Inspired by an enchanting childhood memory from the Grenadines and a quest to reincarnate old-world durability, Neil Rasmus and his team at Izola have built a lifestyle brand that merges utility with timelessness, and a touch of whimsy. We first noticed their products when our friends at Jones of Boerum Hill recommended that we check out a new cafe around the corner from their studio. The cafe turned out to be Regular Visitors, Neil's latest venture (in partnership with Aesthetic Movement, a design and consulting firm) that functions as a newsstand, coffee shop, and general store with a well-curated collection of everyday objects from brands like Izola. We went back for another visit to learn more about both the brand and cafe from Neil (who we ended up speaking to by phone, as his wife had just given birth to their firstborn!), along with Izola's director of retail, Dan Sorg (pictured below).
How did you first come up with the concept for Izola?
N: I've worked as a photographer ever since I moved to New York in 2004. At the same time, I started Izola as a side project with friends, where we'd print photos on shower curtains and sell them at trade shows and in Union Square. We eventually decided to broaden the line to make Izola a lifestyle brand with a consistent point of view, so we started making general homeware products – like barware, candles, soap, all of that. Our goal from the beginning has been to create timeless objects. My grandfather fought in World War II and was a Naval Academy boxer, so a lot of Izola's initial themes were inspired by that time period. We like the idea of well-designed, utilitarian products.
What made you design the types of products that we see from Izola?
N: We started out making things that we wanted. We were a group of guys who thought there were a lot of poorly designed products on the market, so we started with things that we wanted a better version of and naturally, that came with a more masculine aesthetic since it was from our perspective. But a lot of our stuff has been unisex, and at least half our customer base is now women. A lot of guys' girlfriends, sisters, or wives have ended up seeing our flasks and stuff and really liked the aesthetic too.
Where does the name "Izola" come from?
N: It’s actually named after a woman I’ve never met. My grandfather used to set up a dental clinic for a few months every year on the island of Bequia, in the Grenadines. Isola was a woman who would assist him in the dental office, but she also had a magical presence and reputation on the island. I heard so many stories about her throughout my childhood, and she came to represent an exotic notion of adventure, family and hospitality. This idea of Isola (which I spelled as "Izola" when I was a kid) became so embedded in my family's history and childhood, I decided to name my company after her.
As a founding partner of Billy Farrell Agency ("BFA"), photography has obviously played an important part of your life and career. How has your career as a photographer influenced your designs?
N: All the time I've spent shooting fashion, art, and architecture in NYC has definitely been an influence on Izola. I get to witness trends happening in real time, and a lot of things I see from our clients at BFA inspire me. In a lot of ways, the aesthetics I absorb from my photography are reflected in our objects at Izola.
How do you characterize the aesthetic of Izola?
N: Refined simplicity and timelessness. We really don't want to ever get tired of making anything we ever make. We rarely discontinue anything… everything we produce, we want to produce for a long time.
What inspired you to open up Regular Visitors?
D: We both live in Boerum Hill, and we saw this space on top of a well-known subway stop, in an amazing area. We thought this corner should be iconic and distinct, so we just went from there. Originally we envisioned a coffee shop with a newsstand and a small, curated selection of products. But the newsstand concept got bigger and before we knew it, we went from 50 products to 500. There are over 700 products in here right now, and Izola is only about 20 percent of that. We just saw Regular Visitors as a platform to support other great makers that we have the privilege of knowing – whether it's through Izola sitting on the same shelves as them at other stores, or knowing the makers on a personal level. We also realized our stuff looked so much better next to the other ones – we're only as good as the brands that we surround ourselves with. Whereas we first thought of Izola as the entire entree of the space, we realized it would be a much more layered message to have it be an ingredient of the whole concept, and I think Regular Visitors has become a lot more compelling that way.
Can you share some cocktail tips to culivate your drinking experience?
D: When it comes to cocktails and hosting, it’s always great to have good ice around. Perfect cubes make for a great cocktail drink, and big spheres work really well too. They’re so practical and the trays make for a great gift too. I think it's also important to always be stocked with a good bottle of wine - you never know when you might have a guest over.
I think owning a flask can be such a lifesaver too. There's a reason why it's such a staple product for Izola. When you’re in a pinch or on-the-go, a flask comes in handy as a socially appropriate solution, if you do it the right way. Whether you're on a crazy long line at a bar, stuck on the train, at a wedding, or whatever, it's a low-key way to relieve some stress.
Where do you see Izola as a brand going in the future?
D: We want it to represent leisure - your nights and weekends, and things you're doing outside of work. When you have a chance to decompress and not think about your job, we want you to think of Izola as providing goods that support that time when you can decompress and not think about your job, whether it's related to barware, hospitality, travel, hobbies, games, stuff like that. I’m hoping that we’re around for a really long time. And RV plays into it. We want to make and design stuff that fits into this environment because this is the kind of shop we want Izola to be at – and we just happened to create one that’s idyllic for our product. Hopefully they influence each other and grow together going forward.
Studio Snapshot - Neil Rasmus
Achilles heel for procrastinating: Walking around New York City. I spend a lot of time doing that.
I can’t live without: my Canon camera that I use professionally.
I never use: my casual camera, the one that I bought to take on vacations and for leisure.
All photography by Anne Z. Chen.