Name: Federika Longinotti Buitoni
Profession: Founder, Collecto
Nationality: Venezuelan
Zodiac sign: Capricorn
Instagram: @federikalb

LATINNESS: Federika, before we get into your new project, can you tell us a bit about the person behind the brand….

FEDERIKA: I’m Italian-Venezuelan. My father is Italian and my mother is Venezuelan, but I was raised in Venezuela. Italian culture was very much part of who I am and how we were raised, and I wanted to connect with that, so I moved to France for a year to study French, and to reconnect with that European background before moving to Boston to go to school. I studied Entrepreneurship. Ever since I was young, I really felt I wanted to do something at some point in my life. I wasn’t sure what that was going to be. I thought about fashion initially, so that’s where I started.

LATINNESS: At Moda Operandi, right?

FEDERIKA: Yes, well after college I moved to New York City. I did internships at Oscar de la Renta and Ferragamo where I did a little bit of everything: PR, sales… I was exploring what I really wanted. So I moved to New York without a job. I thought, it doesn’t matter where I’ll end up, I want to be here. When I moved, I started at Moda Operandi, as an intern. I was actually their first intern. The company was very small then. We were a team of 15, I think. 

Shortly after, I was full time, and it was an amazing experience. I was able to really do a little bit of everything. I started in PR, then I went on to the trunk show team where I learned about building relationships with designers, and the last was in production. There I managed the photoshoots of all the collections. We used to travel to London, Paris and Milan and shoot the collections overnight. The designer needed that collection to present at market the next day, so we would receive the collection, shoot from midnight to about 4 or 5 AM, then return them. It was crazy, and working at a company that grew the way Moda did was just an incredible experience. I learned so much about growing an online luxury business. It was fun, crazy and interesting. Everything you can ask for from a first job. 

I was there for five years.

LATINNESS: Some would call that a Master’s degree! Now tell us about your current project, Collecto?

FEDERIKA: In 2018, while I was putting together my wedding registry, that’s when the whole idea behind Collecto started.

It began as a wedding registry, with conversations I had, even with my mother, because at that time, fashion was what I loved and what I knew. Homeware wasn’t really my thing, not because I didn’t like it, but before you get married, most often you live with a roommate, you don’t spend time in your apartment, so you don’t really care that much about it.  I was starting to put together my registry, and said, “Ok, let me ask my mom what she did”. I realized that a lot of couples do this, they go to their parents or their mothers to ask for advice. And you know, times were completely different then. Things have changed. So that was one of the disconnects I felt. 

There’s this thought pattern about what you should put on your registry, because that’s what people do. You put fine china, you put flatware, you put this and that, and instead, I was thinking about it, and I felt like I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to get things that were in line with the way I entertained at home, what I wanted to do and even my lifestyle. As I started digging into other platforms to register on, I just felt super underwhelmed with the selection because we had these big retailers that had a lot of very traditional brands. It was very commercialized, in a sense. It was like the cookie cutter brands that everyone knows about, and, don’t get me wrong, are incredible and we have some in Collecto, because I think tableware and home decor is all about mixing and matching, but I just felt there wasn’t an option where I felt excited about finding a selection of pieces that were highly curated and distinctive. That’s when I decided to start Collecto.

LATINNESS: On the topic of family and tradition, how has your culture influenced your career path, if at all?

FEDERIKA:  A lot. My grandfather from my mother’s side (Unfortunately I didn’t meet him), he was German and an architect, so after the war he moved to Venezuela and designed some of the most most iconic buildings nowadays. His name was Federico Beckhoff. My mother is an architect too, so when I think about it now, looking back, I realize how much influence she had on what I do today, because our home was always very curated: the furniture, antiques, being immersed in a world of design since you’re little. I remember going to her office and seeing her projects. 

That’s one side, then my grandmother on my mother’s side is Hungarian, and she used to host these incredible dinners for Christmas and get everyone together for the holidays. I remember her tables because they were just absolutely impeccable, and she was the most detail oriented when it came to the menu or how to decorate the table. I‘ve thought a lot about this question, how my upbringing influenced what I do, because sometimes, we just think this is who we are without really giving it much thought, but in reality it has so much influence.

