Margherita Porra, the founder of Arithmetic, a Vancouver-based branding, packaging and design agency, was the first person we thought of when looking for a collaborator for Garmentory packaging. With over 15 years of experience in designing for retail-focused product producers, specifically in health, food and fashion, Margherita has an innate talent in cultural trend clairvoyance that simply cannot be ignored. And it hasn’t. She has received numerous design awards such as the Design Exchange Emerging Graphic Designer of the Year, the AACE Design Award, the American Package Design Award, the GDUSA American Health + Wellness Design Award, and the list goes on and on. We also love her team: Rob, Ellen and Liz. The bonus? She also happens to have some serious style of her own. Here, we chat with Margherita about the inspiration behind our packaging, how style and design aesthetic relate, and everything in between.
Psst… you can download a little Garmentory for your iPhone or tablet too! Click here for your very own wallpaper designed by Arithmetic.
TELL OUR READERS ALL ABOUT YOU. Hi, I’m Margherita Porra. I live in Vancouver with my husband and our fur babe, Pasley. We’re just a few minutes from the ocean and Granville Island which also happens to be where our studio, arithmetic is located. Granville Island is a historic Canadian site that was converted to a cultural destination with a charming public market. It’s distinctly influenced by its’ industrial and marine past and decorated with one-of-a-kind shops and culinary delights. Working and living so close to the ocean is incredibly grounding for me as a creative and having so many makers and creators surround me is a constant source of inspiration and motivation.
I’m the Creative Director at arithmetic and we’re a multi-disciplinary design practice. At the core of what we do, we create soulful brand experiences. We listen deeply, live life fully and pair that with our creativity to help visualize our clients’ dreams. We are living in a time where there is a celebration of the maker and a reconnection to quality and craft. We are so lucky that we get to meet so many creative and passionate entrepreneurs that trust us to tell their stories through our creative ideas. We are most known for our branding and packaging design work, though once we build a brand, our talents extend to retail experience design, textile design, industrial design for products, photographic art direction, copywriting and online experience.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST DISCOVER YOUR LOVE FOR GRAPHIC DESIGN? From a young age, I was always creating art. I painted and drew a lot but I was most obsessed with collaging. If there was scrap fabric, glue, pastels and paper lying around it was sure to end up in some sort of abstract expression that would be promintately displayed on the fridge. Despite creative expression being a part of my every day life growing up, I really resisted the idea of a creative profession. It wasn’t until I was in high school and I simultaneously discovered photography, the darkroom, creative writing and creating editorial spreads that I things started to shift. Seems my early love for collaging translated into a love for mixing tools and mediums. Graphic design was the perfect path.
HOW DID ARITHMETIC GET STARTED? Straight out of design school, I landed a job as a graphic designer for a fashion company. It wasn’t what I had planned to do but I felt compelled by it. I was the only graphic designer amongst six fashion designers. There were a lot of ideas and not enough people to act on them. I was hungry and full of energy and said yes to every opportunity and worked really long hours. I went from designing textile graphics and catalogues to art directing photo shoots and designing shoes within a very short span of time. I started to realize I was just as interested in “how” a business functioned as much as I was interested in designing objects that functioned. A combination of work exhaustion, a desire to inspire change greater than my hired role and young naive defiance was the catalyst to my quitting and starting a freelance business on zero savings. I let my heart and independence lead me to starting the business. There is something so great about young confidence. I look back in awe of my younger self.
When I started out (over a decade ago), I wanted a design practice that was multi-disciplinary. All of the other agencies in the city were solely print or web focused or specialized in industrial design and nobody was considering graphics for fashion. I didn’t care about boundaries within the design world so I started a t-shirt line and screen-printed graphics in my living room, created the woven labels and hangtags and sold them at local stores. I designed window displays for fashion boutiques and begged local food companies to let me redesign their packaging. I was scrappy, curious and motivated to constantly evolve as a creative. The company grew organically from there and the studio found it’s home on Granville Island. We’ve been there ever since!
WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM? When I was transitioning from freelancer to an agency, I found myself considering systems and methods for the creative process. The questions that kept coming up for me, was, “what makes something ‘beautiful’ or ‘aesthetically pleasing’”? How can we evaluate beauty? Does a formula for aesthetic contentment exist? What makes some design compositions feel harmonious while others feel so wrong or incomplete? Over the centuries, philosophers have explored the link between art and mathematics. From The golden section, to the rule of thirds to grids, it’s clear there is an underlying equation that creates a foundation for aesthetic beauty.
