“In Venvstas we have set our minds and souls into creating unique objects that will not only carry the quality of Venus, but will honuor all three Vitruvian principles, striving for the harmony of nature. Our pieces are crafted by hand with care and precision, designed and built to last – something that is as rare as to find good, beautifully designed objects in a complex, beautiful world.” It takes gall of a very rare kind to be talking like that. It takes products that are even better to make the bluster look understated. Want to meet the man who has harmonised the impossible? Inked Happiness talked to Lucio Rossi, designer, artist, philosopher, architect … the man who is already being compared to Roy Conklin for a pen that is no less revolutionary than the crescent filler was in its time. Excerpts:
Q1. Architects are known to be finicky, but generally restrict themselves to just tuning their nibs – you went ahead and designed the whole pen (and a mechanical pencil if I am not wrong), why?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: It was first a mechanical pencil what I did, as, it’s a long story I started by making my personal tool. Architects do use fountain pens but less than pencils and since I’m a very computer driven designer, I looked at them more as a design problem than anything else. I had fountain pens when I was a kid, just a couple my parents gave me and I was the only one in class using them and nobody including teachers knew what was a fountain pen. I think I got them because my parents thought they could improve my calligraphy, which it didn’t, but the idea of making a pen seemed to me more interesting than to just design a 2mm mechanical pencil. It seemed as a good complement, so I took it seriously as a design problem. I wanted a new pen and I have to say I have never collected pens and after the elementary school I stopped using them until the university where I started to use an old Tintenkuli that belonged to any of my parents. The Tintenkuli has a piston but it’s not a fountain pen, it has no nib, its like a drafting pen…but that took me back to fountain pens so at one point I’ll have one for some sketching. I have no history load on me, as I do not collect them, nor ever bought them in numbers, I always had one, just one, so this was also not a load even for the engineering of the pen. It was my brother (architect and designer as me) who suggested that I should use screws instead of threads because the idea was to reduce sections and make the pens as streamlined as possible to match the pencil, so we put together the very first prototype with the screws you find in a fencing sword, in the tip, so we used one of my own swords for that, and as I like to pull, therefore you get the cuts in angles that are to lock parts and have to do with the tolerances of the material, not really about style, lets say, you just pull or push and is so much easier, everything had a reason, of course current screws are of a different size and type, I mean, everything has been re-engineered, but the main one is that when you design, first you do it for you, and if it works for you, if it pleases you, then it will for others. You have to know that you like what you do, otherwise why bother ?
Q2. The Venvstas Carbon Collection – you seem to have completely “re-imagined” the fountain pen with your streamlined designing, use of material and a near complete disregard to traditional styling. What made you take this uber-radical step?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: I just designed the best pens I could with modern materials, materials of my age, in a given time and circumstances. I mean, I have designed things way more complicated than a pen, a hospital for instance or a car, headphones or even a chair or a sofa or a house but I think that when you get an object and you can strip it to the synthesis of what it should be, then you have something you can be happy about. I don’t like traditional designs in pens as they are useless for what I want in a pen, I mean, most are inspired by an specific period of lets say, writing utensil’s history, I really can’t draw with a MB 149 (I know an architect who does, but I can’t) which is the archetype of the cigar pen, made for ostentation rather than function, although if the function of the MB 149 is to show how much money you have or you need it as an status symbol, that’s OK, its very functional then, but if the function is to comfortably draw or write a long note….well, try and see how far you get, even such a big pen has only slightly more ink capacity than an ink converter as the original had a telescopic piston where in the modern in order to cut costs it has a conventional one, so its not really the real thing, besides, the market is flooded with too many MB 149 clones, from Sailor to any tuned pen company that appears, not to mention atrocities like some Italian pens that are hitting the market every season with the newest fantasy plastic colour and clip. The market is saturated, overcrowded (because it is too small) and Its not precious resin, it’s plain plastic, ABS. I like things from my time, I look forward, I have no nostalgia, but some designs are so good that you don’t know when were they made. If you go to the Louvre and you see the Egyptian chairs they have there, they look more modern than most chairs you get to see today, because they are honest, they are the product of an understanding of the materials and the human body, and wood has been the same for millions of years and the human body as we know it is at least 500.000 or more, so its really important to see what really good design is about, but some people are using the latest smart phones when in their hearts want a Tudor styled house (that finishes to be made out of concrete and cardboard) and a pen that looks like it was made for Isadora Duncan, and that makes no sense to me, although eventually everything has a logic behind, it’s just not the one that works for me and for some other folks. There’s enough room for the M149, their clones, the terrible Italian pen, the parrot pen and something like a Carbon T. You can choose. Seems there’s a client for everybody, but some designs, we think are the way to go, things like tradition, heritage, identity, are really traps for any good designer, or anybody. Nothing new can be made with those words. It’s simply uninteresting from an intellectual point of view and it is also a good way of undermining creativity, so each time I see the pen inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, or Dante (people who never wrote with a fountain pen) or JFK or Marilyn Monroe, well, its just consumer exploitation, I just saw something called the Moctezuma pen by MB……I mean, it’s an atrocity from any point of view. It’s just a toy.
