & Textiles. When Donghia decided to add a lighting collection Thomas’ love for glass, and Murano glass in particular, ignited. “I felt that Murano glass, although revered by people in the know, was quickly becoming a bit cliché with all the silly tourist trade objects being produced to keep this amazing craft alive”, explained Thomas. “We decided to make a major impact on this industry and produce a collection of contemporary lighting. It was a big hit and other brands quickly followed our lead, which I believe was what helped Murano sustain for many years. I later decided to leave Donghia and focus 100% on Murano glass creating the to-the-trade company Otium.”
To a Designer, glass is magical. One day it is sand, pigment and ash and 12 hours later it is an object. It also offers endless possibilities for the designer, color, luminosity, texture, etc…
Next came Thomas’ glass company Foxware, offering hand-blown, hand-carved drinking glasses previously only available to architects and interior designers. Curious how Foxware came to be, we asked and he told!
“Once I fully emerged in glass I could not go anywhere without searching for glass factories to visit. While in India, working with marble carvers and metal workers, I came across a glass factory which I fell in love with. I produce drinking glasses in Murano, which are beautiful, the collection is “End-of-the-Day”. The cost of doing business in Italy makes it very difficult to create easily attainable collections. So when I came across this factory in India that had the craftsmanship I wanted at an attainable price I was hooked. I also love the idea that the glass we use out of India is 100% recycled.”
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Breaking the Ice with Cocktails
Next came TFC, a high-end barware company offering consumers timeless daily objects that evoke emotion while being function. Launching into the retail market with a line of barware, the brand explains on its site, “gives an entree to a genre that the female customer relates to and the male customer appreciates.”
Using traditional techniques such as hand carving, lost wax casting and glass blowing, TFC brings a twist to the common perspective with collections such as “Remains” using the skull as a tool for inspiration. And “Botanicals”, a collection of killer plants and inlaid unassuming “Bubbles”.
Creating the Thomas Fuchs Creative Umbrella
The decision to start Thomas Fuchs Creative as the overarching brand for Otium, Foxware and TFC came from Thomas’s partner Michou. “I was happily working in Otium creating lighting and accessories exclusively for Architects and Interior Designers”, explained Thomas. “My partner Michou Mahtani felt that we needed to have a larger impact and presence. Although I was well known in the to-the-trade industry, I was a well-hidden secret to the rest of the world, he has changed that.”
My husband’s art is the new American Classic – where design is originated from a historical point of view with moderne relevance – in a world where everything is based on trendy design and instant gratification – Thomas creates timeless pieces that resonate with the souls of people without them even knowing it – having come from a world of Uber luxury I sensed this immediately which propelled me into starting a retail line so I could share his magic with everyone!Michou Mahtani
Mixing Business with Pleasure
Mixing business and pleasure can be rewarding and challenging. So, of course, I had to know how Thomas feels about working with his husband, Michou.
“I love working with my husband Michou I could not imagine or want to do it without him. Who is going to look out for your best interests better than your life partner?! There would be no Thomas Fuchs Creative without our teamwork.
Michou was the global marketing director for uber-luxury retailer Takashimaya and went on to be global brand director for Remy Martin LXIII. Who knows the marketing of a luxury brand more than he?!
Michou has singlehandedly gotten all our press and created marketing initiatives such as our Tavolo Artist Dinner Series. He has orchestrated produced and art directed all our photoshoots and ad campaigns. And handles all the logistics of the company from human resources and beyond. Not to mention he is so gregarious and has a sense of humor and his language skills (6 languages) get us out of every pickle laughing all the way to the end.
We both bring strengths and experiences that only enhance the other’s skill set. I have never felt that the balance of home and work has ever been compromised. And to make it an even bigger family affair we bring our two dogs to the office every day.”
This question is only really fair if we get to hear from both sides of the partnership! So here is what Michou had to say!
The Thomas Fuchs Creative Look
I always love to hear how a creator explains their “look”. And I was curious whether Thomas’ witty designs (like the skulls, which I so love!) are a reflection of him. I also wondered how he views these whimsical designs in relation to his much more traditional and elegant designs. So I asked!
“The “Thomas Fuchs Creative look” is classic with a touch of whimsy”, Thomas poignantly stated. “I love the Skull too, and did you notice he is always smiling?” He noted in response to my comment regarding the skulls, and no, in fact, I had not noticed this. Now I love this design even more! Thomas went on, “Our designs, colors, and inspirations have been proven time and time again to be a few years before the trends. My designs come from so many inspirations of my everyday life, travel, and love of art and antiques. I have never been good at following trends. It would bore me to death to have to reinterpret other designs unless that design is 200 years old, LOL.”
Still curious about the skull designs, I wanted to know more!
“The “Skull” inspiration is a whole story unto its self (he is based on an ex-lover, long story). I have studied figurative art my entire life both in the art studio as well as in museums”, explained Thomas. “The Skull is used as a technical measuring device in the process of creating the human figure (8 skulls tall, 3 skulls wide). So it has never been a scary taboo thing for me. The Skull is a beautiful form that is important to have in our day to day life to remind us of our immortality.”
