In Designer’s Corner, we feature extraordinary artists and fashion designers from around the world. Each designer has a unique journey into the accessories and jewelry space which influence their work and is a huge part of their success. We share these stories in this interview series.
In today’s fast-paced fashion and clothing industry, it’s extremely rare to find a true measure of individualism within the culture – and yet, here we are sitting with Raphael, the founder of German watch label Defakto. Raphael’s design vision is perhaps one of the most congruent agendas we’ve seen to date – take a glance into his minimalistic design process in this new exclusive interview.
Can you provide us with some background on yourself, anything you want to share, your upbringings, and what you are like as a creative director, founder, and individual?
I’m Raphael – 32 years old, founder and designer behind Defakto. After I obtained my masters at the University of the Arts in Bremen, I went on to found Defakto in 2009. Its structural integrity has not changed since – we’re still a one man company focusing strictly on German-made puristic watches.
For me it is the highest pleasure to coordinate every step and every watch from scratch. This way I’m taking care of all areas such as product design, construction, engineering, photography and communication, ensuring everything’s to the best specifications. In my opinion this is the only way to really feel your customer’s needs and ensure the products have soul.
How did the brand launch, what was this process like for you? Can you explain the story behind the name?
Defakto started as a student’s project with my first model, the Eins – a one hand watch with only 15-minute indexes. The aim had been to come up with a watch that provokes de-acceleration in the fast-moving times we’re currently facing.
As for the name, we were inspired by the concept of minimalism and how it gives objects the quality of timelessness – which is how I decided Defakto (latin: “to the point”) was the perfect name. Its constrast to the brutalist Eins and its laid back time scale conception made it even more interesting for me to choose this name.
What is your creative process and outlet with the brand, how did this process start?
My creative process isn’t a rigid one – ideas and concepts come up in my mind by random, mainly in daily routine situations when I do not work. Sometime these ideas are capable of being transferred into a watch concept. If, for example, you look to the three handed Defakto Kinetik you can really feel this. The concept was to built an automatic watch that visually emphasizes the interaction of transitioning watch hands to constantly generate repeating kinetic constellations on the wearer’s wrist.
To realize this effect, the watch has been constructed with sceletonized watch hands that have a strict relationship to each other, allowing them to interact geometrically while moving in space. The dial of the watch has seperated minute and hour marks that shine through the sceletonized hands to give perfect readability.
We personally think you have an amazing brand, and are up to whatever challenges are put in your direction. Throughout this entire journey, what has been your biggest struggle?
It takes always long to come up with a new model. You can always dive deeper into details, only to find construction restritions for you to push through – sometimes you can make it work, and sometimes you can’t. It all comes full circle. Personally, I only release a new model when its overall aesthetic feels perfectly right. Occassionally, prototypes will rest for a year or so until they get released as I continually test and optimize.
Finding a matching name is also a process that takes time and is very important for me and the product. The name has to carry the full soul and the theoretical concept of the watch within. Additionally, it has to be a German name with the feature of being understood internationally.
The designs we have seen are beautiful, how would you describe your customers, what are they looking for in your product, and how do you ensure this congruency between the brand and them.
As a designer my aim is to bring down things to their most reduced form, playing again into the idea of minimalism. I think working through this process, from scratch to ready product as a one-man team is important to ensure congruency in my vision. My customers feel this stringency, I suppose. Customers of Defakto are from every country in the world, they’re men and women – and I truly believe that my approach has them understanding the underlying honesty behind every product.
What are the next steps for the brand in terms of growth and creativity? In terms of product lines, collections, and individual products.
New models are on the desk already, waiting for their perfect moment. They need some more time, but once I’ve fine-tuned them enough they’ll definitely be available – I suspect within the coming months. I do not have fast-paced growth aims – I belive with time this happens in a healthy, natural way as satisfied customers take on the word and recommend Defakto to friends and others.
Design-wise, I’m also looking for collaborative efforts – ways to expand the brand and share its vision elsewhere.
Minimalism seems to be a key theme in everything you do – your company is quite lean as a one-person show, and your products are minimalist in design. Is your lifestyle the same way? And if so, how?
The aim to reduce unnecessary inputs to my daily life is very present at the moment. We spend a lot of time maintaining the same tools that ironically promise to make our lives easier. Every object or software one uses takes up time, resources and energy if not used wisely – with the information overload and economically driven acceleration, we’re gradually becoming slaves to our machines.
Stepping back and exiting this void is quite easy – at the beginning, however, oneis confronted with irrational fears as the big part of society still goes on with unreflective, steady consumption of things and data. People might think you’re strange, but I have a congruence in my beliefs.
You seem very well-versed in the product design and construction at Defakto. As a one-man company and brand, how did you make the effort to learn the other aspects of the business (marketing, sales, finance)?
Before starting my masters in media art I was working within the fields of strategy, marketing and communications – the time spent there gave me a deeper understanding of the matter. However, I started being disenchanted with these industries as I realized I wasn’t truly making an impact for anything meaningful.
This might be why I am not focusing on fast growth or high media output, as opposed to a slow–moving, “honest” development of Defakto. I believe in word of mouth from customers that truly enjoy the work you’ve put into the product, and value it brings into their lives, which is why I don’t advertise a lot. That is why I do not advertise a lot.
It seems like you really enjoy what you are doing – do you see success in Defakto as your end game? Any plans for other projects or ideas?
Defakto will be there as long as it exists; I’m really not looking too much in the future. I really enjoy what I am doing at the moment and I’m even happier because I finally found something I feel worth putting the effort into. However, I do have other ideas, and all I’ll say for now is: I like wood.
Be sure to check out Raphael’s watches personally over at Defakto’s official site.