Q3. Where are your pens manufactured? What are the major challenges that you face, especially considering the unique nature of materials that are used? Are the designs frozen – or do they keep evolving as you move forward?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: Pens are manufactured in Italy. Offices are in Italy. I used to make them in Paris, the very first ones. The main challenge is the material itself, the carbon, the linear carbon is a difficult material to manufacture with, and I have learned it the hard way, and that eventually is reflecting on the costs. Conceptually my pens should be easy to make, ideally, but the material is not even, has its problems but looks and feels great, specially on the pencil. The carbon in most pens that are claiming to be carbon fibre made is just a very thin layer applied on top of metal or plastic, therefore they don’t deal with the problems we do, this is, to use a very anisotropic material, a composite, for what it was made, this is, to be structural. I’m not the type of architect who would make a building, let’s say in concrete but dressed up with bricks, if it’s made of concrete you see concrete, if for some reason you made it with bricks, then, bricks are structural. Although this sounds obvious, it is actually very rare, like common sense, it’s not common at all.
Regarding design at one point I thought around 2 years ago that the limit for the fountain pens (my designs) got to a point where I had nothing new to say. As I did more than 50 prototypes and designs, I thought, well, this brand has stuff for the next 10 years at least, work is finished here, move on. Nevertheless I have been recently working on a new pen that should be out soon at one point, it’s just that as you move on, new things come up, so it was needed to yet make a new design. Nevertheless, Venvstas has its own life now, so I make a differentiation of what is the brand, my design philosophy and also my evolution as a designer and what is interesting for me. I’m focused at the moment on other products that have nothing to do with pens. Also architectural projects, but regarding pens, the future has been sketched now, as we say, write your history, draw your future, I have sketched most of it, I mean, the future of Venvstas.
Q4. How has been the customer feedback been to the Carbon Collection? Surely, since the Lamy 2000 in the late 1960’s nothing so futuristic has appeared in the fountain pen horizon?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: The feedback has been great (as a critic and as a compliment), and also since I have made my first design of a pen, the only thing I had to work hard was quality, manufacturing techniques and volume, and the Venvstas Carbon Collection is finally there. This has to do with partners, new persons involved like Filippo Carmignani Tirelli, an architect like me, taking now on the direction of the brand. Quality and stock was the goal for this collection. I’m shocked that most folks are still talking about modern fountain pens in forums and what pops up is the 2000. I had a 2000 that was from a friend of mine, I had the pen for sometime, the cap was cracked, the pen was always leaking, I mean, its a great design but I just cannot accept that nobody came up before me with something at least close to it. But to my mind, the Pilot Murex which is a knock-off of a prior Parker model, the Falcon, well, they improved the design of the Parker quite, I cannot say the same about the Montblanc clones they did, which all look terrible, cheap, and I think the Pilot as a design, the Murex is even better than the 2000, but hobbyists do not like it, I mean, the 2000 is still accessible for most of them, that’s why there’s so much talking about it. For instance, the Jean Pierre Lépine Cybergraph from this century is the only modern fountain pen that can hit a real auction (not some ebay auction or pen swap in Reddit or the FPN or any pen show, I’m talking about a real maison des enchères like Drouot in Paris where people really understand what can hold value through time, being that a Greek figurine, a medieval painting or a Swiss watch from a little known maker) and be sold for over a 1000 bucks. No other used modern pen can do that. The second hand market of pens is not forgiving like watches, it can be quite frustrating for not saying impossible to get back money that was put into a pen collection. I’ve seen pen collectors (reputed ones) paying crazy cash for rubbish, but Jean Pierre Lépine is the only maker who has really made something different since. But this is a very french thing, Lépine is little known outside France, (and even in France is resisted by hobbyist) then I don’t know if Venvstas is futurist, I like to say I design for today and tomorrow, therefore you have to be a bit futuristic, but when things have no time you have nailed it and the 2000 is almost about that, it has endure time because its good and mostly because nobody in this business makes any effort to do something different, except Lépine of course and Lamy did