Marta Cerdà on working between past and future

The graphic designer, illustrator, and font author Marta Cerdà seeks the golden mean between illustrations and typography, the past and the directions in which design disciplines are developing today.

Born in Barcelona, after completing her studies at the Elisava School of Design and Engineering (Barcelona) and gaining several years of experience in various advertising agencies in Spain and Germany, Marta Cerdà founded her own design studio in 2008. Since then, she has dedicated herself to numerous international projects as a graphic designer, illustrator, art director, and typographer. Her bold and colorful illustrations are perhaps the first thing that captures attention in her work. Her clients include brands and organizations such as: The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Die Zeit, Penguin Books, Coca Cola, Nike, Converse, Spotify, Netflix, Apple, Volkswagen, Vogue, The New York Times, and many more. She is visiting Bulgaria for the first time now as a spekaer at the 21st edition of the design series Melba Meetings. We are talking to her a week before she arrives in Sofia.

MELBA MEETINGS #21 / Derida Stage / 29.06. / 19.00 h

Who or what has influenced your work the most in terms of style, taste in color, illustration and typography?

There are many influences, and that is also something in constant change. There are even influences that I might not be aware of. But mostly, anything to do with the history of letters, graphic design and art is always an influence. I tend to look back all the time for inspiration, I will talk a lot about this at MELBA MEETINGS #21.

Amnesty International. Freedom of Expression. 2016

Your projects often incorporate a variety of visual mediums like calligraphic elements, bold forms and bright, fluorescent colors. Can you walk us through your creative process for bringing these pieces to life? Do you have any specific tools (both digital and hardware) you love using? How do you manage to keep your style so authentic and vibrant without repeating yourself?

I don’t think I have a style, at least I can’t see it. But my work usually has a very strong visual ingredient in it, that is a common threat. I usually start a project by focusing on the concept, looking for references and ideas. But I never sketch, for me sketching is like a straitjacket. I like to have a conceptual playground where to work and get lost in it. In terms of time and efficiency it is not the best approach, but for me, in terms of creativity it is the best way to work. About tools, I don’t like to stick to one tool, I have to explore options and different softwares to know which is the best tool to work with. I think the project should decide that, not my priority for a specific software.

Type to Image. 2022

You have an impressive portfolio for respected clients from all over the world. How do you balance between expressive freedom and requested constraints?

Well, I love creative constraints, it is more challenging, it is what graphic design is, solving problems. But probably the best works I have done, or more popular, come from a total creative freedom. Paradoxically, those have been the hardest. I am definitely my worst client, my ability to be self critical is huge, sometimes so much that it can have a paralyzing effect.

What’s the one skill you want to get better at?

At absolutely everything. I want to get better and faster at conceptualizing, I want to become a better animator, cgi artist, better control of the Ais, better speaker, better at calligraphy, better at drawing. There is always room to improve at what you do, and that is what is exciting about life.

Barcelona Poesia Festival. 2020

How do you break through creative stuckness to ignite new flow?

I can’t say I have found the formula. But I know that when I am stressed with non-work related things I get blocked. So I tend to have a holistic approach. If I don’t solve my problems outside of work, they come to haunt me when I work. But, that said, I try to accept that sometimes the creative flow is high and sometimes is low, and that is also life, I am not a machine, and I don’t want to become one.

What skills and knowledge do the next generation of designers need to possess in order to face the current challenges (AI, environmental crisis, societal disruptions, etc.)?

That is a good question that I honestly don’t know if I can give an answer. I think they will need to be fluid and flexible, but also creatively conscientious when designing.

Yes! W+K. 2017

Is there something specific that you want to discover or try in Bulgaria?

Well, my visit will be very brief, but I am dying to try your food, especially the Banista and the Tarator! I hope I can plan something longer in the near future and visit places like the Rila Monastery or Plovdiv.

What do you love most about being a designer?

Uff, I totally love all the parts of designing. I love conceptualizing, I love the process of designing, I love being lost, I love when I find the idea that I want to work with! And I absolutely love to see a beautiful letter or a piece of design or art, and I don’t mind if it’s 5000 years old or if it’s made tomorrow in AI.


Melba Meetings 21 will take place on June 29th at 19:00 h at the independent space for contemporary art and culture Derida Stage (32 Tsar Samuil Street). The event is free of charge thanks to our longtime partners, Fashion Days. The project is realized with the support of the National Culture Fund within the “One-Year Grant” program. For more updates, follow the event on Facebook here.

MELBA MEETINGS 21: special edition with Marta Cerdà

In the last days of June, we get an extra portion of inspiration for the summer with one of the notable names on the European design scene – Marta Cerdà. The graphic designer, typographer and art director is our dear speaker at the 21st edition of the MELBA MEETINGS series. Marta will talk to the Bulgarian audience about the aesthetics of her diverse projects, about the trial-and-error approach, an essential part of the creative process and about the blurring boundaries between different disciplines in design.

Over the years, Marta Cerdà (Barcelona, 1980) has received international recognition in various design forums around the world such as Type Director’s Club and Art Director’s Club, where she was awarded with the ADC Young Gun Award. Her clients include brands and organizations such as The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Die Zeit, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Penguin Books, Coca Cola, Nike, Converse, Spotify, Netflix, Apple, Volkswagen, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Panasonic, Deutsche Bank, Vogue, The New York Times and many more.

