“One day I was in a bookstore looking at a big map of the Mediterranean. It was at that point that I realized Barcelona had become my home and was an ideal port to explore the region.” This is what designer and art director Marcel Baer tells us when referring to Octaevo’s origins; a project that blends Marcel's fascination with the Mediterranean and his passion for stationery. Dedication, enthusiasm and memories are the main ingredients of Octaevo's products; carefully designed and made, they perfectly capture Mediterranean's essence and make our daily life happier. We had the opportunity to speak with Marcel, who introduces us in Octaevo's wonderful universe.
How was Octaevo born? What is the project’s main inspiration?
I have always felt a strong connection to the Mediterranean – it's rich history, legendary warmth and sense of adventure. As a child, I spent every summer with my mother's family in the south of Spain, whilst my father worked many years on the high sea. The concept for Octaevo had been brewing in my mind for some time. A few years ago, after living in Barcelona for a while, I felt I needed a change and went to Berlin for the summer. One day,I was in a bookstore looking at a big map of the Mediterranean. It was at that point that I realized Barcelona had become my home and was an ideal port to explore the region.The idea grew to create a project that unites my passion for traveling and stories – transforming them into beautifully crafted goods. I like to think of Octaevo as a platform to showcase Mediterranean talent. The financial crisis forced many people away from creative industries and artisan workshops closed. From the beginning I have had the mandate to support local producers and collaborate with artists.
Where does the name Octaevo come from?
Octaevo comes from the combination of two words, a Greek and a Latin one. "Octa" refers to the eight principal winds that form the eight-wind compass rose. The Mediterranean has almost no tides and is dominated by winds rather than currents. "Evo" derives from the Latin "Aevum", referring to the medium between time and eternity - the state of saints in heaven. The "O" refers to the coastline – the idea of starting a journey and coming back full circle to where you began. I like leaving, but coming home is always nice too.
What is so special about the Mediterranean to have such a strong influence on the brand?
It's such a dynamic area on the world map! As the home of four world empires, a great deal has happened along its coastline. It’s a small sea, but the greatness of its history makes it seem larger than it actually is. The travel writer Paul Theroux captures the essence of Mediterranean life very well in his book The Pillars of Hercules. He describes a journey starting from the strait of Gibraltar all around the coast of Mediterranean to Ceuta, Morocco. Written in the 90s, he encounters bullfights, bazaars and tourists. He marvels at the ancient wonders of Delphi, visits private islands owned by billionaires and passes through war zones... It is a journey full of contrasts and stories that make the Mediterranean so special.
When did your passion for stationery and related goods start?
As a graphic designer and art director, I have always been fascinated with printed products and craftsmanship. One day I realized I had amassed a huge archive of stationery I wasn't even aware of. I think my passion must have started when I was about 6 years old. My grandfather took me for an ice cream every afternoon during the summer. On our way we would stop at the local stationery shop, where I loved looking at the things on sale. It's one of my fondest childhood memories. I was recently visiting my grandparents’ village, which is close to Valencia, with friends. I told them the story every time we passed the shop. They must have heard it 100 times!
How did your experience as an art director and graphic designer influence Octaevo?
As a designer I am used to work with brands and start-ups. This nurtured my desire to try on my own. It was very much a personal challenge. Being an art director and graphic designer has allowed me to conceptualize the project; design and produce the products; create the website and visuals. Of course I wouldn't have been able to do all this without the help of a great team of professionals and friends. There was a lot of unknown territory to explore. For example, how to register a brand, finding investors, managing e-commerce, participating in trade shows, dealing with distributors, doing PR... And honestly, I am terrible with numbers.
Could you tell us a little bit about the production process of the pieces? Which were the main problems you had to deal with?
I wouldn't necessarily call them problems, I’d rather refer to them as challenges. When it comes to stationery, beautiful design is of course important but so is form and function. We produce a very personal product that stays with the user over a period of time, sometimes a lifetime. At least that's what I like to think. As a Mediterranean brand we want our products to feel warm. Sourcing the right materials and combining them is a big part of the process. Each product passes through various workshops. Every step must be perfectly executed for the next one to start. This can be logistically demanding. Rebeca, who works with me is managing this part. We invest a lot of time finding the right providers and getting to know them. Spending time at printers and workshops is one of the most rewarding aspects of production. A close relationship shows in the results. The last time Rebeca and I were at the printers to finish the Marble Notes, the technicians were really excited about the outcome. These are the moments that make us incredibly happy.We push our providers to try new things and are obsessed with quality. Once in a while something can go wrong, but that's part of the game. In these cases, we have an emergency bottle of Aperol hidden in the studio. (laughs)
Which of all Octaevo products is the most special for you? Why?
It's hard to pick one as each has its own story. It's funny but in the creating process each one develops its own personality. I feel attached to all of them. However the most special one for me might be the Sea Shore envelope – a kraft paper envelope lined with printed fabric from France. It's a product that we only sell online at is limited edition. It's a "capricho", an object created for the ultimate paper lover. Even though we live in an increasingly digital world, there are still many out there. We struggled to find the right craftsperson, then they stopped producing the paper and the fabric suddenly sold out. We had to find a way to glue the fabric on the paper so it would not wrinkle. It seems like such a simple product but needed a lot of attention to detail.
Are you thinking about including new products to the brand?
Yes, of course. We are already working on the second collection and planning new collaborations. We will expand our range of notebooks and add new accessories. Last December we collaborated with jewelry designer and artist Teresa Estapé mixing metal with paper. The outcome was very interesting, however the pieces were one-offs. I am determined to explore the possibilities of combining paper with other materials such as leather, wood and even food.
Which artist would you choose to create the designs of a new collection?
As Octoaevo is a Mediterranean brand, the artist has to belong to it. We are curious to know who is out there and we are constantly searching for interesting photographers, illustrators, writers, filmmakers, calligraphers… From established creatives to students, the most important thing is that we can identify ourselves with their work and vice versa. Of course good chemistry is essential.
In your dreams, what do people write about in Octaevo's agendas and notebooks?
I am happy as long as they write something, whatever it is! (laughs). Some people have told us they treasure their notebook so much that they find it hard to start. It flatters us but obviously that is not the idea! I want each notebook to find its purpose. It’s great to see them personalized.
What is your favorite place to relax and get lost in Barcelona? And among the Mediterranean?
My favourite place to relax would probably be in a local terrace. I am a bit of a foodie so I like to relax over a good meal with friends. I used to like getting lost in the Encants flea-market , but haven't been back since they moved it and opened the new one. In the Mediterranean I simply cannot choose one single place – it's too broad! I highly recommend the Botanical Garden Marimurtra in Blanes. The streets of Naples are quite fun, so is taking the boat from Piraeus port in Athens to the islands. The Bauhaus quarter in Tel Aviv is beautiful.I find winter a very interesting season to travel around the Mediterranean, not only because of the lack of tourists but also because there is something melancholic about it. The empty beaches, the closed umbrellas...
In which projects is Octaevo involved right now? What plans do you have for the future?
We are already thinking about Christmas 2014. Besides our retail products, we offer a bespoke service for brands, as a gift for an event or a party. We are about to finish a wedding invitation for a French client. We are also planning to introduce a curated artist platform on our website to exhibit new talent. Our online journal will extend with articles about collaborators and inspirations. An exhibition is planned before the summer. We are off to Paris this week for the Maison&Objet trade show - a trip that we have have been planing for a while and one we are very excited about. I find fairs inspirational, as well as being great for making contacts and friends. We are currently selling online and in different shops throughout Spain, but we want to be available internationally this year. Hopefully this leaves enough time to travel. Beirut is at the very top of my list.