The landscape outlines a story. It always does. In the Japanese coastline of Ago-wan, the rock formations of sinuous beauty portray a connection to nature through grace, respect and commitment to tradition. It is here that female divers known as ama (Japanese for “women of the sea”), have free dived for generations to gather treasures from the ocean grounds: abalones, urchins and precious pearls.
When René Allemann discovered this bay many years ago, he was intrigued by its poetry and was driven to meet and talk with one of the amas. He was impressed by the reverence shown to the elements, the sustainable and maternal sense of the tradition, and how handcrafted and authentic the ritual felt. Whatever product surfaced seemed even more valuable and symbolic. The experience stayed with him.
Last year, when the creative director from Switzerland decided to make a brand of his own to convey his different ideas and passions, the Japanese coastline came into mind as the perfect metaphor.
René Allemann has been working as a creative director for 25 years with brands going from cars to airlines; he’s designed brand identity projects, strategic content, cultural plans and publications for his clients, and continues to do so. “But for a long time, there was this urge in me to set up a personal brand. A platform that inspires people to live a more beautiful and conscious life, and that’s why AGOBAY is a lovely name for it”, explains Allemann.
The project can be described as the reunion and celebration of “the pearls in this world”. It is a curated selection of objects, spaces and experiences, “rare to find, hard to reach”. Recently launched in October, it includes an online shop with carefully chosen or purposefully created artisanal products; an online journal with lengthy articles, photographs and films to enjoy without a rush; as well as a physical showroom set up in the center of Zurich that comes with a coffee shop, a space for working or reading (available for renting), and a larger room where temporary experiences –“fugitive events”, AGOBAY calls them– will take place. A second showroom will open next year in a different city.
Everything is part of the same warm world: the delightful little coffee shop gives the opportunity to try some of the products offered in the showroom that –as aesthetically fulfilling as they are to gaze upon– are always functional and specially related to the table routines. At the same time, it offers its own tea line, consisting of four Indonesian variants (Oolong, black, white and green) and two Japanese ones (Gyokuro and Sencha). It is worth noting that the packaging belongs to Dutch artist Paul Cupido.
Some products that can be found in the showroom and the online shop include a sauce pourer signed by renown Shinichiro Ogata; a metal and air-tight tea canister made in Kyoto with the same technique for generations; ceramic vessels by Swiss designer Helga Ritsch; espresso cups specially made in collaboration with Therese Müller; and a pepper mill and other woodwork by the duo Akiko Kuwahata (Japan) and Ken Winther, (Denmark). The brand is currently preparing a range of products for traveling, like a soft leather pouch.
The showroom will also foster events that will be connected to the offering of AGOBAY. It could be an opportunity to experience scent with other senses, a conversation with a craftsmaker or a tea ceremony lead by a Japanese tea master. Whatever the subject of the gathering is, it will always be small and in an intimate atmosphere that complements the brand’s sensibility.
AGOBAY’s approach is based on the certainty that the journey is more than the destination. In that sense, every product reflects on the concept of an escape, some more literally than others. After all, if we view a spoon or a cup as mere objects, we are overlooking the capacity of the material to transport us to its natural origins, or of the ability of human creativity to move us emotionally, energetically. Simple, quotidian objects can transform our routine. “As we curate and create serene escapes, in both digital and physical realms, attention to quality and craft are at the core of our philosophy”, explains the brand.
Their “sanctuaries” are the next step, already in the making. “We will offer places where you can indulge in the AGOBAY feeling for a longer time”, explains René Allemann. As an example, he describes a small cabin in the Swiss mountains, where you can spend a week “completely off the grid”, without Internet connection but, instead, a selection of tea and books in your language. “A really curated week”, points out René. “You don’t need to do anything; you can just switch off and be there”.
The architecture and interior design of this getaway will maintain the elegance that, for the creative director, resides in a warm minimalism. These are not just picture-perfect ambiences that are photogenic but not inviting; on the contrary, the intention to connect will be palpable in the material, textures and forms. They will also be handcrafted and designed with a personal and creative imprint, true to its surroundings. As well as the Swiss location, a bigger house is being conceived in the south of Europe.
We are so often exposed to beauty in an ephemeral way –which irremediably gives it little depth. In describing AGOBAY, René speaks of “beauty with a purpose”, and this concept is linked to a more conscious connection to style and pleasure. “Whether they are products, places or events, we want our community to appreciate the recollection of memories”, assures the creative director.
That’s the profound value of a project like AGOBAY. On one side, there is the immediate pleasure that you feel for the object or experience; but then, there is this assemblage of discoveries, knowledge and images that stay with you. We tend to appreciate greatly the value of what’s received in the moment and miss considering these other gifts that only appear with time. Like pearls that emerge from the sea.
“Isn’t that beautiful?”, smiles René Allemann. “It’s the same with ideas: something just pops up at some point and it makes sense. Our inspirations are mostly made of things we experienced a long time ago, they are made of different connections. And that is what we ultimately want to offer with AGOBAY: treasures for you to collect along the way”.