Marta Cerdà founded her own design studio in 2008 after several years of experience in different advertising agencies between Barcelona, Düsseldorf and Munich. Since then, she has dedicated herself to numerous international projects as graphic designer, illustrator, art director and typographer. Through various forms of design, Marta Cerdà impressively synthesizes illustration, calligraphy and graphic design in her work.

MELBA MEETINGS 21 will take place on June 29 at 7.00 PM at the independent space for contemporary art and culture Derida Stage (32 Tsar Samuil Street). Admission to the event is free thanks to our longtime partners Fashion Days. The project is realized with the support of the National Culture Fund through the One Year Grant program. For more details – follow the event on Facebook here.

MELBA MEETINGS is a part of MELBA DESIGN INITIATIVES by Komplekt. In MELBA MEETINGS we present current projects by design heroes that are remarkable for their approach. Experiences are shared. Ideas, details and processes behind each project are the main focus.

One Flare Chair in Milan

A month after the most important event in the world of product and interior design – Salone del Mobile Milano, and all the dozens of accompanying exhibitions, installations, lectures, and discussions that took place during the week, we draw attention to the high honor bestowed upon Konstantin Achkov for participating for the second consecutive time in the Ro Plastic Prize competition. Founded by the leading and prominent figure in the development of the discipline – curator Rosanna Orlandi in 2020, the competition serves as an opportunity to rethink the relationship with plastic as a material and its impact on the planet. Cheap, versatile, and durable, plastic became an instant star in manufacturing in the late 1960s, readily serving even the boldest design and consumer dreams. However, its reputation is far from favorable. Currently, rivers, seas, and soil are inundated with discarded plastic objects, and microplastic particles are found everywhere, from the highest mountain peaks to the placentas of unborn babies.

Ro Plastic Prize invites designers to demonstrate different and unexpected approaches to the use of materials, from the creation of an object to its disposal. The award is given annually to projects that involve recycling or reusing materials. In the latest edition, the winners were announced during the Milan Design Week in April 2023. The results provide a positive outlook on design as a discipline ready to tackle global and serious problems. Among the winners is a prototype for a 3D-printed personalized prosthetic leg made from recycled plastic, inspired by the war in Ukraine. Another winner is a table made from an innovative material obtained from old and unusable parts of wind turbines.

Sustainability is more than just a slogan. Being responsible means being aware of what you design, how you create it, the choice of materials, and how it is used. I expect responsibility, unconventional thinking, and material innovation from designers,

says Rosanna Orlandi, a doyenne in the discipline.

We congratulate Konstantin Achkov for his inclusion in this selection of innovative approaches to the use of plastic and discuss his original idea on the current theme.

What prompted you to participate in the Ro Plastic Prize?

My participation this year, as well as last year, was based on a personal invitation from the Rossana Orlandi Gallery. Being part of one of the most prestigious galleries in Italy and Europe in the field of high-end collector design, such as the Rossana Orlandi Gallery, is important for any designer who wants to build a European image and career.

What’s the concept behind your chair? What are its most distinctive elements?

I decided to participate again with a chair, my strongest field of work. At the time when the invitation came, I was just developing an idea for a chair that was closely related to the world of fashion and in response to the increasing presence of fashion brands in the furniture business. My idea was to create a chair with a stylized silhouette of flared pants, also known as “Flare,” in a step. This is how the concept for this chair was conceived, going through several phases.

One of them was to sew something like a garment/pants, which, I admit, didn’t turn out well because it almost concealed the entire chair as a structure and killed the clear expression of the form. The gallery was not thrilled with this move either, and I quickly corrected the mistake. Another challenge was to come up with a clear and accentuating idea for using recycled plastic, which is also a requirement of the competition. After many experiments to find my own expression in this material, I came to the conclusion that one of the greatest advantages of plastic is that if it’s transparent and colorful remnants are implanted, it can create an effect similar to stained glass.

So I made several side panels from transparent PET-G and placed randomly different colored circles made of PVC fabrics between two thin sheets. These circles are leftover scraps from the production of tents and awnings at the place where they need to be cut to attach metal caps. These panels can be replaced by attaching them with bolts to the supporting structure. The chair turned out very clear in terms of shape, as the structure is made up of only three elements, and the backrest and seat are also part of the structure. Additionally, I used my puzzle elements for assembly, which allows for easy assembly and disassembly of the chair without the need for standard screws or adhesives.

What are your impressions of this participation?

If I have to summarize my impressions of the exhibition, I can say that the fusion of pure art in design, mixed with the latest technologies in the search for eco-friendly materials or approaches, is increasingly evident. This is the essence of this competition.

What else will you remember from this edition of Milan Design Week (products, exhibitions, lectures, installations…)?

One of the pleasant surprises for me was the latest works by Philippe Starck for one of the leading Spanish furniture manufacturers, ANDREU WORLD. He offers tables, stools, chairs, armchairs, and sofas made of plywood with assembly logic and form close to mine. This solution is dictated precisely by the contemporary trends of sustainability and their packaging in flat surfaces.


Another exhibition with many installations was by the design department of the automobile brand BMW, which showcased futuristic visions for future cars.

