A South African designer may seem a strange choice for our Carioca Club, but Hubert Zandberg had been embraced as an honorary Carioca long before we decided to form this partnership. He began travelling regularly to Rio over a decade ago, and became such an important figure in the city’s art scene that he was invited twice to the country in an official capacity: once to take part in the famous sambadrome parade of Rio’s carnival. His overwhelming memory of the event is the passion that was demonstrated by his fellow performers. That and “losing 5 kilos” on the route thanks to a combination of direct sunshine, lights, and elaborate heavy costume.
Despite growing up in the Karoo, London is home for Zandberg and he founded his eponymous company here in 2002. In a short time he has gained a roster of high-profile clients who become dedicated return clients, and resounding approval from the press. Their reviews make reference to “irrepressible creative energy” (House & Garden), and “rich, textured and layered” (FT How to Spend It). His own description is “vintage regality meets modernism with a dash of anarchy” which he professes to find “strangely calming”.
Despite a profusion of artworks, objects and colours, this is strangely accurate. The opulence is always measure and exacted, an irreverent balancing act that never crosses the border to pastiche, or indeed theatre. Each room is recognisably the functional living space of an individual.
This bespoke approach is at the heart of Zandberg’s designs. There is no one-size-fits-all template, and the client’s personal touches are built into the process, not an afterthought. He has a penchant for incorporating their photography or even children’s artwork into a display with “proper” art. It’s an elevated and chic equivalent of the crayon drawing on the refrigerator, and what could feel more personal and homely than that?
It is this proclivity for juxtaposition that has him so taken with Brazil. “Nowhere,” he states boldly, “have I actually ever seen aesthetic juxtaposition as severe as in Brazil.” He extolls the virtues of the regulated approach Brazil took to introducing modernism to the country, nonchalantly placing futuristic and avant-garde buildings into the profusion of tropical lushness. An Eden with a smattering of surrealism. “The guts! That’s why Brazilian get away with it,” he laughs. “Everything is done with incredible passion. You’re startled by how the one emphasises the other, and it just happens over and over again. You never get bored of it, you never get enough of it.”
The self-described love affair with Brazil shows no sign of waning, in part due to the city’s incredible art scene. He lists Galeria Laura Marsiaj as a favourite, along with the flea market at Lapa, something he plans his trips to the city to accommodate.
He distrusts anything trendy in Rio, preferring to eat in simple, local establishments with the art dealers, and his main recommendation for visitors to the city is simply the beach. “When you go to the beach in Brazil it really is the big equaliser, and it’s all about this spirit and this togetherness. I feel in awe of how well they do it. When people talk about the Brazilian soul, it’s something tangible, it’s something that you feel, except not everyone’s receptive to it.”
The tangibility of the Brazilian soul is what lead to this collaboration with Frescobol Carioca. A Notting Hill local, he came upon the store and felt instantly transported back to Rio. He was first drawn in by the iconic bats, a quintessential feature of a day on the tropical beaches, but became a regular thanks to the clothing. “I think I’m the world’s most boring dresser frankly,” he laughs. “I think having to be so-called creative enough in my day job to also be concerned about fashion. I have two to three brands that I wear and in combination with my tailor in Berlin that’s my entire wardrobe.”
He relies on comfortable linens, hoodies and relaxed tailoring for his warm weather wardrobe, citing its versatility, a prime factor considering he only ever travels with hand luggage. “You can wear it for a semi-formal meeting with a client on a boat, then take it to dinner, to drinks, to the beach. The Brazilian soul is as comfortable on the boat off the Riviera as it is in Mykonos, or Croatia, or in London, in Notting Hill. You take this little bit of Rio with you everywhere.”
It has been a unique pleasure to witness the installation of his pop-up in our Notting Hill store: a setting that evokes Rio without aping it. The ambience is tropical and yet perfectly at home in West London. Carefully arranged pieces from Sergio Rodrigues sit alongside American mid-century objects, and a specially commissioned macramé hanging. The space is a celebration of his exacting genius as well as his newly-launched retail line byHZI. From its opening night, it has inspired joy in all those who visit, along with the sudden intense desire for an antique pile rug, or a framed photo of the Nitéroi museum, or a ceramic pineapple. I wonder will these small slivers of Rio imbue their new homes with the same tropical harmony that has so meticulously been created for us. Beautiful as they are individually, the alchemy is in the juxtaposition. That takes commitment and guts, and that’s all Zandberg.
You don’t have to be in Rio to be, in your heart, a Carioca.