“I’m Anna Ott. I read.”—it’s a crystal-clear self-definition from a purposeful philologist manager who, in addition to reading all day, is confident in building her own brand. On Anna’s recently launched website, you’ll find not only book reviews and discussions, but also stylish accessories that Hungarian designers have dreamed up for book lovers. We talked with Anna Ott.
There are many lovable objects resting on the virtual shelves of Anna Ott’s website: funny bookmarks, enamel mugs, notebooks, pencil packs, embroidered socks, ex libris stamps, screen-printed graphics—most of them also have the inscription #olvass (read!). The life of the high-speed, always-busy philologist manager was also somewhat reshaped by the pandemic: the previous conversations organized at the Hadik Café were replaced by unusual interviews (Anna asks the creators of current plays in connection with the theater pieces at the Katona József Theatre—the Ed.) and online lessons at Metropolitan University. Anna’s official website was also created as a result of the forced rest caused by the coronavirus, where the products of Hungarian creators such as Printa, Delka bag or Malinovka also appear.
As far as I know, the ex libris stamps appeared at you last November—your good friend Kristóf Kiss-Benedek is responsible for the design, and the maker of the stamps is Bernadett Hollai. Was that when the idea came to you that in addition to books, unique objects should appear on your platform?
The starting point was basically that I had long wanted a page where I could present my previous work, my activities so far. I didn’t have this kind of portfolio, so it’s a kind of an account, a summary. While I really like it and think Instagram is a great thing, there is information, both in terms of quantity and what to say, that this platform can no longer handle. So, on the one hand, there were mainly practical reasons why I decided to launch the website, and on the other hand, I basically see this platform as a professional portfolio, which, in addition to presenting my various projects, such as Margó Extra discussions, also encourages reading. It is interesting, but at first, it did not occur to me that the books I wholeheartedly recommend should be included in the webshop products—this was highlighted by the developers of the website.
The idea for the webshop came up last November when we had dinner with my good friend, graphic designer Kristóf Kiss-Benedek. By then, we had been locked within four walls for more than half a year because of the pandemic, the jobs I worked on didn’t operate—my mind went completely blank. Of course, I finally had enough time to spend with my books, reading, but a kind of creative energy worked in me, and I wanted to express that in some form. I even jokingly remarked to Kristóf that I was going to embroider!
It was then that we began to think together about objects that could be linked to reading. He had plenty of inspiring ideas, and I remembered the ex libris stamp I received from my sister.
Kristóf immediately made three graphics, and then we sought out Bernadett Hollai, who is responsible for the production of POKET zsebkönyvek (pocketbooks), who cast the ex libris into a tangible form. At first, we only produced one hundred and fifty or two hundred stamps, which were then sold from the webshop of my childhood friend, Sára Wertán, in the absence of a website. In our Christmas rush, all the ex libris have run out, and that has given us enough of a boost to see: there is demand, it may be worth thinking about several different products.
How was the product range developed? On the basis of what criteria did you decide on certain object types and Hungarian designers and brands?
Initially, I was not thinking about designers or brands, but about objects and accessories that are important to me, which I myself often and gladly use. Such was the case with the bookmark and pencil, as I often take notes or underline certain lines in the current volume while reading. I really like the humor and visual world of Renáta Biacsics’ Renyagyár, so I asked her to make three graphics—the bookmarks were created from them.
The pencil, for a change, is not from a Hungarian designer, but the inscription #olvass on it—and on many other objects—were designed by Balázs Sikó. Following the ex libris stamps, Kristóf also designed the book review cards: they can be very useful additions if we want to record the impressions we received while reading or the details that we would later forget—in the absence of a note. As a large booklet collector and diary addict, such a product in the webshop was evident: the powder-color and black diaries were designed by Judit Szolnoki-Szendrődi, the founder of Malinovka, and although they are not essential items for reading, I also wanted the organic cotton socks of Delka bag included as accessories in the webshop. In the case of bags, I turned to Zita Majoros, the founder of Printa.
What new products can we expect in the near future? Will your big favorite, SUSU ceramics, also appear in the offer?
SUSU will definitely be, and actually was, even before the webshop really started. I ordered ten unique mugs from the girls (Szaffi Asbóth and Flóra Bodnár, founders of SUSU ceramics—the Ed.), as a kind of experimentation. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of sales, as the price of these products was much higher. I myself was surprised when everything was sold in less than an hour—I was very happy about that. Newer pieces are now being made in the girls’ workshop, which will soon be added to the webshop as well.
What is planned as a novelty—in addition to the existing canvas tote bag and shopper—is a pencil case marked by Printa and a special badge designed by Ramóna Udvardi, the founder of Olovka Studio. Since I really like Dóri Visy’s jewelry, we can expect a minimalist bracelet from her. I have a great desire to work with my old favorite, the YKRA brand, I hope this will happen as well.
And the inevitable question is: what are you reading now and what object would you recommend to accompany it?
There are still a few chapters left from Péter Nádas’ novel “A Book of Memories”, and in a few days, I will start the book “I Sing and the Mountain Dances” by a young Catalan writer, Irene Solà. The white polyamide book coat created by the PINKPONILO community sewing studio fits perfectly with the Nádas book. It’s one of my favorite objects anyway: as a kid, I had a similar book cover made of swimsuit material that I could pull onto books of any size and thickness. When I approached the founders of PINKPONILO with the idea, they said it was one of the most polluting materials, so we didn’t buy it, but the girls sewed the book coats from leftover materials.
In addition to Irene Solà’s book, I will certainly read the recently published anthology entitled “99 magyar vers” (99 Hungarian Poems), edited by my good friend, poet Márton Simon.
Product photos: Kata Balogh
Portrait: Zoltán Tombor