Tom Dixon created an extremely intelligent installation for one of the leading tile manufacturers, featuring several minimalist fountains like altars that were activated one after another against a musical background.

In Rossana Orlandi’s gallery itself, magic was once again created by different authors, materials, and forms arranged in the most artistic way.

Besides the overexposure of the slogan “sustainability,” how do you understand and apply sustainability in your work?

With what I demonstrated with my chair at the exhibition for recycled plastic. My chair has side panels made of recycled plastic that can easily be replaced, giving the structure a new look without the need to buy a new chair over time. The trend for furniture that can be refreshed or renewed in some way by the owners, in my opinion, will increasingly permeate design. Another thing I showed was the possibility of a high-end furniture piece, designed with premium materials, to be a puzzle-like structure in a flat package that can be easily assembled, disassembled, or repaired. This is something Philippe Starck also demonstrated. Chairs and disposable tables that cannot be repaired will be launched less and less frequently.

What do you think is missing from current material experiments and practices? How do you try to enrich these processes?

High-end furniture with rational and well-constructed designs. They should have easy and logical connections that are even emphasized as an artistic element. The ability to move away from the clichés that have been driving major manufacturers so far, such as standard joints or upholstery, and concealed structures beneath them.

What excites you the most in the field of design at the moment?

As someone who has a background in sculpture, I can’t help but be delighted by the powerful trend in recent years for furniture to transform into functional sculptures. The homes we inhabit are becoming a kind of exhibition space-installation, where furniture takes on a prominent artistic role.

Would you share what you are currently working on that we will be able to see soon?

On one hand, I want to further develop the chair with which I presented myself in Milan, creating a series of three more chairs by simply replacing its panels, as well as making a whole family of furniture around it. On the other hand, I have started to search for my own answer to furniture combined with resins.

Our year in focus: Looking back on 2022

In the final days of 2022, we look back at the key events and projects we have been able to deliver in collaboration with our longstanding supporters, as well as new partners from the creative sector, business, NGOs, the diplomatic corps and public institutions. Recall with us what were the main points through which we experienced design in its various forms.

We are on the verge of sending off a calendar year in which we have managed to continue our activities despite the challenges. For a small independent organisation like ours, building long-term activities in the cultural sector requires perseverance, flexibility, openness and uncompromising attention to detail. But most of all a trust in collaborations, trust and cohesion with the community. We are grateful to everyone we have met and worked with. This reciprocity has enabled us to build on the varied MELBA design initiatives and engage in new meaningful projects. Here’s what has come our way in 2022.


One of the significant steps in 2022 was the first trip of the annual group exhibition REVIEW OF BULGARIAN DESIGN. In March, its fourth edition, The Value of Design (2021), visited the gallery of the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Prague, where we showed the work of 11 Bulgarian designers and studios. With this event we came closer to one of the bold goals of MELBA Design Festival – to connect the Bulgarian with the international design scene.

Review of Bulgarian Design 2021, Bulgarian Cultural Institute, Prague


Another highlight of our program for the past year was a series of events dedicated to diverse practices in design and fashion that articulate an important shift in the industry towards more environmentally friendly production and consumption. In a series of five discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse (28th May), Burgas (7th June), Gabrovo (25th June), Varna (24th September) and Plovdiv (22nd November), together with experienced speakers  from various European countries, we put the spotlight on responsible attitudes and environmental practices that are increasingly necessary in the current context of serious climate change. The selected cities hosted presentations and discussions as well as a travelling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group countries. The events took place on the initiative of the Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia, and we had the pleasure to curate and host the programme.

Sustainable practices in Ruse


One of our most important experiences as an organisation in the context of Europe’s creative and cultural sector was the Interreg CINEMA project, within we tested approaches and tools for the revitalisation and positive transformation of Gabrovo’s District Six together with the Municipality of Gabrovo. After two and a half years of active work, the end of 2022 marks the closure of Interreg CINEMA. Among its more important phases was the realisation of ten days of cultural interventions in Gabrovo’s oldest district in June 2022. The programme was dynamic and varied: we immersed ourselves in Vox Populi’s documentary theatre with authentic stories from the inhabitants of the Sixth District, experimented with waste materials to create a new identity for the place, held activities with children, discussions on sustainable design practices, exhibitions with social posters, literary tours. In this way we were able to involve local and international institutions and cultural operators, initiate creative change, awaken interest and draw attention to the potential of the central Gabrovo district. We believe that in doing so we have been able to highlight the power of the creative sector to fuel ideas and occasions for beneficial change, and to reveal the potential of the district to attract visitors and be a hub for diverse activities and cross-sector collaborations.

10 days of culture in District Six


The Kolektiv Foundation invited us to lead a workshop to collect ideas for the long-term development of the Danube coastline and its better connection to the central urban fabric through the involvement of citizens and their active participation in these important processes. The half-day design marathon brought together 30 students and active community representatives from Bulgaria and Romania. Organized by the European Parliament Offices in Sofia and Bucharest, the event aimed to showcase and instigate ways of civic participation on the current topic of a “New European Bauhaus”. It was a valuable experience for us and the six concepts proposed as a result of the workshop gave us faith in the potential and success of public-private partnership as a necessary way to make positive changes for the environment we inhabit.