it subsequently, in two very different markets, but now I see how Lamy is walking a strange path, I mean, they used to hire designers and architects for their pens, but now are more marketing oriented, so they are exploiting the just colours thing with the safari, which is a school pen design that is more than 30 years old, I mean, it’s a very conservative approach, so one day the safari is black, another day is carbon and the following season is petrol but it’s always the same pen in black ABS like a Lego brick…so nothing new there, still eating from a design that is not as good as the one of the 2000 and they are forgetting their roots, it was the 2000 that saved Lamy from bankruptcy and it was thanks to the work of a designer and the direction that had the vision for the company, but if you are a designer or a person with good design literacy you can really in a snap get the time, I mean, when the 2000 was made, if you know about Tomas Maldonado (he is not the designer by the way), the school of Ulm, Olivetti, Braun, Moulinex ….. but the pen business as we know it, its a fraction, it just belongs now to a certain point in time, or idea, that is making most people to see the 2000 like it was made yesterday, so well, the conclusion is that we need more designers to consciously design the things we use, to honestly do things out of passion as marketing has ruined design as everything that surrounds us is designed, and it’s so bad, we buy things that have been made by speculation and the seek of profit and approval, not by passion and intellect. The cities we live in are so poorly designed (if), they are terrible, and homes, this crisis of the virus will show that we need better homes, better design to make people live better, and we need it now! Design is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, It’s a lot I can do as an urban planer, which I am, as an architect, or a designer too, but it’s little that Venvstas can do as a brand, so that’s why Venvstas is now hosting a design competition called the future of stationery. We’ll make a competition every year. Venvstas is about design and is open to other designers as well. I have no ego on this. Venvstas makes pens now, so let them be the best designed ones. That’s already something. We expect many entries from India actually.
Q5. As an obvious lover of writing instruments, do you see a spurt in the demand for the fountain pens? Are more people, especially young people, picking up the fountain pen to cherish the act of writing? Or is it just another flash in the pan, a fad, that is more about accessorising and using the fountain pen as a conversation starter than as an instrument of penning one’s thoughts?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: I don’t think I’m a lover of writing instruments, I’m a lover of drawing instruments, I have painted and drawn since I can remember and I come from a family of artists, generations of artists, so my background is different although I would repeat that all started more as a design problem, I needed drawing instruments and something that could communicate my design philosophy and capacity, but at one point Venvstas took it’s own direction, not only in terms of shape, but for instance in the form of a long research into filling mechanisms, I mean, Venvstas took off as something of its own and the demand is really complex, it depends on the different markets you’re hitting. There are different ones and each one has its logic. Venvstas has the capacity that can be with a few products in many (this is not something we expected, it happened), as sometimes these markets are overlapping. If you look on the data that shows who’s entering the website its amazing how young are they. 60% or so are between 18 and 35. We contacted Peter, from Peter Draws, who I guess is in his late 20’s, and when he used the pen and pencil that I’ve designed for me to draw, and he really pushed them, then I felt that they were doing what they were supposed to do, everybody is so young, that I think drawing is what’s going to make this things to endure some more time. But age, I mean, when you see the Montblanc M, made by a famous designer, it’s clear that Montblanc understands the need for a change in direction not to suffer in the middle term. How you get to a younger market? They need a younger market (in their case because of the cost of their product I would say young for them is 35/40 to 50) you can buy two Magnas with a MB M, so they need to extend their own lives, but in our case is different, the M is a middle point, it is nor a good design, nor a nice traditional pen, as for us it’s about the joy of using a nice tool, which is a different approach, although at the beginning I didn’t knew that there’s a hobby, that people collect pens, as I don’t collect things and have no hobbies, it was and is difficult for me to understand, but then you get letters from customers who enjoy modifying them, looking at them, having them, and well, if they bring happiness, makes my day, I’m not designing weapons after all.