The next part, was synchronistic. One rainy Saturday I was out on an inspiration day with some dear friends. We had been mulling over objects and books in an antique shop when I came across and old 1960’s text book: ‘Making Arithmetic Meaningful’. The book was full of black graphic shapes from squares and circles to triangles, each page making a different graphic pattern and equation. It was beautiful and it was the perfect metaphor for the formula in which I had build our processes on – creatively and analytically adding our clients’ personal stories to our industry knowledge and our imaginative ideas — all to create a visual rhythm.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE OUR PACKAGING? When I was designing the new packaging, I was really excited by how Garmentory unifies art and industry, which is very much in line with one of the larger goals of the Bauhuas movement. The artists in the Bauhaus movement were exploring geometric forms and stripping away unnecessary decoration as they explored new technology, allowing the capabilities and restrictions to inspire their creative output. They also focused on typography having a highly important function. Considering the parallels between the Bauhaus and Garmentory being comprised of many creative designers, we developed a set of themes that would influence the aesthetics of the project; Type as Image, Geometric Pattern Play, a Return to the Grid and a Tone of Voice as shown through the cheeky copywriting.
DOES YOUR DESIGN AESTHETIC TRANSLATE INTO YOUR CLOSET? In some ways, very much so — in other ways, not at all.
In my design work, I’m very attracted to materiality and tactility and a high quality of both of these aspects when in harmony. That same level of curiosity and adoration for materiality definitely extends to my wardrobe. I have a very large collection of silk pieces and especially raw silk— I love the way it hangs and how one fiber can be smooth or textural. I also love mixing textures like pairing a sweater with silk flowing pants and suede shoes.
One thing most people comment on my personal style is how void it is of graphics, I’ve had people comment that they expected me to dress more colorfully or more graphically, simply because I’m creative. That was definitely true when I was in my first few years of design. Though, the more I expressed my creative thoughts or questions through my tangible work, the more I craved a clean and pure palette in the other areas of my life from my personal style to the interior spaces I spend the most time in. I have found that having white walls and a simpler palette surrounding me provides me with a clear mind free of influence when I’m creating. In other words, I wear a lot of black and white and neutrals but my designs are can often be quite colorful.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL STYLE? Lately, I would describe it as monochromatic. I always get dressed from the shoes up. I’m obsessed with shoes. Obsessed. I also let my mood and schedule determine my daily style. If I’m feeling tired, I will wear black flats, black jeans, black silk t-shirt blouse and a black cardigan – comfy and practical. I’ll do that exact set up in different colours, Monday—all black, Tuesday—all grey, Wednesday—nudes. Ha! If I’m feeling excited and energetic, I will dress up to match my mood, which usually means a jumpsuit (my other obsession). If I have a heap of work to do on the computer, I will wear something non fussy like a button down with my sleeves rolled up past my elbows. Wearing a white button down always gives me a little boost of confidence to tackle what is ahead of me. Clothes, just like my environment, really play a part in my mind set so I am very aware of how my style choices influence my mood and productivity in a positive way.
My husband would describe me as dressing like a boy in a cult. Ha ha!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GO-TO OUTFIT? My Rachel Comey Mars Mule in natural or Martiniano glove flats, white denim culottes, off-white silk t-shirt blouse and my felted kimono jacket.
BEST STYLE ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED? My dad immigrated from Sardinia, Italy when he was only 20. He brought with him, three perfectly tailored wool suits and two pairs of the most beautiful leather dress shoes. Each piece was so impeccably tailored and incredibly made with the finest materials. He wasn’t wealthy by any means but he was taught to save and buy quality over quantity and to take care of those pieces. He really instilled in me the importance in investing in quality, well-made pieces that you can envision wearing this year, next year and five years from now, like a jacket, boots or purse. If your wardrobe is built on these pieces, you won’t feel the need to binge shop cheaper items every year, you simply have to add a few pieces each season for fun. Plus, it makes getting dressed so much easier.
My Nona on the other hand, spent all of her money on clothing, Chanel cosmetics and Vogue magazines so all she ate was burnt toast and black coffee (my dad often paid for her rent). Truthfully, I’ve been known to toggle between my Dad’s advice and my Nona’s eccentricities. While my dad was best dressed at the big events my Nona looked amazing every day. Moderation is key.
For more with Margherita visit arithmeticcreative.com.
Don’t forget to snag Garmentory wallpaper for every device in your life!
Photos by Andrew Querner