MELBA: website and archive

Five years after launching, the dynamic archive for contemporary Bulgarian design, it was high time to update the visual identity of the platform. NEXT-DC, the creative agency behind MELBA’s visual identity to that point, logically took on this task and built a unique colorful MELBA webpage in summer 2022. Participants in the archive such as existing and new profiles have also been updated and we are proud to have been able to add another 30 names. The extension of our archive continues.


This year we continued to implement MELBA MEETINGS, the already established as a favorite format of many of you, presenting Bulgarian designers from different fields and their strong ideas. In 2022 we introduced you illustrators, graphic designers, typographers, graffiti artists, product designers and social activists. We believe that the mix of their stories and creativity as a pulling force managed to inspire the audience that each of us carries the potential to change and develop the environment for the better with our deeds.



In 2022 we managed to bring to life another MELBA initiative – the so-called MELBA SCHOOL educational classes, which aim to encourage professional development and creative thinking through the acquisition of new knowledge and specific skills. Led by professionals and aimed at designers and visual artists, the classes create sustainable knowledge and skilful approaches among students, young or established professionals and visual artists with a bias towards acquiring new qualifications. Invited speakers in 2022 were national and international recognizable names in their field, with proven track records and contributing not only to the development of their discipline, but also to society at large. Topics included screen printing (with Nadezhda Georgieva, founder of Sito Studio), vintage furniture and 3D printing (with Delcho Delchev, founder of Smart Fab Lab), (un)personal insights into graphic design (with Dima Stefanova and Filip Boyadzhiev from the independent educational platform Know-How/Show-How) and inclusive design (with Ivelina Gadzeva from the independent educational platform Know-How-Show-How) enriched the attendees and gave them new horizons for professional expression. We are already preparing next year’s editions.



The fifth edition of MELBA Festival offered ten days full of valuable and captivating content on different locations in Sofia. The event introduced to the Bulgarian audience fascinating foreign speakers, reviewed the most interesting and significant Bulgarian design of the past year, included classes and discussions for professionals and offered six exhibitions on different topics. This year we had the opportunity to hear the stories of seven great European speakers who talked engagingly about their creative visions and professional paths to over 200 people at Toplocentrala and to many more who joined us online. The traditional highlight of the programme, the exhibition Review of Bulgarian Design, had its own external curator this year. Marina Dragomirova from Studio Furthermore developed the concept of Local Beauty through specific interpretations in the form of jewellery, fragrances, lighting bodies, textiles, ceramics, food, fountains and recycled car headlights. For the first time we organized a national T-shirt illustration contest with the theme TIME in collaboration with our long-time partners Fashion Days. The interest was huge and the results – surprising. Our winner got the chance to replicate her artwork on T-shirts for sale during the festival and 18 other runners-up got to see their ideas in large format. We offered five exhibitions specially arranged for the festival on different locations. We held two fruitful design classes and two discussions aimed at professionals. Charged with many impressions, we look ahead to the next edition of the festival, which will take place between the 2nd and 12th of November 2023.

MELBA Design Festival 2022


None of this would be possible without the designers and artists we work with, without you, the audience that follows us and gets excited about design, architecture and visual culture, without our partners and supporters. In 2022, we were financially supported by the National Culture Fund and the One-Year Grant programme. Thank you for being with us along the way. With a great deal of optimism for all the moments we are about to share with you in the year ahead, we wish you a healthy, inspiring, fulfilling and meaningful 2023.



In the last two and a half years, we had the great chance to work on the European project CINEMA (Interreg Danube Transnational Program). The huge challenge of generating ideas for the beneficial transformation of a central area in Gabrovo through the involvement of creative industries was accompanied by upgrading knowledge, long-term partnerships and networks of contacts and testing the possibilities of public-private partnerships. At the very end of the project, we make a brief overview of the success stories, approaches and results and what we bequeath to District 6, Gabrovo for the near future.


The CINEMA project gathered over 50 participants from 22 partner organizations from 8 countries with different professional profiles – municipalities, enterprises, business support structures, creatives and academic circles. We have been through a lot together – from the first wave of Covid-19 with remote working meetings and online events, to intensive seminars, sharing experience and knowledge live in Ljubljana (Slovenia), Košice (Slovakia), Timisoara and Resita (Romania). We will certainly keep in touch in the future and look for opportunities to collaborate once again. In a national context, we strengthened the fruitful and excellent relations with the Municipality of Gabrovo, proving that the public-private approach in such large initiatives is the way forward for successful interventions and sustainable development processes of the urban environment.


The challenge to find and test suitable solutions for the revitalisation of dilapidated sites in inner city areas with the help of the creative industries resulted in a package of 20 tools, policy briefs, videos, guidelines and road maps etc., as well as new contacts in municipalities and government organisations that contribute to the project’s results being sustainable and transferable over time.


In cooperation with the Gabrovo Municipality team, we launched a series of processes to awaken the neighborhood’s potential. After extensively researching locations, businesses, stakeholders, brainstorming and engaging various collaborators, together we successfully implemented and tested tools (the voucher system tool and the culture cooperation tool) which brought attention to the District 6 and three new businesses . Our work has been repeatedly presented to institutions and various organizations with local and international influence. The challenge for the future development of District 6 was set as one of the five tasks at Gabrovo Innovation Camp, and the suggested concept was accepted by the mayor of Gabrovo as a realistic and possible one for application in the municipal policy in the next six years.

