Creative Minds – Elisa Cavani of Manoteca

Part of an article series I’m writing for called Creative Minds – Interviews with young entrepreneurs from around the globe working within the creative filed. Published April 2, 2014


A few years ago, I saw a picture of a desk that captured my eye. I can’t remember exactly where I saw it—perhaps it was this very blog—I just remember not being able to stop thinking about it. I searched the Internet to find out who had created this lovely desk and ended up on the website of Manoteca. Now, when I see something that I like, I have to tell the person who is behind it that I like their creation (or what they are wearing, or what they are singing, or what they are drawing, etc.) Call it what you will, OCD if you wish.

So I found the e-mail address for the person behind the brand, and it turned out to be a young woman called Elisa. Since then, we haven’t written much, but my curiosity for the person and the visions behind the brand is still there. So, here comes the second article about young ambitious entrepreneurs working within the creative field.


Core77: What led you to start Manoteca?

Elisa Cavani: Before creating Manoteca, I was working as a visual merchandiser for fashion companies, for more or less ten years. I traveled a lot and gained a lot of information. In those ten years, I met very respectable people with so much talent. Yet the structure of big companies crushed them—I saw many people forget the things they believed in and give up any kind of talent. I was scared because I could feel that it was happening to me as well, so I decided to “fire” myself and create something that I had had in my head for so long.

This was the beginning. I moved the furniture in my apartment and for a year I worked, lived and slept in the middle of tools and sawdust. To me, the pieces of my first collection represent the freedom of expression. I loved them so much. I spent my evenings watching them, cleaning them one by one, every single hole and crack in the material. I really treated them as if they were the most valuable things I owned. In fact, they still are.


Did your ten years of experience as a merchandiser have any influence on how you started your brand?

I didn’t think so initially, then I thought again and came up with a better answer. The visual merchandisers work with the visual language, they communicate feelings and moods but cannot use words. There is so much of this in Manoteca. There is a maniacal attitude, for which everything have to be perfect, and a meticulous attention to every detail. There is the organization and optimization of the time. There are the administrative and commercial skills, which I unwittingly absorbed and modified in favor of the brand. There is the knowledge of foreign markets that I have followed for a long time, the awareness that every person have different habits and cultural characteristics that you need to know, otherwise it is impossible to communicate. There are errors that I have made in the past, from which I can benefit today. There is a predisposition for solid and professional structure, which hasallowed the project to go around the world.

In retrospect, I should say ‘Thank You’ to my past.


So those were a few things you have taken with you from your past. Is there anything that you actively chose to distance yourself from?

I chose to stay away from the rigidity and the constraints. Everything about the creative process is has to be free rules and theories. Any kind of cross-pollination is welcome, no matter how crazy it is. There is not a fixed deadline to finish the items. It took me a year to create some of them. There is no more frustration. There is no longer an expectation. Times no longer exist, everything is mixed and changes constantly. The creative process is pure anarchy.

When working on your first collection, where did you find your inspiration?

I’ve been inspired by my moods. Each of these objects is the elaboration of a feeling, even their names are. When I completed “la Nuit de Noel,” I realized how I felt lonely and fragile, but also how that solitude was nice and beautiful. I need to create things with which I feel comfortable. The truth is that I make objects for myself. I hope this is not too selfish ;-)


You started you company back in 2010. What has been the hardest part being self-employed?

The hardest part has been, and still is, time management. When you work for a company, there is a structure that works with and for you. Everyone has a specific role and knowd how to do very well. When you work alone, every day you have a different role, and you often have to be many different people in a single day. It can be very stressful. I would love to stay all day in my lab, working hard on a table, completely submerged in sawdust, deeply concentrated… This can only happen on a Sunday or during the night. During the day, your phone rings non-stop and you have to answer, because if not, the organization doesn’t work. Mail keeps coming in, and you have to answer because people don’t want to wait, they have to work and they need information.

The funniest part is having to deal with office employees who are accustomed to talking to the corresponding colleague, and they assume that you have their own information… Sometimes it happens that they say strange things like: “excuse me but if you don’t know the international laws of the Mexican customs, I don’t know how you can work…” This makes me laugh, but the funniest thing is that it’s true. I have to. This takes a long time and a lot of organization. I’m working on it.


Working in a one-person business can be a challenge. How do you get yourself to do the things that you don’t want to do? Do you have someone special to motivate you when you yourself find it hard to do so?

I do things also when I don’t want and I reward myself with chocolate. I have someone special that motivate me and help me every day—Marco Molinelli, my boyfriend of five years. He’s a director, a musician, and sometimes my personal art director. He did the website, the shootings and our books.We live together in Bologna in a big house in the hills and our studios are in the basement. Every time I need help, I go in his studio. If it was not for him, Manoteca would not exist.


Are you working on some projects on the side of Manoteca?

Not now. During the past year, I collaborated with a friend, Marisa Cortese, who specialized in Japanese origami to create a musical installation called “In Mobile Carta.” It has been on view for three months at the International Museum of Music in Bologna. It is an installation made of a Manoteca piano connected to 5,000 origami butterflies. Each piano gavel is connected to a transparent string, stretched between the branches of trees. the spectator can sit and play the piano causing the wires to vibrate and doing so getting butterflies fly. A little part of “In mobile carta” will be presented at the design week in Milan. Come to try it.

If you were asked to choose a theatre piece for which you were going to create the scenography, which piece would it be, and what would you like to do?

My favorite pieces belongs to the theater of the absurd. For the installation “In Mobile Carta,” I built a chair called “Waiting for Godot.” It is a chair connected with a streetlamp and an armrest, which is unusable because it is occupied by a metronome that keeps track of time, but never tells you what time it is. On the back of the chair, there is an handle, so you can bring it to wait for Godot where you like.


Do you have as a long term goal for Manoteca?

The Manoteca lab remains my priority, but we are studying some smaller charming items that will be presented at the end of the year. In the future, I would love to experiment with objects from different countries. Right now I work with Italian objects, I know the culture of my country very well but I’m curious to know the other’s one and mix things up. I want to experiment, contaminate and be contaminated.

Before letting you go back to preparing for Milan Furniture Fair that starts next week, can you give us a few Do’s and Don’t’s for designers who are thinking about starting their own business?

I can only speak on my experience, it does not mean that what I’m about to say is correct because every situation is different.

When you can not do a thing, ask it to many people, put the information together and decide what is best suited to your project according to your logic.

Never think that the details are not important. They are fundamental and make all the difference.

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