Last week I was fortunate enough to meet and interview the amazingly talented interior and furniture designer, and owner of Mufti, Michael d'Souza.
Michael is originally from India, but has lived and worked in many places around the world, including New York, Atlanta and London, and this has clearly influenced his timeless, global style. Mufti is filled with ethnically inspired pieces made by skilled craftspeople from unusual, natural materials like feathers, silks, hides, quills and leathers.
"Mufti" is an old military term used by officers which means to "dress down" or "smart-casual" – it is a relaxed, yet sophisticated approach to everyday life. Original design, natural materials and craftsmanship are at the heart of Mufti's ethos, and they are committed to rebuilding the dying traditions of hand craftsmanship (represented by the hand symbol of their logo).
There is a heady mix of influences – and I found visiting the store was like being transported to a high end hotel suite somewhere completely exotic. The global style feels so modern and I love their quite masculine approach with clean lines and strong forms. The store is set up like a complete house in different room sets, and their ranges give the impression of a collection of beautiful things collected from extensive travels over time.
I sat down with Michael at his shop in vibrant Notting Hill to talk about his brand and their beautiful furnishings.
When did you launch your brand and what was the reason behind it?
We launched almost twenty years ago. Having worked in marketing and advertising, at large iconic brands such as Coca-Cola and Ralph Lauren, I wanted to start my own brand. I’d lived in New York and moved to London, and saw that, at the time, there was definitely a place for real, well-made, well-designed furniture, so I decided to start the brand with furniture, and it grew from there.
What is your background?
I’ve always been house proud. I’m from a military family and when my dad was in the army, we moved around every three years. In India, each region is known for a certain craft, so I grew up around that, and it comes through in here in the store.
How would you explain your design approach?
We are very, very customer focused. Ninety per cent of what we do comes as a result of a customer saying “I’m looking for…” or "I can’t find…” – we’ll then design and custom-make it for them. The design would always be under the ethos of hand-made or natural. We’re not about fashion or trends. Almost all of the stock in store is designed in-house, and then custom made by craftspeople around the world – our porcupine lamps are made in Africa and our leatherwork is done in Argentina. We are extremely focused on keeping handy-craft skills around the world alive.
Tell us more about your products.
We have a few pieces from other companies or brands that fit with our ethos, but we try to have things in our shop that are timeless, a keepsake, and that you won’t find anywhere else in London.
Which is your favourite piece in your shop?
That’s a difficult question! At the moment, my current favourite is our handmade Shikari scented candles, because they appeal to all the senses, they smell amazing, and the leather holder with cut-out detail is so tactile and creates beautiful shapes when the candle is lit. The candles are a collaboration between Mufti and Rachel Vosper, a leading British candle maker and home fragrance expert. We designed and produced the leather holders, and Rachel created the scent and makes the candles by hand. Once used, the containers can be brought back to store to be refilled, so they are environmentally friendly too.
"For me, style is timeless. If it’s not current tomorrow,
then there’s no point. Style never goes out of fashion."
To date, what has been the highlight since launching Mufti?
We’ve had some great interior design projects that we feel lucky and proud to have delivered. We’ve managed an entire palazzo project in Venice, which we completely gutted and renovated, including traditional frescoes on the ceilings!
We've also managed a new build house in Cornwall, with a wine cellar for 30,000 bottles of wine.
Another highlight was having an area in Harvey Nichols a few years ago, which was so great for our brand at the time.
Where do you plan on taking the brand in the next year or two?
Just to do more of the same really. We have no aspirations to be all things to all people. We are boutique and deliver to our customers in a unique and personal way. In future, I would love to open a store in New York, I think the brand would translate well there, as it’s so international - and we already have customers there.
Where is your own home? Tell us a little bit more about your own interior.
My home is an old tapestry mill on the river in Mortlake, built in 1615, it was a wreck when I bought it! I love the loft feel, high ceilings, levels of light and exposed beams – it has so much history – it reminds me of the properties in New York.
Inside, my home is basically like the store – it’s a mini Mufti showroom! I get to take pieces home from the store – I’m very, very lucky.
What is your favourite thing about London?
NOT the weather! It would have to be when the sun is out actually, then London is the most amazing place in the world – everyone is smiling and there’s a nice feel. But, I think the fact that it is so multi-cultural is my favourite part.
Where is your favourite place in London? Do you have a favourite hideaway, coffee shop or restaurant that you always go back to?
I spend a lot of time locally at my favourite haunts, The Electric and Italian restaurant Osteria Basilico, just around the corner, the staff are great, the food is great, and I like to support local businesses.
Next time you're around Portabello Market, drop in at Mufti, you're bound to find something unique and inspiring, and if you are looking for that bespoke, extra special, one-off piece to make a major impact in a room, I would strongly suggest giving Michael a call.