We thank our partners, stakeholders and colleagues for their participation, support, interest and contribution in the last years.

Sustainable practices in design with Paulo Sellmayer of Vicara Studio

Just days before our very last event from the series on sustainable practices and the role of design in reframing the narrative on the imminence of taking actions for saving the planet now, we present our special guests in consecutive interviews.

We look forward to seeing them and hearing their stories live at the event in Plovdiv, on Tuesday, November 22, at 18:00 in “Kapana” Gallery.

Paulo Sellmayer is a product designer and creative director of Vicara Studio, based in Caldas da Rainha (Portugal). He is experienced in coordinating teams on creative projects on new brand/collection/product design and development. He focuses on materials and fabrication processes, upbringing cultural change through narrative storytelling to all the stakeholders. He sees design as an engine for socio-economic and cultural progress.

Parallel to his studies in Industrial (2010) and Product Design (2020), both from ESAD.CR – IPLeiria, he founded the brands VICARA and Tasco tableware. Since 2010, Paulo Sellmayer’s products have been selected to be exhibited in São Paulo, London, Milan, Rhode Island, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon.

As creative director of VICARA studio he has worked with clients such as MAAT – Museum For Art Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, and established Portuguese brands including Sumol + CompalSovina and Amorim Cork Flooring

Our series of events on sustainable practices in design is grounded in the notion of local realities, sustainability and quality over quantity. Could you tell us more about your personal connection with this theme and your perspective and motivation to be part of the series? 

PS: Sustainability for us means being able to create projects within a local context, where the social and economic impact go towards a prosperous community.  Local designers, local manufacturers and local materials. The products we edit have this reach, where they are made within a 50 km radius, designed mainly by young designers coming out of ESAD.Cr, and where their materiality has this unique feel, making it possible to sell more quality for less quantity. 

This said, I am looking forward to sharing in the series you are organizing what we have learned and practiced so far, not only as an editing brand but also as a creative agency working with local institutions and companies. 

Could you tell us more about the range of projects that VICARA as a creative/cultural agency works on, how you approach a new project and is there a type that you particularly enjoy?

PS: Our range of projects goes from designing products, glasses for beer and wine companies or  gifts for museums, to consultancy and project management, for large companies and local municipalities. Our approach starts with research, getting to know the project before it starts. This is very important as we usually work as outside mediators. We like to have a narrative materiality in what we make, meaning we need to research the processes, the surroundings and everything that goes into the project to have a realistic and impactful perspective. Designing products that last, and projects that withstand the burden of time, contributes to a sustainable practice.And this is something that gives us joy, knowing that design can create mutually beneficial relationships. 

What is it like to run a cultural agency in Portugal? Are there any particular challenges or advantages?

PS: We are based in Caldas da Rainha, a small city where I, and most of the team, studied design at ESAD.Cr. We come from other cities originally so being based here gives the team a plural perspective, which is very important for a broad perspective. Aside from this, here everything is very local, the fruit market, the ateliers and workshops of other colleagues and the magnificent park, is all within walking distance. In our city the critical mass of designers and craftspeople is quite strong, with a great background in ceramic and glass, but also weaving and basketry. In Portugal even though the market is limited, population and interest overall in design is quite small, our scope of activity is very specific, and there aren’t many others doing what we do, so the main challenge now is how we can reach international audiences.

What advice would you give to a new design studio embarking on working as a community and wanting to hone their craft?

PS: Being grounded to a community means empowering its agents, whether they are designers, artisans or cultural and local political institutions. Knowing a craft is being a craftsperson. These are the pillars for a new design studio. Relate socially and have significant technical skills to develop a relevant field of work.

Our series promotes design production processes that harmoniously combine traditional craftsmanship with the contemporary. What is your opinion on the future of design?

PS: I think the design of objects, utilitarian/furniture/decorative, in Europe is shifting from a massilly industrial production to a more specially focused perspective of local crafts. The future is now. As a planet we don’t have time to postpone these changes any longer. So we see a lot of changes in supply chains, production methods and brand narratives. Let’s hope this is enough.

Local Beauty. Review of Bulgarian Design 2022.

Studio Komplekt continues its series of reviews of the current state of Bulgarian design, which has become a traditional annual practice since the first edition of the festival. The group show brings together some of the notable manifestations of the discipline through projects in various fields of design. For the first time the show is curated by Marina Dragomirova, Studio Furthermore.

