Vincent Teubler has successfully procured a vast collection of artifacts, sculptures, and antiquities from just about every corner imaginable on the planet. With a love of travel that was instilled in him at a young age by his parents, Teubler combined his love of exploration and one-of-a-kind treasures to create Insolita. His search for the unusual and unique from artisan studios, local markets and dusty shops was what formed the basis for his company and its name. Think of it as a digital catalogue, each with its own memory and adventure that lovers of unique treasures can visit to purchase anything from antique bronze Burmese Tara sculptures to a Kenyan kneeling figure soapstone sculpture, to add to their collection of rare pieces. Each piece is hand-selected with artisanal craft, sourcing and sustainability in mind. “Insolita lets us now share our obsession with finding beautiful unique things. Each piece delivered in a hand crafted, wooden keepsake box. Each unique piece delivered in consultation with you,” says Vincent. He sits down with LUXUO to discuss the importance of authentic souvenirs over mass produced touristy trinkets, his penchant for artifacts and Insolita’s impact on local artisans around the world.
What started your interests in the world of artifacts and cultural items?
As a child I grew up between Munich, Germany and Brisbane, Australia. I travelled the world extensively with my “Hippy” parents that loved nothing more than packing up everything into a VW Combi van and heading off to explore exotic new countries and new cultures. Their goal was to experience as many countries and cultures as they could. They were fearless and relentless in their travels. Along the way they would collect beautiful artifacts from local artisans, sculptures, carvings, textiles rugs, metalwork and jewellery. I literally shared my combi van bed with weird and wonderful artifacts and my childhood dreams were filled with what are best described as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” style collecting adventures. I was already collecting back then; coins, stamps, small bottles and of all things, butterflies.
In my last year of University, I was travelling through Indonesia where I met my wife Rosie of Italian descent. She was fortuitously working for an International Airline at the time and loved travelling. A perfect match and we have combed the world ever since. On our first trip together (to Thailand) we decided that rather than buying touristy trinkets in our travels, we would dedicate a part of each trip to finding one exquisite piece, handmade and by a local artisan that would become a cherished heirloom. On that first trip, that philosophy had us scouring artist studios, antique shops and markets before finding a magnificent 48kg teak elephant. I still remember the excess luggage costs! Over the years we filled our house with the most wonderous pieces from our travels. A few years ago, after long corporate careers, we decided to turn our passion into a business and so www.insolita.co was born. You only live once so surround yourself with beautiful people and beautiful things. Insolita is a collection of personally sourced master artisan objects from around the world.
How often do you personally travel across the globe to source these artefacts?
We source every single piece in the insolita.co collections ourselves and have master artisan, antique dealers and market connections across the globe whom we regularly catch up with to pick out new pieces or for client specific requests. That sees us travelling every two months or so. In the last six months we have been to Sicily twice, Turkey, Spain, France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Singapore and have an extensive trip to Java and Singapore coming up as well as Germany. South America specifically Chile and Peru are also on the trip radar at the moment.
What are your favourite memories of traveling along the ancient Silk Road?
The Silk Road refers to the series of Eurasian trading routes that traders used from about 2 centuries BC to about the 15th century. In the 1960’s hippies re-imagined the trip giving rise to a new name “the Hippy trail”. They weren’t traders, they were seeking spiritual enlightenment and deep cultural experiences. My first Hippy trail was in 1974, and yes in the cliché VW combi van complete with painting on the exterior. The trip spanned multiple European countries, Turkey (as it was then known), Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and then around Australia.
Back in those days it was not uncommon for us to drive into small villages where many of the kids had never encountered foreigners. The only time since then I have experienced that is in some of the most remote stretches of the Amazon in Brazil. But my most vivid memory includes running around all day in the market in Kabul, Afghanistan with local kids while waiting for my parents who were having some furniture made in a stall. That and spending three months living on the beach in Goa, India and spending every day exploring.
Can you share with our readers your tips for avoiding mass-produced mementos and finding handmade and authentic souvenirs on their travels?
A lot of people when travelling, go on organised tours. Organised tours go to pre-arranged spots with arrangements in place with nearby stores. It’s a big business and to feed the engine they need cheap, mass produced souvenirs. That means they are more often than not produced in countries where manufacturing costs are cheaper such as India and China. It’s everywhere you go and hard to avoid and in many places has killed off local artisans as they simply can’t mass produce their handmade goods or afford to rent shops near the main tourist areas.