Q6. What are your thoughts on India? Any plans to enter the Indian market in the near future? Have you ever used India made fountain pens? Your advice to the manufacturers in India?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: India ……. well, I red many many years ago the Ramayana. I’m reading now the Mahabharata, as I had only red some pieces or comments from different Indian authors. I’m not into any religion as I have my own system but I have learned a lot from the Ramayana, specially about friendship, the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana or Garuda, when Garuda dies its such a difficult passage, does going after Sita is really worth the life of Garuda? But is what Garuda wants in his heart as it happens because of that, friendship, or when Hanuman makes his jump to Lanka to find Ravana and then the building of the bridge between the continent and Sri Lanka……a bridge that is still there, just look for it. Is there. I have friends from India and I had students from India, despite of being still young, I had a long academic career in the fields of architecture and design so I had many students from India, so India and I went and will go a long way. But regarding modern India, I’m worried as it will go the same way China did, they’ll destroy their nature in the name of manufacturing cheap stuff for the west, useless stuff, its sad, and its a mixture of things, the west looking for cheap and dirty manufacturing so they can keep living by doing less and the need for India or China to sell, plus the current crisis will make the west to try to reduce its dependence from China, and instead of saying, well, we should maybe relocate in our countries some of our manufacturing, no, they will look for alternatives that will be even cheaper…my take is that we should be fair, the work of someone in India, Bangladesh or China should be priced the same as anywhere else. Otherwise it’s just arbitrary. If I have to source something from India is because I cannot find it here, not because its cheaper, its just that in the case of the pens, I mean, most western makers who do not produce in the west are going to India or China or Taiwan with a sketch and they say, can you do me something like this? Or worse, they buy a cheap pen they like, they change a trim here and a clip there and what costs 50 cents suddenly is sold as an “entry level pen” for 50$. So it’s a two way thing here, that a pen shouldn’t cost just 50 cents but also shouldn’t cost 50 bucks. We are not fair.
John Burns said, don’t do social housing, just pay decent wadges, so it’s really complicated. It’s a relation of forces, of power. Moreover, going back to the Ramayana, towards the end, a Brahman woman appears before Rama with a dead baby. She complaints that the child died of no apparent reason, that how something like that could happen and if something like that happened was because some sort of dis balance was taking place, he, Rama, as the ruler had to fix whatever caused that injustice. Rama gets into his Vimana and goes through all his land until he sees next to a river what looks like a yogi doing a very powerful Tapas. Rama figures out that that man was a Sudra, that was no Brahman, therefore he shouldn’t be doing that. The man replies that he was doing that big sacrifice and elevated meditation in order to transfer himself to the higher planets. Thing that was prohibited because he was a Sudra. Immediately Rama without saying anything chopped his head off and reestablished the lost equilibrium. Well, here there’s a warning, don’t try to improve yourself, don’t do what’s not supposed for you to do, so that it is well into the roots of the Indian culture, and that I see might be a problem if somebody would say, we won’t destroy our nation, so probably this rigid system should be changed by education, real education, which is the power to make a true individual, someone who’s really free, but that’s not convenient to nations, our world has been shaped by fear. Just think what happened in China, just now they are realising the damage that was inflicted by pollution, but I’m going too far maybe, regarding pens…….India has a huge market as I can see for these products, and we have met lots of Indian retailers who are interested. The problem is the cost of the carbon collection, is not really competitive for the Indian market as the brand is not currently open for distribution, is more difficult to enter. I had a talk with a big distributor from India, I cannot recall the name, just someone that either thinks like he’s important or maybe he truly is in what he does, but very pretentious anyway, he couldn’t understand the product, he wanted a clip, or for instance he thought a pen is just for signing a check or a contract, when our pens are for creating, he didn’t got the message, but younger ones (of mind) will. I met interesting retailers from India, again, I think we are too expensive and strange for them at the moment, I mean, I saw most Indian retailers looking for that gold trim we don’t have, the clip that’s absent, so instead of looking on what we really have and the others don’t, which is a lot actually, they were lost in all that none sense… what I design is what you see, materials are expressing themselves. That’s when my mentality clashes with the market, specially hobbyists. I guess if some brave Indian retailer takes us, maybe there’s a big opportunity for him or her, otherwise we can ship to India as we do, we did it many times, so we’re there. Venvstas has a big following in India, I’m sure. The fact you have reached us, is part of that.
But regarding Indian pens, I have never used a 100% Indian pen (at least that I know), and I have used very very little fountain pens that were not made by me, I like my pens therefore I don’t use anything that is not Venvstas…..but I have tried yes many Indian nibs. They are getting a lot better I have to say, since the firsts I picked for testing a few years ago, but I still think they should be more strict with their QC, it’s very irregular, and when you have to do business, well, it’s complicated, everything is blurry, not very professional sometimes, not clear from the start and I wonder why should they behave like that ? Although this sounds like a generalisation, it’s just what I have experienced and not the way I like to work.