Why Tabletop & Lighting?
Thomas focuses his design work on tabletop and lighting, however, “furniture is my first love” said Thomas. “I loved the furniture that I have created in the past and still do a few private label collections.” He then went on to explain why lighting, “The choice to do lighting was practical, it was financially practical to do a collection and because I was a new unknown brand I was not asking for a lot of real-estate on the showroom floors but table tops (to put lamps and vases) and ceilings (to hang chandeliers).”
And as for tabletop, Thomas explained “As with many designers, I love that I can create amazing pricy lighting pieces using the best craftsmen in the world but creating more attainable pieces is more fun and less stressful and feeds my soul as a designer, I love that I am bringing useful design-focused utilitarian pieces to a larger audience.”
The Importance of Craftsmanship & Sustainability
While Thomas Fuchs Creative offers a variety of products, the awareness of craftsmanship and sustainability are key in all their collections. While discussing this Thomas also pointed out to us, “another important point is that we do not use any by-products from animals. I do not like the idea that some poor animal died for my design.”
Thomas then went on to explain why these elements are so important to him and the brand, “Craftsmanship is important to save the traditions of the past and the appreciation of skill. While, sustainability is key to the planet, who are we to use the planet up. One of the best sustainable practices any designer can do is to create something to be Kept NOT thrown away. And if it is thrown, it can be bio-degraded into the earth.”
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A “This Is It” Moment
I asked Thomas if there was a specific moment when he thought to himself ‘my business is really taking off’? He replied, “The “this is it” kind of moment that sticks in my head and still happens but to a lesser degree is when I left my safe cushy corporate job in the design world and started “Otium”, my Murano glass lighting company. The day I received my very first order for a pair of lamps, I was like, ‘Wow, I created something that someone else wants to have in their house and live with in their environment, that’s pretty cool.’ I still kind of get that when I take a chance in a new direction like going from lighting to tabletop.”
Knocked-off But Never Down!
In 2019 news broke about Crate & Barrel knocking-off Thomas’s gorgeous ½ & ½ Melamine dinnerware. Given the difficulty of copyrighting in design and the fact that knockoffs happen way too often, I asked Thomas to talk about this experience.
“It is upsetting and quite frankly a little too excepted in our industry”, Thomas began. “The big guys know exactly what they can get away with and some of the biggest companies and, in theory, well-respected companies in our industry have the foundation of starting their companies by copying what they had access to in the to-the-trade design centers that excluded the public but allowed the copiers. So, the public saw a great “new design” even though it had been painstakingly designed by a real trend-setting company. I know this is a bit of a hard concept to grasp but yes, I was very upset but am not surprised at all. What disappointed me the most was C&B’s Design Director’s attitude towards us after calling them out on this indiscretion. As a “fellow designer” I thought that she would have some understanding or empathy. NOPE.”
“We do have some of our graphics copyrighted and a few patents but as of today, the protections available, via copyrights or patents, are not worth the expense of having for the limited protection they provide. The great old adage “where there is a will there is a way” in our case its “where there is a will there is a Michou”. Michou single-handedly went after them to try to collaborate and flew to Germany, Crate & Barrel who tried to hoodwink us was outsmarted by Michou’s premonition of them pulling that card thus he had spoken to the press pre-trip to be prepared should things turn out exactly as they did.”
3 Pieces of Advice from Thomas Fuchs for Young Designers
“One. Look beyond social media and the internet for inspiration. Everyone has access to that information.
Two. Learn construction, materials, and process. This will set you apart and give you a strong foundation. It will also earn you respect when you visit your manufacturers.
Three. Have a little blind faith in what you are creating. Trust your gut. Make mistakes in design and development but be clear in production, production mistakes are costly and frustrating. Most importantly, find yourself a “Michou”…LOL.”
And one more…. “Another very important lesson to remember is if your name is on the door, you need to have an ear to the day to day running of the company, there is no Ivory Tower for designers if you want to grow your design-driven business.”
A Stunning Collaboration with Fine Art Lamps, and More to Come!
“We too love the collaboration with Fine Art Lamps! They are great to work with and their attention to quality allowed me to create something I am very proud of….We approached FAL because as you know, I have a great love for handmade glass, FAL has an AMAZING in house glass blowing facility right here in my backyard. Look for new designs coming from FAL/TFC next year!”
What’s Next for Thomas Fuchs Creative?
“We have 2 hotel projects we are working on, one to create lighting and the other to create fun and unique barware for all the high-end suites. We will also be starting a unique cruise ship project in 2020, sorry that’s all I can say about that for now. And at the same time, we are introducing the next level of ½ & ½ Melamine introductions, not only fabulous new colors but a bunch of new forms as well. I am also pushing to introduce a quirky new Barware collection which is far from politically correct but will make you laugh and what is more important than laughing?”
Words & Interview by Anna Beck Bimba