If you genuinely want to help local artists and artisans and indeed if you want to buy something of lasting value then here are a few tips:
Get the concierge at your hotel to arrange a car and driver or if you are confident, hire a car. Ask the hotel where the locals go to to buy ceramics, art, carvings, textiles, whatever you love. But note that some concierges will also have deals with certain stores, so take their advice with a grain of salt too. You often find asking a waiter at a café gets great results, plenty of them are aspiring artists themselves. Ask if there is a local artist/artisans community and head there. If you like something in a shop or someone’s house that is clearly only there for decoration…ask them where they got it. Go to local art galleries. Find out where locals go to buy their pieces. I guarantee it won’t be from anywhere near the tourist hub.
If it’s a busy tourist town then walk a few streets back from the main tourist spots and you will likely find local artists who are trying to catch stray tourists but can’t afford main street rents. Their works will be cheaper than the tourist trinkets too. In a lot of places there will be whole little towns where artists and artisans congregate.
How does Insolita find local artisans and can you expand on your selection and verification process?
We are not just looking for one off pieces, we are looking for artisans, market stall holders, antique store owners, art galleries that we can build long term relationships with, that we can keep coming back to for new pieces, who will contact us when they have something new and exciting that they know we will love and that our global customers will love. So before we head off to a new country or new city we do a ton of research on everything from upcoming master ceramicists, leading antique dealers and their accreditation, upcoming young artists and the galleries that represent them to the local markets where there are always fabulous local artisans creating beautiful ceramics, carvings, glasswork and paintings for locals.
Interestingly places like Sicily, especially after the success of White Lotus are amongst the hardest places to find truly original one-off pieces because the place is swimming in garish tourist trinketry, some not even made in Italy much less Sicily. But that’s what we love doing, hunting for exquisite unique pieces. It’s all part of the excitement and when you search long enough you find truly stunning original pieces.
Tell us more about the latest Murano Glass collection you have sourced at Insolita, why such a strong passion for Venetian handcrafted glass? Do let our readers know of the fascinating history behind these generations of artisans.
Think Italian perfection, think Murano glass. Murano Glass is special because it is an art form that has existed on Murano island in Venice, Italy for over a thousand years. Murano Glass is globally renown and highly collectable because each piece is handmade by highly skilled master artisans. Each piece is a work of art.
Over the centuries various new glass art techniques have been developed by Murano’s master artisans. One of my personal favourite techniques is Murano Scavo. Scavo means excavation in Italian. The Murano Scavo glass technique imitates the effect caused by long periods spent underground, typical for glass objects found during archaeological diggings. Alfredo Barbini invented this technique in the 1950s. The Scavo technique involving the application, to the surface of substances that, when heated to about 1470°F (800°C), fuse and create an effect similar to weathering, thereby imitating glass from an archaeological excavation.
On our most recent trip we picked up some magnificent Murano Scavo pieces at one of our favourite glass galleries in Rome. After a long day walking around Rome hunting for Insolita worthy objects and being distracted by little glimpses of Italian grandeur (like the Colosseum), we made our way to our little glass gallery that has specialised in Murano glass and nothing but Murano glass since the 60’s. Their knowledge of this wonderful glass art form, as expected, is impeccable. After much time talking and gently admiring numerous pieces, we settled on a small selection of vintage Scavo technique pieces. Why? Because it at once reminds us of so many Italian cities and towns that so eloquently blend centuries of history, art and architecture with modern amenity.
What décor items are trending at the moment?
The past few years have been extraordinarily difficult for everybody but amongst other things made us more conscious of what we have. Our surroundings at home, our families and our freedoms. We spent extended time at home, our homes became our sanctuaries, with family who became front and centre in our lives and travel restrictions that made past travel memories an important part of getting through. So there is no surprise that our recent history is shaping décor trends.
Decorative vintage pieces from parents and grandparents homes are now stylish pieces from the 60’s and 70’s that embody nostalgia and family connection. Vintage pieces, particularly related to family heritage, are definitely on trend, be they rehomed from a parents or grandparents home or purchased.
We are also seeing a growing trend to unlock and immortalize holiday memories through culturally saturated artifacts. Covid taking away our personal freedoms was a brutal reminder of how important holiday memories are and how dismal some of the holiday trinkets we may have purchased in the past are in reminding us of wonderful holidays past. Our travel experiences, cultural understanding, appreciation of local cultures, are an important part of our home aesthetic through décor items. Whether it’s a magnificent French ceramic piece that serves to rekindle a wonderful Parisian honeymoon, a bold antique bronze censor that speaks to trekking the Himalaya or stoneware sculpture from Kenya that invokes safari nights listening to distant lions roar, there is definitely a move to replace travel trinketry with heirloom nostalgia pieces.
Is buying artifacts “on trend”?
