MAX POGLIA: A CUT ABOVE
Max Poglia and I agree to do our interview at the notoriously hip Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, which was a choice born more of convenience than anything else. I walk into the hotel lobby where I spot Max chatting amiably with the saleswomen in the hotel lobby store. He’s excitedly showing her his knife collection rolled out in a raw leather pouch.
Despite the beard, leading man good looks, and impeccable style, I come to discover that Max Poglia is anything but a Williamsburg hipster. A “maker” – yes, hipster – no. Max seems driven by his own inner compass and intuition. He’s not driven by appearance or pretense. There’s an almost mystical quality to the man.
Max is generous with his time and no subject seems off topic to him. Indeed, we wander off track several times and even touch on some subjects that I deem a little off limits for this article. What was intended on being a quick chat turns into a much longer conversation about life’s journey and Max’s creative passions.
Imagista: How would you describe your profession? What would you say if someone asked you what you did?
Max Poglia: That’s a tough question really. It’s hard for me to label myself and label what I do.
I started out in advertising in Brazil when I lived in Puerto Alegre. My ex wife and I went to Milan so she could model. My family background is actually Italian so I was happy to spend some time there. We ended up living in Milano for four years. But they were tough years. Now that I have a little perspective on Milano I enjoy it so much more and always have a great time when I’m there. But those four years weren’t easy.
New York is so filled with choices whereas things are simpler in Italy. Of course it’s a busy city but there’s no place like New York City.
Imagista: So which came first? Was it the knives…?
Max Poglia: I was living uptown by Central Park and I had this beautiful view of the park. I’m always inspired by Central Park. As a creative person I always feel this desire to make things; real physical things.
I went to Brazil on vacation. My first goal was to make something out of leather. Maybe a bag for myself. I was in my hometown and I came across this shoe maker. I asked him if he could help me make a leather bag. So I made a few bags for my friends with him.
I started making more things out of leather and using Instagram as a tool to photograph and share what I was doing. It’s been about four years now.
Imagista: And when did you start making knives?
Max Poglia: When I first came to New York I was working as a graphic designer. One of my clients was the restaurant Buvette. I was doing all their graphic design and using things like letterpress and all those old school graphic design techniques. Then I met the actor Richard Gere and he hired me to do graphics on his Upstate restaurant/inn and retreat called Bedford Post.
Richard would always ask me about the farms in the south of Brazil. So I brought him a horse blanket from one of the farms that I had handmade for him as a gift. I also brought his then wife Carey a leather bag from Brazil.
Richard and Carey asked me if I’d be interested in starting a line of my products for them. So that’s what I did. I had some knives that had been custom made for myself so I decided to include them in the line.
The first four knives that I had made were displayed at his place. Julian Niccolini, the restaurateur bought all four of them the very first day they were on display.
Basically everything I was making at that time went into the line. And everything I was making was inspired around the idea of a Central Park picnic. Blankets, bags, and knives.
I had the knives made in the south of Brazil. I make knives the old school way. I love learning along the way and nothing I’ve done has really been that planned. I have a full workshop in the south of Brazil where the knives are made. I’ll spend a few weeks at a time at the workshop. Of course, now my business has grown so I have a few people there working with me and helping me to keep the knife making production running smoothly.
Imagista: And the blankets?
Max Poglia: Actually the blankets are handmade in my hometown in Brazil. It helps to support a small family business there. They’re so simple but beautiful too.
Imagista: Do you see yourself as a designer, a maker, or does it even matter?
Max Poglia: To me it doesn’t really matter. I just see myself as a creative. That’s what keeps me going really.
I used to dream a lot in the past. I’m more productive now. It’s very tough for me to cross that line between dreaming and doing. Even when I was a graphic artist for example I was never able to sit down and work for myself.
I always knew I’d be a creative but I find it hard to label myself as one thing. I’m uncomfortable with being labelled.
Imagista: So what really drove you to make something physical.
