A few years ago, Amrish Patel and Darshan Soni, co-founders of the Ahmedabad-based luxury design studio Apical Reform, were walking about The Dubai Mall, when they encountered a creature of sheer beauty that would go on to become the muse for one of their most celebrated creations.
It was a stingray in an aquarium, gliding through the water as though it was flying in air. “We were hooked,” Soni says on a video call from the duo’s office. “As we observed the stingray’s movements, we began to wonder if we could recreate a similar experience in our work.”
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It took intense brainstorming, multiple sketches, 50-odd prototypes, and months of painstaking labour before the final product—a stunning specimen of kinetic art titled Stingray—found its way into the world. “We created an abstract representation of the stingray by exaggerating its motion,” Soni says, “When we launched it in 2018, people were mesmerized—many found its movements calming.” Currently a limited-edition iteration of it is being sold at M.A.D. gallery for roughly $40,000.
Apical Reform is a rare Indian entity to be hosted by M.A.D. gallery, a haven for kinetic art (objects that marry technology with design genius to simulate movements) that is run by Swiss giant MB&F, best known as the makers of futuristic watches. In India, too, Patel and Soni’s studio occupies a niche, selling to a handful of corporate clients and individuals, mostly through the word of mouth. Apart from kinetic art, they also create bespoke objects and functional furniture. Priced between ₹3-15 lakhs, their products are farthest from any assembly line stuff—created with utmost precision and all their details, from production to packaging to installation, overseen by the finicky creators.
Ten years ago, when Patel and Soni launched their business the market for the things they make didn’t really exist in India. “Our goal was to do something no one was doing then,” Soni says. “It took us the better part of three years to gage the demand and find out place.” Despite the limited scope in its home turf, Apical Reform has undertaken a number of remarkable projects in the last decade, especially in the UAE.
“Some of our best design concepts came by accident,” Patel says. During the time they were commissioned to create a city sign for Dubai, for instance, Apical Reform was also working on a furniture piece inspired by calligraphy. “While it was being made, suddenly the object looked to me as though it was shaped like the letter B,” Patel says. This little epiphany changed the direction of the Dubai work, which, in its final avatar, stands in the posh business district of the city. Be it corporate commissions or special projects to design stairways and interiors of villas and penthouses of clients, Apical Reform’s work, with its geometric harmony and deceptive simplicity, instantly makes a distinctive mark.
Over the years, Patel and Soni have undertaken several prestigious commissions—memorably, a complex conceptual installation made using sands from all the seven emirates to commemorate The Year of Zayed in 2018, the centenary of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE. Apical Reform’s most stunningly original works also reflect the founders’ love for the natural world—as in an installation titled Melt, made with Swarovski crystals, a nod to the unfolding climate disaster.
“Most of our work is made using material that isn’t exorbitantly expensive—board, plywood, corian acrylic, even fibre—and are durable,” says Patel. The availability of state-of-art technology, such as 3D printing and laser cutting machines, in India has made the production process much smoother than what it used to be 7-8 years ago, though some implements, like 3D bending machines, are still too expensive to use outside of an industrial set-up.
The pandemic and the long periods of lockdown had left the duo worried for a while, but demand has started picking up again. Recent reports point out a curious luxury boom in India in the last 18 months, especially among Gen Z consumers, who are splurging on a range of products, from fashion to real estate. The trend is borne out by Apical Reform’s experience, too. “We did have some pending work to finish when the pandemic hit, but that said, 2020 was for us the best year in the last decade in terms of fresh orders and new commissions,” Patel says.
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