On the entertaining side, that’s really one of the missions behind Collecto: to inspire young couples and people in general to gather and entertain at home. When you have beautiful pieces for your table-top or you feel great about your home, then you’re going to be excited about having people over, hosting dinners, hosting friends, and I really think that’s where you create so many special memories, connections and special moments.

That’s something I grew up with. Getting together with my relatives and the tradition. Even on my own, I love having people over. I do it often and whenever I can because it just brings me so much joy and happiness. That’s something that was really part of our culture growing up and has inspired me a lot.

LATINNESS: How do you find and curate the selection of brands?

FEDERIKA: I started with Italian brands because of my affinity for Italian design. They’re just top-level, the design is impeccable, aesthetics and craftsmanship. I started with a lot of Italian brands and then, slowly, started handpicking brands that were the best at what they did, no matter the country or where they were located. 

Nowadays it’s all about curating brands that are aligned aesthetically. Visually, whenever I see the brand for the first time, it’s something that really catches my eye, but then we go deep into understanding the craftsmanship behind the products, the heritage behind the brand, the materials they use. It’s a curation that we’ve refined with time. 

Now I’m starting to really look into Latin America. At the beginning we focused a lot on Europe and some American brands, but again tabletop and homeware is all about combining things that you love, no matter where they’re from, and Latin America has a plethora of brands and craftsmanship. Each country has their own unique identity and craft, and that’s something I’m really looking forward to exploring. 

I don’t follow any rules. Of course a level of quality is definitely a standard that we really make sure is met, but other than that, it’s really about things that catch my eye.

LATINNESS: Besides this curation, what would you say will set Collecto apart?

FEDERIKA: Our exclusive collaborations with both designers and artisans. We really want to start doing things that are super aligned with our aesthetics and work together with the designer or with artisans to come up with a new print or colorway or pattern. We’d like a couple of exclusive collaborations next year. 

Also, I really think that we’re doing something special when it comes to curating tabletop. For weddings and for couples getting married it’s sort of a concierge service for your registry. Sometimes the planner is your consultant for everything wedding-related. We often get so much advice in different areas of our lives and I thought, you know, I felt when I was going through my registry that having that was super important. So we’ve already launched this sort of bespoke concierge service, and are really looking forward to getting the voice out there, because it’s truly unique. Not many companies are doing this, and I’ve really felt that it makes a really big difference on the couple when it comes to what they choose and opening their minds about different tabletop combinations that they wouldn’t have thought to put together, but the outcome is really fun.

LATINNESS: Listening to you speak makes me want to have another wedding. I did my registry so fast!

FEDERIKA: Oftentimes couples are just worrying about the wedding, and the registry is like they sit for 30 minutes, randomly picking things. It’s like really? That’s what you’re going to have for the rest of your life! That’s the China you’re going to use to have dinners with your friends. I really think it’s starting the idea of couples, you know, really bringing more thoughtfulness into everything related to the wedding. I think that we’re all realizing that it’s your day, and that if there are traditions that you don’t like, then you don’t have to go through with them.

LATINNESS: So you launched just before the pandemic and had to pivot regarding the wedding registry plan. What was that process like?

FEDERIKA: So what we did is expand our services. The wedding registry is still a big part of who we are and what we do, and now we’re having a boom in weddings. Actually, it’s been the year that there will be the highest number of weddings since the eighties, so that’s something that we will continue doing. But I put it on hold during the pandemic because I felt that couples were going through a hard enough time having to change their wedding days or having to cancel their weddings, and it was just so stressful that I didn’t feel it was aligned with who we were to start to push Collecto as a wedding registry.

In the meantime, we launched e-commerce. We started seeing interest from people who were not necessarily getting married, but wanted to revamp their tables or wanted a new set of plates, glassware, flatware, decor, etc. 

People have become more mindful about how they curate their homes. It’s an extension of their life and it’s where we spend a lot of our time, so why not really take the time to curate and find these very unique and distinctive brands to decorate both our tables and our home

We launched e-commerce and then we also started developing our trade business, which is basically relationships with interior designers, where we collaborate with them to curate the whole tableware for their clients. I’ve learned that there are so many synergies between what they do and what we do. Oftentimes designers really focus on renovations, on furniture, rugs, even artwork, but when it comes to the details of the tabletop, it’s not a category that they necessarily have much information on or have time to curate. 

