“People don’t realise that it was here in Paris in the 1930s that Scandinavian design first started selling internationally,” Rod Fry, co-founder of design firm Moa Room, tells me via Skype from the French capital. “We did a lot of research into that and looked for a way of replicating it. The French are great appreciators of international talent. Paris is a place where things get brought together and the bigger story told.”
For all their open-mindedness however, Rod says that there is still a fundamental philosophy of European superiority when it comes to culture and creativity. “There is this mentality that the centre of the world is Europe, that the vision and the best taste is there,” adds the entrepreneurial designer. “You meet many people who say they’d love to live in New Zealand, but that it’s just too far away. But, you think, ‘so far away from what?’ We’re living on a bloody sphere!”
Auckland-born Rod left these shores 22 years ago. While working for a pharmaceutical company he met his French sociologist wife-to-be, Laurence Varga, in Taipei, and they later moved to China. Both ‘creative types’, (Rod is a lover of all things literature and a budding writer to boot), they looked for a change of lifestyle, so Rod joined a design agency in Shanghai before relocating to France. Eleven years ago the concept for Moa Room took hold, the idea to promote Kiwi creativity in Paris and beyond. “There used to be this shop near Victoria Market called Eon run by a lady named Angela Roper,” says Rod. “It was a beautiful store that showed New Zealand designers could put together a fantastic collection of international quality. She was very helpful to us, and it inspired us greatly with our research in France.”
It was a beautiful store that showed New Zealand designers could put together a fantastic collection of international quality.
Many doubted Kiwi concepts would catch on in classical France, the nation not being particular lovers of wood and, at the time, disinterested in the ecological message so prevalent Down Under. But following Moa’s first showing at trade fair Masion et Objets in 2006, word soon spread and a multitude of magazine features followed. “Our designers have become very famous,” says Rod, who has been instrumental in much of their success. “There are very few people who have not seen a David Trubridge light in Paris.” Rod’s own creation, the Pi Table, has become somewhat of an icon too. September will see the release of an accompanying Pi chair, a project that has been four years in the making. “We’re working on a couple of other things, but we have to be pragmatic,” says Rod. “Developing our own products is a luxury, we have to move the collection we have in order to pay the bills.” Moa Room has recently moved shop also: “It has a lot more visibility in a fun and energetic area bursting with creative people. There’s a nice big window to show off the work.”
Moa Room remains a labour of love, as all artistic endeavours should, and Rod is thrilled to be in a position to live off something which brings such joy, to him, his wife and others. “We’ve been very lucky,” he says. “We were very naïve when we started, we didn’t realise how tough it would be. It’s a pretty modest lifestyle and hopefully it will improve greatly in the coming years, and, when it does, there will be no guilt, it’s been completely deserved.” As much as Rod loves New Zealand, there is, he says, something about the French value system — “politically, culturally and philosophically” — that makes it so easy for him live there. Plus, he adds, it’s a fine place to raise his boy: “Our son is growing up seeing us go off to work and making beautiful things that make people happy. I’m a firm believer that when your kids see you doing such things, it’s such a great start in life.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces