The JCP "universe" is one that mixes imagination with credibility and inventiveness with conviction. Originally the brainchild of designer and architect, Livio Ballabio, JCP was conceived in 2016 and has already made waves in the design and art worlds for its determined vision and strength of design. A large part of the company's swift success is owed to the imaginative Creative Direction of Katia Meneghini and Thanos Zakopoulos, the duo behind the hybrid design studio, CTRLZAK. Although Livio actually first approached them to simply design for his new company, he soon realized that since he wanted JCP to offer the design world at large "something more" than just furniture, Katia and Thanos were the ones to entrust with the mission.
"Everybody brings something different to the mix," Thanos tells us during his and Katia's recent visit to Athens, Greece to check up on the publishing proceedings of the new JCP catalogue (or "guide to the JCP universe," as they describe it) by Susami Creative, among other work-related endeavors. It turns out that JCP is as strong as the sum of its parts who, other than Livio, Thanos and Katia, also includes collaborations with design and art world pros such as Emanuele Magini, Alessandro Zambelli, Poka-Yio and Athanasios Alexo, among others. "Everything goes together and evolves together," says Katia regarding their collaborative verve. "And everybody gives shape to this reality; this universe," adds Thanos.
But what exactly is this JCP "universe" they are talking about?
For starters, JCP isn't just furniture but encompasses a wide spectrum of cultural as well as art and design collaborations and events; Katia and Thanos describe the company as "part design related, part culture orientated" and make it clear that this was its goal from the very first moment. Hence, it's no wonder that the JCP universe was introduced to the world last year with a "magical," two- performance event held at CRT Milano Teatro dell'Arte at Milan’s Triennale. This was accompanied by a small, art-filled booklet to guide the audience through the show on stage. It was, in a way, a transformative experience for audience members or, as Thanos and Katia describe it: "The protagonist was this 'Traveller' who functions as an ambassador to this other reality, but could also be identified with each one of us who wishes to see the world through inquisitive eyes."
A selection of short "art videos;" a JCP product exhibition in Milan's arty Brera neighbourhood; as well as a large publication that more closely resembles a stunningly appointed coffee-table art book than a company's product catalogue followed. This year, other than the special photo series that Katia is art directing and which they describe as "fragments of the places where our 'Traveller' has gathered the various artifacts of the JCP universe,” Thanos and Katia are planning for JCP some exciting collaborations, such as with one of the founders of Droog Design, Richard Hutten, and with Fabrica's Creative Director, Sam Baron; as well as the composition of a dedicated JCP music soundtrack to the mix, among other endeavours.
"The reality of JCP is that we are a cultural product and an intrinsic part of the company's openness to the public is to share things that one doesn't have to buy," Thanos says when we ask him to describe the company's ethos. "Livio's basic concept was to do things that challenge the status quo," Katia agrees. "Although we don't put aside the commercial and economic issues of the company, JCP has a different way of thinking," Thanos continues. "To start, we didn't approach this universe from a commercial aspect but, rather, by wondering about the future of design."
And this is of course where we come to the actual furniture that is the company’s backbone. Simple descriptions do not seem to fit any of these items. For in this brand's universe, there is no such thing as a simple sofa, armchair or table. So while the items such as the strappy Ligomancer sofa and the "hairy" Oglof pouf by CTRLZAK, the Osforth throne by Emanuele Magini, the Rexalt armchair by Alessandro Zambelli, the Rone floor lamp by Richard Hutten, the Sideroid Zenith cabinet by Livio Ballabio - all of which are handmade by expert artisans and craftsmen in North Italy's "furniture district" of Brianza - do perform the basic furniture functions when placed in a space, it is the stories behind the "mythology" that Thanos, Katia and the JCP team have created that really make the pieces come alive and bring an air of a great storytelling saga to any room.
The JCP designs are not made for a specific target group. "We're sort of creating the market," they tell us, honestly. "Because what JCP does isn't for a 'typical' art collector, it's not even for a 'typical' design collector. It’s possibly because we come from an art background that we put a greater concept into the designs." But of course, they point out that if a customer doesn't have the time or the inclination to read the background concept stories of the items they don't have to. "We want to provide more because this is the work we love to do," Katia says. "It gives a weight to it all and we believe that there is a future market to be created out of this methodology."
When we ask what comes first, the items or these concept stories behind them, Katia is obviously quietly amused and good naturedly (and even proudly) rolls her eyes as Thanos passionately turns the discussion into a discourse about astrophysics, space and time, parallel universes, ancient Greek mythology, chaos, dark matter and how one thing in this world relates to the other. These are the thought processes and inspirations behind all the original stories in the JCP catalogue after all, as narrated by artist and writer Alistair Gentry.
"In our process, one thing influences the other," Thanos says. "The items influence the story and, at some point, the story starts influencing the items. So the whole universe is working in a mystical way to shape these things together with their creators. That's why we call the items artifacts and the people the artificers. We, the humans of this universe are like aliens in that place who have brought with them some knowledge from a different past that at the same time is our future. Because of course, time has no end or beginning; we just perceive it that way." Katia agrees: "The way we perceive the world is important because, in the end, it's all about perception," she says. "And this project is all about how we perceive the things around us," Thanos finishes off.
When asked how they would describe JCP and the multifaceted work they do there, they reply almost in unison: "An orchestration....The creative direction of many different expressions, one story with different facets. There are different approaches that go into the creation of JCP's Universe. We don't go in just one direction. We like to create kind of a mirror to life itself." When asked about the future of this universe, Thanos has the perfect description. "This project is a continuous expansion and creation; this story relates to the creation of this universe. JCP is an internal concept that is expressed in different ways."