The exhibition LOCAL BEAUTY will open on November 3. at KO-OP Gallery (17. Yanko Sakuzov Blvd.) at 7.00 PM and will run through MELBA Design Festival 2022.

with: Dimitar Stankov, Maria Jekova, Raya Stefanova, Nikoleta Nosovska, Lyouba Assadourova, Milen Radev, Neva Balnikova, Yana Yunakova and Dani Yordanova

Curatorial text:

The exhibition LOCAL BEAUTY gives an overview of different, authentic Bulgarian localities. We are invited to see them through the eyes of nine artists who have created works with regional materials, resources and traditions especially for the occasion. Each of them works with different textures and a unique personal handwriting – be it the deep pitch of the bagpipe, captured in the form of a jewel by Dimitar Stankov, or the taste achieved through an old Rhodope wheat storage technique, which Maria Jekova recreates. Raya Stefanova builds two fountains based on the typical Bulgarian roadside fountains, using beeswax instead of concrete, while the dancing “kukeri” superheroes of Nikoleta Nosovska bring new life to the ceramic plates from childhood. Lyuba Asadurova creates a contemporary trail-carpet of sheep’s wool. Milen Radev’s lighting bodies are carved from stone he found in the Rhodope Mountains. The experimental reuse of car headlights by Neva Balnikova was inspired by a local car component recycling company. Yana Yunakova unravels an old mountain technique from glass beads, which she interprets in a new ceramic form, while Dani Yordanova literally bottles the essence of the region in a flavor extracted from nature. In each of the works we find something familiar, but seen and rethought through an unfamiliar perspective.

About Marina Dragomirova

Marina Dragomirova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. After completing her bachelor in Graphic Design followed by Interior design at New Bulgarian University, she continued her education at the Royal College of Art in London. There she met Iain Howlett and in 2015 they cofounded Studio Furthermore in Shoreditch, London.

* The exhibition is realized with the kind support of the National Culture Fund – Program Visual Arts.

6 Ideas for District 6

One of CINEMA’s pilot locations – District 6 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria – was put on the spotlight as part of the seventh edition of Gabrovo Innovation Camp 22 (19 to 21 October 2022). Organised by Gabrovo Municipality in partnership with the JRC and European Committee of the Regions, the initiative, titled Resilient Cities, gathered in person at the Humour House Museum 60 participants from Gabrovo, Bulgaria and Europe. Thanks to the support and with the participation of representatives of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, the Camp combined a conference with several lecture and discussion panels followed by 2 days of intensive work. The ethos of knowledge exchange and cooperation served as a capacity building element for the participants. The ideas marathon was structured in 4 thematic challenges: Bauhaus in re-/co-designing the cities, Mission-based climate neutral transition, Youth Entrepreneurship for digital future and Innovation and inclusivity for Gabrovo S3 implementation.

The legacy of CINEMA found a worthy continuation in the first challenge of the camp –  Bauhaus in re-/co-designing the cities. Different stakeholders and specialists were provoked to think about District 6 in terms of its future development and how the efforts for its transformation could be continued in a persistent and successful way.

The working group comprised of about 15 people with different professional backgrounds from Gabrovo, Sofia, The Netherlands and Italy. Two of the active leaders in the group were CINEMA’s partners Milka Kehayova of Gabrovo Municipality and Adriana Andreeva of Studio Komplekt. As insiders for the challenge they were steering the group to think in terms of community, entrepreneurship and collaborations. The result was a most detailed and plausible concept for the restoration of District 6 and turning it into a vibrant urban spot for new businesses and creative interventions.

It has been agreed that in order to continue what has been started as a process during the CINEMA project, the following 6 step project has to be adopted:

  • a long-term commitment by the local government to further support the already inaugurated urban revitalisation of District 6;
  • the nurturing of private-public collaboration through existing or new incentives (EU programs, Municipal programs, International open calls, etc.);
  • establishing a hub in District 6, run by a specially appointed community manager and supported by a designated team of specialists comprising of municipal staff (legal advisor, accountant, architect, etc.), independent experts (communication, visual identity, content creation) and an advisor board;
  • securing a convenient location for the hub in District 6 as a source of information and first-hand communication with locals, interested parties and visitors; 
  • building a strong and sustainable year-long program (pop-up events, workshops, markets, festivals, community dinners, etc) involving various stakeholders, inside and outside of Gabrovo collaborators, regulated by the opinion of the people living and working in District 6;
  • securing a communication campaign dedicated to District 6, advertising its opportunities and events; visual identity – easily recognisable and adaptable to different content, message carrier and situation; 
  • ameliorating the urban environment (street furniture, well thought artistic interventions, etc.) and the walkability within the neighbourhood without hampering the services of the existing businesses and taking into consideration their and the citizens’ needs; 
  • specific agreement between Ministry of Culture, National Institute of Cultural Heritage and Gabrovo Municipality in order to restore the dilapidated and in ruins privately owned houses in District 6; subsequently offering these to new tenants (SMEs);
  • cross-sectorial, transnational and international collaboration on a larger scale in order to inspire and trigger reciprocal activities in other neighbourhoods and to further strengthen the position of District 6 as a most potent ground for innovative experiments.

Following the presentation, the Mayor of Gabrovo Tanya Hristova pledged to adopt the idea and implement it in the Municipality’s next year budget and plans. We will follow eagerly this promised development.

International Melba Symposium 2022

For the fifth year in a row, the International Symposium with lectures by leading designers in their field, forms the core of the MELBA Design Festival!

On Saturday, November 5, 11:00 AM live at “Toplocentrala” or online, those who have purchased tickets for the lectures will be able to learn

first-hand about current trends in product, digital and graphic design, illustration and visual communication.

The renowned design specialists selected as speakers this year are:

Mateusz Machalski (Poland)

Graphic designer, author of over 40 font families, numerous corporate and multi-font typefaces and more than 150 visual identities for companies, institutions and events. Designer of the year in the Polish Graphic Design Awards (2019). Co-author of TYPOTEKA.PL – the Polish typographic directory and coordinator of numerous exhibitions and cultural events.