Max Poglia: When I was living in Milano I started researching green products. In the end it seemed like mostly bullshit to me and commercially driven. For me everything circles back to the south of Brazil. Living in Italy I had this idea of things made in a hand-crafted old world way but then meeting with elements of modern design.
My knives are mostly made from reclaimed steel and made to last. That to me is more eco and green than most green products. I want to make things that last.
To me the idea was to make something and to make something that lasts. I’m very inspired by leather and how time itself plays a role in the product. With leather, as it ages, it gains character.
And when I first arrived in New York I had very little money to buy things so I asked myself, “Well, what if I just make something?” I’d see things around me that inspired me and then go out and make my own things. I’d go for walks in Central Park with my dog and would always return home inspired.
Imagista: Your process seems very organic.
Max Poglia: That’s true. I think that’s reflected not just in the way I like to live my life but also in the materials I choose and even the techniques used to make my products. For example with my knives I like to see the hammer-work on the blade itself so we can see that a human worked on it. No two knives of mine are ever the same. Each is unique.
I just love to be in the workshop. It’s so magical and wonderful. I love making knives for my friends. I try to think about their characters as a make their knives.
Most of the materials for the knives come from reclaimed metals. They’re aren’t made of stainless steel. Over time they may even rust a little bit but that’s something I actually love about them. My knives are are something that need to be taken care of. You need to hand wash them. dry them well and oil them occasionally. I actually used olive oil on them.
I just love the idea that you need to take care of them. But I like that they age a little. It gives them more character. A regular knife works perfectly fine too but it won’t have the same character.
And I don’t like to give my knives a specific label like say ‘steak knife’ or chef’s knife. It’s up to the person buying the knife how they want to use them. For me a knife is a tool, that’s all.
Again, the original inspiration for my knives and my other products was based on a picnic in Central Park. That lifestyle.
Imagista. Safe to say you’re pretty content with where you are in life right now?
Max Poglia: I just want to keep going. For me it’s about the lifestyle. There’s such a great community of makers out there right now. People who you can collaborate with and get together with. It’s a great moment for makers right now.
Instagram has been a great tool for me really. It really put my work out there so people can see my work and access my work.
My business, as a real business is still quite new, but I’m happy to say that I’m making a living doing what I love. I’m happy to be working with all these great people and great brands on great collaborations. I really appreciate the feedback I get on my work.
In the beginning I was using Instagram to curate things that I loved that were around me. I didn’t really plan to have a brand. In fact it was the opposite and I’m still putting the brand together. It’s really all about the lifestyle.
Imagista: What individuals have been the greatest source of inspiration for you?
Max Poglia: My Italian Grandpa used to have this store in the south of Brazil where he sold knives. I still remember all the details of his store: the ceiling, the floors, the knives. I still have some of his furniture at my house in Brazil. I always like to look back to find inspiration and bring them back. For me all the answers are back there (in the past).
I always have my Grandfather’s store in my mind. That inspires me. But also real makers and my friends inspire me. I’m always moving forward so it’s nice to stop like this and to reflect.
Imagista: Do you feel more Brazilian or Italian and how much of your heritage do you feel is reflected in your work?
Max Poglia: I’m from the south of Brazil. I left there about eleven years ago. I love Brazil but I always knew deep down inside of me that I’d have to leave Brazil.
I lived in Italy and I love that country. Florence is one of my favorite places in the world. I love to spend time there. But now I really feel my home is New York. I love New York. Even though I love Brazil and Italy, New York is home for me now. I love the mix of different cultures and energy in New York. I can’t even imagine living anywhere but here.
Custom vintage Leather Jacket from “Front General Store, Dumbo”
Filson Waxed Jacket , Horse Shoes Ring from “Fine Light Trading”
Old Miners Jacket from Ceri Vintage, Florence, Italy on top of leather apron
RRL pants and Fedora Hat from Super Duper Hats
Vintage military shirt, RRL pants, vintage military bag and belt, Moscot sunglasses and Super Duper Hat