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Croatian Design Superstore: interview with director Ira Payer

Jonathan Bousfield speaks to Ira Payer of the Croatian Design Superstore about its new outlet in Zagreb city centre

Igor Dugandzic

After several years of a pop-up existence on the Croatian coast, the Croatian Design Superstore has finally set up permanent shop in the heart of the capital. Set up to showcase the best of Croatian design – and to demonstrate that Croatian products can be sold to an increas- ingly design-hungry market – the Superstore is a unique and fruitful collaboration between design specialists, marketing experts and resourceful designers who have embarked on production of their own projects.

Creative director Ira Payer is also a prominent designer in her own right. As founder of Superstudio 29, she is the co-creator of the iconic ‘Croatia As It Is’ shoulder bags, emblazoned with unexpectedly ironic slogans.

Whose idea was it to start Croatian Design Superstore and how did it evolve?

When I served as a president of Croatian Designers’ Association, the main one of its kind in Croatia, I realised that what was missing was a platform for promoting and advancing Croatian design in the marketplace. So I was thinking of developing a strong platform that would benefit the entire design community.

Is Croatian design a brand? If so what are its main characteristics?

I wouldn’t say Croatian design could be considered a brand yet, certainly not in a Finnish or Scandinavian way. But we have to take into consideration how little is invested in it in our country. We have practically no institutions that support design financially, invest in its growth or connect it with the business community. However, individual designs and designers are already internationally recognised. And there is definitely a huge potential for future development.

The contents of the Superstore are carefully curated. How do you decide what is included in the store and what is left out?

The current selection consists of 120 products and product series, made by more than 100 manufacturers, entrepreneurs and innovators. The result is a collection of tangible products rather than simply display items, ranging from furniture and lighting to books and posters. The selected projects are mostly commercial, but some of them are also conceptually designed. What they all have in common is that they are important for the bigger picture of Croatian design.

Who designed the interior and how did you choose the dominant, bright red colour? Red is a very bold statement...

The interior was designed by architects Iva Letilović and Igor Pedišić. It’s a continuation of what they did last summer for the pop-up version of the store. Since the pop-up version was hosted in various spaces, the exhibition set-up had to be modular and flexible, but with a strong visual identity. We hosted it in two protected historical sites: the Ducal Palace in Zadar and the Lazareti complex in Dubrovnik. In both cases the old stone environment went very well with our low-budget set of packing plywood and contemporary design. The location on Marticeva here in Zagreb will be our long-term home, but the premises we rented lacked character, so after bringing down any unnecessary walls we painted literally everything in full red: floor, ceiling, walls, pillars, even the till. The power of the colour neutralises the imperfections of the interior, and makes it dynamic and memorable at the same time.

Are there plans for any pop-up Superstores on the Adriatic in summer 2015?

The Showcase & Pop-up Shop version of the Croatian Design Superstore can quickly and easily fit in any space. We have a few ideas where we would like to appear on the Adriatic coast, and I hope we will be able to make it happen. But that depends if we get the support of the local authorities and tourist boards. 

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