Holly Pereira (Ireland)

Skillfully juggles between illustration, animation and mural. Her work is colourful, bold and highly expressive. Her murals often reference folk art and typography, weaving specific stories through careful selection of colours and motifs. Holly Pereira has talked about her work in institutions like the National Gallery of Ireland and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. She is also a proud member of The Minaw Collective, an all-female street art collective based in Ireland.

Adam Štěch (Czech Republic)

Curator, journalist and theorist with great experience in design, architecture and visual arts. Co-founder of the creative group OKOLO, with which he has been observing and researching the various manifestations of design since 2009, and prepared dozens of publications and exhibitions in the Czech Republic and internationally. He is the author of a number of texts on design and architecture, as well as the book Modern Architecture and Interiors for Prestel (2020).

DUMBAR/DEPT® (Netherlands)

The work of one of the most awarded design agencies internationally – from its founding in 1977 by Dutch graphic designer Gert Dumbar until now – will be presented by Liza Enebis, Creative Director, and Wanwai Shum, graphic designer at Studio Dumbar.


GUNIA Project was created in 2017 by Natasha Kamenska and Maria Gavryliuk with a mission to preserve Ukrainian national values, to modernize Ukrainian art and show the world the beauty of Ukraine by highlighting handmade crafts like decorative paintings, ceramics, wicker weaving, and embroidery. Gunia Project is a brand of exceptional things produced on the basis of traditional ethnic cultures.By last year their items were presented for Pope Francis, Emperor of Japan, Brigitte Macron and many more.

Eli Gutiérrez (Spain)

Eli Gutiérrez is a cosmopolitan designer, born in Valencia. In 2016, Eli founded her own multidisciplinary design studio between Paris and Valencia, focusing on product design, interior design, installations and concept creation, making designs for brands and companies such as Missana, Black Tone by JMM, Cimenterie de La Tour, Chevalier Edition, Geelli, Mad Lab, and NT Forest and Signorini Rubinetterie among others.There is an identity in her work that emphasizes the function, the material and the detail.

* Buy your ticket for the live event here:

** To watch the symposium online, buy a ticket here:

All lectures are in English, with simultaneous translation into Bulgarian.

Sustainable practices in design with Darja Malesic of Flowe

Just days before our much anticipated event* in Varna on sustainable practices and the role of design in reframing the narrative on the imminence of taking actions for saving the planet now, we present our special guests in consecutive interviews.

Darja Malesic is a fashion designer with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of Art in London. She has extensive experience in the international fashion industry, where she has worked for over 20 years. She has designed for luxury fashion houses such as Dolce&Gabbana, John Richmond and others. She is currently consulting for companies and developing her own products based on the local craft and sustainable materials and collaborating directly with various Slovenian wicker artisans.

In the last ten years she has become increasingly focused on the research and implementation of Ethical Responsibility within the Fashion Industry, in particular the issues of sustainability, the circular economy, and inclusivity in fashion (especially for disabled groups). She is attracted to collaborations that could have a real impact on people, society, and the planet, with a genuine sensitivity to the challenges of the 21st century.

Flowe water bottles use traditional Slovenian crafts – ​in the form of specialist wickerworks

Her Flowe water bottle collection encourage a re-evaluation of traditional crafts – wickerwork as well as the use of local and sustainable materials such as willow, corn husk and rye straw. Flowe water bottles takes the personal reusable water bottle and makes it into wearable ethical fashion accessory.

Let’s start from the beginning. What was it that shifted your focus from the luxury fashion industry to becoming a founder of an ethically responsible and sustainable business?

DM: Working in the luxury fashion industry was interesting from a creative perspective, but I became increasingly concerned that it was extremely wasteful of resources, and often highly polluting. Also, I’ve always been interested in design and concepts outside of fashion and clothing. This and some big life events, that happened to me back in 2010, made me start looking for a new direction. I returned to my hometown of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and opened my own design studio. I made it my mission to use my creativity mainly for projects that could have a real positive impact on people, society, and the planet.

What is your definition of sustainable/circular fashion?

DM: It’s about getting a balance back. Working with nature to replenish what we take from it. Producers minimizing the damage their industry has on the environment through the choice of materials and technology and chemicals it uses, and finding ways to avoid long transportations,
and supporting the local. Reversing the habit of producing and selling more and more quantity, whilst degrading quality. Consumers avoiding fast, throw-away fashion and embracing stylish clothes that are designed and made to have a longer life-span, and that can finally be recycled or composted at the end of the cycle.

It is about the responsibility of everybody involved in the supply chain to produce new pieces with a little as possible of damaging effect and about consumers altering their way of living.

Way back in 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, create the term sustained yield forestry, and encouraged “using resources in a way that extracts only so much from the environment that nature can regenerate”. In the 300 years since Carlowitz wrote this, the planet has faced drastic environmental issues from climate change, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, and massive air and water pollution. Sadly, the fact is on a global level, there is very little regeneration of nature happening, regardless all of the sustainability development goals of the last few decades.
Basically, true sustainability should be a necessary attitude towards the regeneration of the planet, that we should apply to any field or industry, including fashion. Perhaps it could be regulated on a national or even global level. Of course, we also need to participate as individuals, by practicing so-called sustainable living.

