Surrounded by flora furniture in her grandmother’s historic studio in Salento, Victoria Episcopo transforms natural forms into exquisite designs.
Travel is an indispensable investment for personal growth and exploration, and many entrepreneurs would agree that returning home to one’s roots would seem counterproductive – but not for Victoria Episcopo. She has been to many places, residing in New York, Milan, London, Paris, and Mexico, where she lived for six months while working on a contemporary art project and suddenly the call arrived to return home to Puglia. VIA Magazine explores the calling that inspired her personal Rinascimento.
“I opened the doors of my grandmother’s studio, and there were two flowers ready to be painted.” Upon her return from Mexico, she began experimenting with raw iron sheets, recalling, “My grandmother invented the first flower table. She did it just for pleasure, but then taught me how to do it.” This is no ordinary flower table; her grandmother was known for her creative hand. While Pignatelli di Spinazzola is Victoria’s original surname, she intentionally signs her tables with her grandmother’s surname, Episcopo, as a way to continue her legacy. Victoria now works with the same local team that her grandmother employed: Mario, a carpenter, and Vittorio, the blacksmith, in the same place where her grandmother worked.
From Economics to Haute Art
Most of the time, Genius ideas are simple but require a good amount of work and vision to fully realize. To work with iron was not a part of her professional background; Victoria has both a degree in economics and cultural management. It was a hidden passion that led her to furniture design. Through practice and experimentation, she now masters the raw material, finding inspiration in Greek mythology, which she traces using various traditional techniques. The studio where Victoria designs and produces the one-of-its-kind flower-like furniture reflects her cathartic journey around the world and the bond with her heritage.
“I started with the tables, and most of my pieces are made out of iron. They are mainly inspired by plants, and I like to work the iron instead of wood, and paint it. I began experimenting with patina on top of the iron. Last year, I did copper patina on iron, and now I am doing research on making other colors with natural process”, shares Victoria.
An entire research process was done to reach the Lilium Candidum (also known as Madonna Lily in botany) aesthetics, evident in one of her collections. “All the references are from books, and it is a mythological story. My idea was to do an animation for every table,” says Victoria. Along with animator Carlo Fusani and Simon Rouby and sound manager Francesca Passacantando, she has created a set of 15 symbolic animations to present the inspiration behind ‘Jadis, the Lilium Candidum’ – A midsummer Mythological History. The video depicts a hand-drawn narrative of Hercules’ birth and how Zeus has found Hera sleeping on a ‘bed of Papaver Somniferum’ to place Hercules on her sleeping chest. The story continues with stars falling on Earth and giving birth to Lilium Candidum, as Hera feeds Hercules. The animation reveals her impressive drawing skills, acquired during her studies at the Academy of Brera while learning portraits; together with her voiceover throughout the video, furniture becomes a poem.
The Creative Process
The whole creative process flows as a set of technical and artistic steps carried out with dedication and persistence. It starts with a thought; Victoria then projects patterns on full-sized paper, each element carefully drawn by hand. She adds life to the industrial material through flower and natural motif decoration on top of the surface. It is one thing to create a flower form and to imitate it on a flat facet. Looking at the wooden table’s exterior, you can see insects hand-drawn on the flower’s petals, crawling towards the painted pistil and stamen. It is reminiscent of trompe-l’oeil, as she draws bees, ants, beetles, and bugs to add a character to a piece of furniture, and perhaps, unintentionally, give it a 3D form. “There is a relation between the flower and an insect on top. Bees pollinate flowers; without bees, there will not be any flowers. The ant is more interesting; without ants, most of the blue flowers could not be reproduced,” says Victoria.
To mirror nature and shape it into her own format, she cuts the iron, tracing the curves of the leaf forms. With Mario’s woodwork and Vittorio’s ironmaking skills, Victoria connects the furniture’s wooden body to the wrought iron, carved with a gold leaf technique. It seems fragile, but the designer promises it is resistant to outdoor use. “The tables are painted for the outdoor, but with the chair, I have used the paint for cars, so it is very strong. I am working with marble and mirrors as well.” She tests her creations for strength with her own hands, and the result appears to be fun and upbeat.
This is where the philosophy of the brand reveals itself – “Energy. We are having fun while we are working, and I wanted to give this sensation back.” Considering that Puglia has an important role in the working process, and everything is made in Puglia, the journey takes a dynamic shape. “Most of my family is from Puglia. What inspires me [there] are the colors, the lights, and nature. The fact of living in the countryside helps me to stay focused and be inspired by nature,” says Victoria. Puglia flows through her projects’ veins; having a walk around the streets or in the countryside is enough to get a dose of inspiration. Some of her favorite spots are Porto Selvaggio, Torre Uluzzo in Nardo, and a coastal spot simply known as Viola.
The first significant step in Victoria’s career was presenting her first flower collection at Rossana Orlandi during the Milan Design Week in 2015. Recently Vivienne Oh asked Victoria to do a series of pieces for a newly opened shop in Grand Hyatt in Seoul, as she was following her works throughout the years. Victoria is now collaborating with a home and interior designer, and her pieces can be viewed and purchased at the Mia Gallery in Rome; meanwhile, the team is steadily working on distributing the studio’s creations worldwide. While online shops are dominating the market, her objective is to sell her furniture in shops. In fact, hers are works to witness with the eye.
An Evolving Flower
In October 2020, Victoria showcased Monstera Deliciosa at the second edition of the EDIT Napoli, an innovative design fair launched in 2019. The creation is inspired by flora and fauna studied during Victoria’s trip to Mexico. Its scale and structure, along with the movement it makes in the wind, inspired her to create a huge leaf iron chair with a cushion on top of it to make it softer and practical.
On the other hand, Wisteria Sinensis, a giant dining table from her collection, is inspired by an Asian flower, symbolizing new life in spring. She finds beauty in patterns of shadows, so the flower collection is continually evolving. The small versions of the Palmae (a leaf-like design) were introduced during the EDIT Napoli. However, the real version, which is three meters wide and three meters long, is planned to be showcased in the U.S. “All the leaves that I have presented at EDIT Napoli, the wall applique – it had success, and people appreciated what I did.”
Her creative space is mesmerizing as it feeds on nature, it’s majestic aesthetic and simplicity; “I live in the studio” – being surrounded by things you love and with a place that carries your family memories is precious. Her studio merits a visit but can also be enjoyed virtually: Victoria has created an ethereal world on her website where she shares her contemplations, styles, and creations.
Tatevik Avetisyan is a Milan-based freelance writer specializing in fashion, travel, and art. Her master project for Istituto Europe di Design, “Which Character Are You?” fashion film was published in Vogue-Talents. She leads her fashion blog and travels around the world in search of new inspirations. Besides content creation, her biggest passion is jewelry design and gardening.