Exquisite one-of-a-kind luxury artifacts, like artworks, have always been “on-trend” albeit historically it has been the bastion of the older, well-travelled generation. For centuries the well healed and travelled have collected artifacts from countries across the globe. Collecting artifacts once you have the means is about surrounding yourselves with beautiful things and travel memories. Few here would not have at least one artifact collectable be that French Ceramics, Chinese snuff boxes or tribal masks.
Yes there are times when collecting more purist tribal artifacts has labelled collectors eccentric but today eccentricity is a gold star trait.
Having a broad eclectic mix of beautiful art and artifacts remains on trend. What we have noticed though is the younger generation of successful entrepreneurs and business peoples becoming collectors of artifacts. We now regularly have collections practically bought out by single younger collectors keen to surround themselves with timeless heirloom artifacts and fast tracking their collections. Hopefully that is a trend that continues.
How important is the sustainable aspect of each item you are selling through Insolita?
Every piece on insolita.co is a unique, handmade artisan piece. Pieces that are made by a local in the local town or village in the country were they were found. We send pieces to our customers in handmade recycled timber insolita boxes with recycled paper infill.
Whilst we love our antique and vintage pieces, we always hunt out current master artisans in each country. Supporting grassroots artisans and artists in any country is essential to a vibrant artisan community and in many cases vibrant local communities that rely on the income generated. I can’t tell you how upset and fired up I get when I find completely mass produced foreign trinketry replacing and killing off the beautiful work of local artisans who often times cannot compete.
For instance, how do you help your customers to recognise genuine hand-made ceramics and not industrially manufactured ones?
It is getting harder and harder to tell unique from mass produced. A lot of work goes into making mass produced items look unique. New mass produced items look like old antiques. When you think across art, ceramics, glassware, stoneware, metalwork, woodwork, vintage and antiques, that’s beyond any one person’s expertise. The commercial reality is tourist outlets operating from expensive tourist real estate. The economics simply don’t stack up for them buying and selling unique artifacts. So here are our infallible techniques
We do our research on leading artisans and we then go to their studios or workshops and buy directly from them. If it’s a store and they buy direct from artisans then we insist on visiting their source artisan and seeing them in action. We have seen a lot of weavers, woodwork studios, pottery kilns, glass blowers, stone mason studios and art galleries in many countries over the years. Hard to fake it when you can see it being made.
Can you let our readers know of the shipping options Insolita offers worldwide?
We cover the shipping costs worldwide and all items are airfreighted with FedEx. All pieces are packed in Insolita keepsake wooden boxes not just to ensure they arrive safely, but also to add to the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” mystique of receiving and unpacking a unique collectable.
Where do you see Insolita three years down the road?
Insolita is a labour of love combining our love of travel and collecting. I can’t imagine no longer wanting to travel, meeting wonderful local artists, eating magnificent local foods and being surrounded by artists, artisans and the exquisite unique art and artifacts they produce. My parents are still travelling and collecting bits and pieces, and they are well into their 80’s. Goals.
Your favourite moment of emotion dealing with an Insolita customer?
We recently had a really large order for multiple items; pieces from Kenya, Indonesia, Tanzania, Turkey and Spain. Big orders aren’t that unusual particularly if a person has the same design aesthetic as us. What was unusual about this customer was the delivery address which was a large farm, roughly a five hour drive inland from Sydney and six hour drive north of Melbourne. The address was a large remote cattle property. So we decided rather than have the goods courier delivered, that we would hand deliver them and use the opportunity for a road trip to visit some of the delightful rural towns that can be found along the inland highways.
When we got there we were met by the most divine couple in their mid 70’s. They were still running a large cattle property and with country hospitality invited us in for tea. Turns out they had grown up and spent their entire lives working on and then running their own cattle property. True blue Aussie farmers. They had travelled quite extensively in their late teens and early 20’s,somewhat of a right of passage in Australia, but not for the past 50 or so years where farm commitments had kept them largely on the property. They only had a few faded photos from their early travels so each piece they purchased was about unlocking fond memories from their youth. We chatted for over an hour about travel and the places and cultures they had seen. There are even a few places like Namibia and which we have added to our own list of countries to visit. We got to see first hand the enjoyment our artifacts bring to people not just as beautiful décor but in stimulating travel memories.
Can you share with our readers the name of the mentor who has inspired you the most in your career and life?
Oh most definitely my parents. Travelling isn’t always easy. Growing up, they travelled to some very challenging countries just so we could all experience different cultures and see beautiful things and to have the wherewithal to realize the positive life lessons that this would bring — they were and indeed are truly inspirational, they are still travelling now. They told me they are heading to Sommerhausen, a quaint old German town of some 1500 people in Bavaria, Southern Germany for Christmas.
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