It’s not just sustainability that matters so much to you, but also ethics and local production. When choosing the artisans to work with on your own products, what factors are most important to you?

DM: When it comes to any sustainable product, my feeling is that makes sense to first search for locally-produced materials, and for local production.

When I started with my latest project, I made my first research into what local raw material supply is available, and what was produced locally. Back in the late 90’s the textile and clothing industry in Slovenia used to be quite big, and this is when I moved abroad. But by the time I returned in 2010, it was almost gone. So, I started looking in the other areas and discovered traditional wicker products.

It was not so easy at first to find artisans for cooperating. Firstly, there are not many craftspeople who still possess these rare skills, and then not everyone is interested in experimenting away from the strictly traditional.

I am currently working with 3 dedicated craftspeople specializing in wicker, and with a local social enterprise that is employing disabled people, who are also makers of Flowe products. Every artisan is dedicated to different wicker materials and techniques. We use local and sustainable materials, which are either renewable resources (willow, hazel) or 100% agricultural waste material (corn husk, and rye straw).

The use of natural, biodegradable, and locally-produced materials that come with fewer carbon emissions in their production, is fundamental in creating a non-polluting product.

Another important part of this story is the social side of sustainability, especially making fair relations within our local supply chain, fair trade works for both the producer and the consumer. I also feel that it is important, where possible, to involve underserved people and social businesses in our community.

Flowe water bottle is truly sustainable, using WILLOW casing to protect and insulate the glass

How did you come to work with willow for the water bottles from your Flowe collection?

DM: Willow is a very common tree in Slovenia. Different wicker products were traditionally made out of willow, like baskets, wine bottles, fencing, and others.

The willow is an extremely fast-growing tree and is a truly sustainable and renewable resource. In the first years, it can reach up to two and a half meters a year. Young and fast-growing shoots have a greater need for nutrients and carry out photosynthesis more intensively. In doing so, they consume more carbon dioxide, which is taken from the atmosphere. By growing willows, which are very undemanding plants, for the purpose of weaving, we contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The whole process with willow wicker, where only young willow branches are used, is practically carbon negative.

The willows are among the oldest flowering plants on Earth, extending over 130 million years ago. In the post-Ice Age era, they proved to be pioneers of resettlement. Willows are able to withstand climate extremes and adapt quickly to all types of soil.

In a nutshell, a very impressive tree!

Flowe water bottle collection combines 3 themes: respect for water, cultural heritage and

Now everything becomes more and more global, are there really still trends in design and fashion which are regional? What does Slovenia bring to the international scene?

DM: Certain aesthetics that emerge often start from a particular place or region and this can be easily detected. Take the trend for Scandinavian furniture for example.

So-called trends have to start somewhere, or with someone, even if the roots are not so obvious. I know that cultural and aesthetic characteristics exist here in Slovenia, but being such a small country it does not always carry the same weight. However, in a world of merged global trends, I think it is refreshing when you get a new starting point, perhaps especially when that starting point is based on a true cultural reference or tradition. This can add a special quality and authenticity beyond fashion and trend.

Slovenia is geographically, culturally, and historically placed in between the Mediterranean, Alpine and Balkan regions, so a mix of this spirit can be undercurrent influence anywhere, be it design, food, or language. But then again there are many successful Slovenian designers with very strong personal design signature, that has nothing to do with their country of origin.

If you take someone who is interested in ethical design and fashion with you to Ljubljana, what places would you show them? What are the “musts” to visit (studios, shops, art spaces, galleries etc.)?

I would point you to the current design exhibition “Created in Slovenia”, by the Centre for Creativity at Cukrarna Palace, which I am taking part in with two of my products.

In Museum for Architecture and Design, MAO is also BIO 27 Super Vernaculars, the oldest and one of the leading design biennials in the world, under the curatorship of Jane Withers, that brings together forward-thinking and environmentally conscious designers, architects, thinkers, and researchers from around the globe.

There is Ljubljana Month of Design 2022, starting 6th October, where you will be able to find some circular brands like Floios – Handmade Jewelry designed by nature made from E-Waste,  Volja – Circular approach to menswear, my exhibition, and many more.

Also, the Krater Collective is very interesting, it is placed in revived construction pit, with completely local production of clay, paper, fungi, and wood products.

What should consumers look out for when shopping sustainably?

DM: That the product is making sense. I mean, sense for our common future as well as sense in their own lives. No nonsense.  Pure beauty.

* Sustainable Practices in Design and Fashion is a series of discussions and presentations in five Bulgarian cities – Ruse, Burgas, Gabrovo, Varna and Plovdiv. The project is initiated by Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Institute in Sofia and is curated by Studio Komplekt, who are also leading the discussions. The event introduces the general public to a variety of practices that formulate an important change in the industry towards greener production and consumption. Combining science, design, technology and media, they offer new, closer to nature models for the use of raw materials. Each of the selected Bulgarian cities is hosting a discussion on sustainability with two guest speakers from Europe, as well as a traveling exhibition with 24 examples of sustainable fashion and design brands from the Visegrad Group.