If fountain pens one day vanish, (they will eventually) I think India will be the last place. So to manufacturers I’ll just, from my position, I’d only say, get more professional, do better QC’s and invest on design, also I had some talks with some of them at one point, as you met them in Paperworld mostly, others do write to us, well, the whole idea I get is of a business that although has being going on for a long time, it is just now opening to the world, but that’s my experience, so I cannot say everyone is like that, for the clients, the Indian ones, just be proud of your own products, but makers have to make you be proud!
Overall, everybody wants great design, nobody wants to pay for it and Indian makers are no exception. We don’t need “designer’s” pens, just make properly designed pens or objects. You’ll be surprised how much money a good design can save and make you win. Lamy knows this, it has just forgotten.
Q7. What are the brands plans for the near future?
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: I have to say that any plan anybody could had, during this period turned out into nothing. I wrote three years ago a business model for Venvstas that had to span for 10 years at least. That with the subsequent business plans, maybe for a total of around 100 pages, and, well, all rubbish now. Some things that are being made at the moment are not even on that plan, or at a different point in time. So a lot is being re-written and changed. We’ll introduce a series of notebooks, that are almost ready, based on a design I did some years ago. The brand will expand its line of accessories, ink is coming back and there’s work now on a new product that will be for carrying your computer, papers, things, pens of course, and regarding those, Venvstas will see the introduction of a new line, a Metal collection and also a limited one, where some previous models from the Parisian era may get back. Basically is that. That’s for the brand. The funny thing is that all these have been designed, they are already designed, made, Venvstas has them, but this year has been a catastrophe. Next one is showing tough, so It shows that politicians on this planet are not very intelligent people (maybe we are all not as intelligent as we would like to think). It has show us this crisis, or at least me, too many more negative facets from this collective of people we are, I have changed a lot my views on things, I don’t understand this terror of death from some or how societies of the 21st century, many of the most advanced ones have responded to this crisis with medieval means, I see quarantines of 70 days and counting, not 40, the media has also a big portion of responsibility too, so much rubbish has been written, so many ignorant persons have so much power and space, anyway, hard times, but some good things happen out of all the bad that is going on, if this can change a few minds, then, its something. Most will carry on as they were. Overall, investing further on health, understanding the spreading of the virus, would have been far cheaper than the cost of shutting off an economy where people live on the edge, countries are in debt ans also companies, not to mention all who will die by many other problems that were not attended, I mean, they have followed the advice of a WHO directed by someone that is clear it’s not fit for the position, and I do not understand how is that he has not been fired, nor resigned, and that’s with politics, you can make so much wrong, and people won’t fire you, the private sector, well, you just go out of business or get fired, and we are witnessing that in real time…they talk now about protecting life, when leaders have historically thrown people to die in war, destroying complete generations in the process, its very, very cynical, even, to fix the environment is a political problem, they just don’t care, all they care is to be in power as much as they can, and make people think they are needed, when if we’ll put a computer to do their job, it would be, not only efficient, but also honest and cheaper.
Q8. Anything that you would like to communicate to the readers of Inked Happiness.
Lucio Rossi,Venvstas: Write to us, I mean, forums are sometimes full of misinformation, gossips, people with too much free time to write nonsense in order to feed others with an equivalent void, and today you can just write and ask no matter where you are. Buy a pen if you like it, try it, send it back if you don’t. Get your own opinion on things, don’t do something because everybody is doing it or saying so. Design, good one, shouldn’t be a luxury, at least, you know you are buying something that was made to last, this is, that someone put the brain in motion to give you something that will serve you, regarding the Indian market, we could be there if there’s a client, I have seen the traffic, we have so much from India, after the US, Europe and Japan, India is the next country/region that hits Venvstas website the most, so it has to be a reason for that, I don’t think what most Indian retailers are looking for is actually what all clients want. This crisis will show that the times of the guy that would say I know what people want, its over, people actually will get what they want and will be able to find it, we are not living in 1910 after all, not even 1984, although in some other subjects, looks quite similar.
For More information visit: https://www.venvstas.com/
Editor’s Note: Venvstas has been kind enough to a agree to offer a special discount exclusively to the readers if Inked Happiness. For details, contact us by way of adding a comment to the story.