Yet tabletop is the way people are really going to enjoy their homes, entertain and have dinners with friends and family. We started partnering with high-end interior designers and curating very bespoke tabletop combinations for their clients. They send me images of the dining room, the table, the chairs, and we curate something. It could be an informal dinner the client needs or we curate something very bespoke for them. That’s been really cool.

LATINNESS: You’ve become an expert at hosting these days. How would you define your personal hosting style?

FEDERIKA: I think it’s very casual. It’s a combination between doing something that’s very curated in a sort of effortless way. One of the most important things I’ve realized is that you, as the hostess, are having fun with it.

I generally love curating the menu and doing something really thoughtful when it comes to pairing or really figuring out if there’s a theme that I want to do and recipes I want to cook. In general I really select things that are simple, which is something I learned from my mom. Whenever she hosted at home, she always made two or three incredible pasta sauces from scratch, two or three salads and everyone repeated and couldn’t stop talking about the food. 

People really love a good, home-cooked meal. Simple, but of course, that’s not to say that whenever it’s a holiday or Thanksgiving or Christmas, I don’t go out and do something different, but when it’s day to day, I tend to keep it simple, fun and just really enjoy it. 

It’s all about the energy the hostess brings to the party or whatever the occasion, which is so important. The fact that you’re making something relatively easy and not stressful just makes, at least for me, the world of a difference.

LATINNESS: What are your tips for being a good gift giver?

FEDERIKA: Being thoughtful about it. Think about what that person loves to do. Maybe it’s missing from their lives and trying to be unique with it. You know there are so many people that give just the typical candles or gifts that are more traditional. I think going out of the way and really, even if you have something that you love, that you know that everyone loves and you give that to different people, but as long as you know that’s something very distinctive, that’s what really works with me.

LATINNESS: Give us three hosting tips for dummies.

FEDERIKA: One, don’t overcomplicate. Stick to what you know, what you love in terms of food or just anything in general. Don’t overcomplicate yourself. Two, music, super important. Have two or three playlists so that you don’t need to think about the music right then and there. Music just creates so much of the ambience of the party or whatever you’re hosting. Three, have a beautifully curated tabletop because that really makes such a difference. 

Have maybe two sets that you can mix with one another and that you use over and over. It’s not about having something new every time, it’s about being creative in the way you combine it. I think having a beautiful tabletop is the cherry on top. It really makes a difference.

LATINNESS: What’s your philosophy on seating: assigned seats or freestyle?

FEDERIKA: It depends on the occasion. I think it’s always fun to do assigned seating when it’s a group of people that don’t know each other so that you can find who will connect with who and kind of force people out of their comfort zones. It really depends on the group. Whenever it’s a group of friends where we all know each other, I don’t necessarily do seated place cards, but otherwise, if I want people to connect and it’s a diverse group, then definitely seating is always fun.

LATINNESS: When you’re invited to dinner, do you bring a present? If so, what’s your go-to gift?

FEDERIKA: Yes. We never go empty-handed, especially if the person is putting so much thought and effort into hosting us. I have these placemats from a foundation in Colombia called Fundación Crearte. They are a huge success every single time. That’s my go-to. The packaging is also super important. It really sets the tone of the gift, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re giving a bottle of wine or placemat, or whatever it is. I think the way you package and present the gift is super important.

LATINNESS: What about party favors? 

FEDERIKA: Whenever I’m doing something casual at home, not necessarily, but if it’s something more formal, it’s always fun to have something that your guests remember from that particular night. I collect matchboxes and I have a few from friend’s weddings. It’s always nice to have something thoughtful to remember.

LATINNESS: Describe your ideal dinner party.

FEDERIKA: So the ideal dinner party is cooking something like fresh pasta or salads. Something very fresh. I don’t like cooking things that are too heavy because I love dancing. I’m very thoughtful about what I cook, depending on what mood I want. If you serve stew and lobster, then people are not going to be dancing. 

So light menu, always a great playlist. I love starting with Bossanova. We have a really nice playlist, and as the conversation starts unwinding, in the middle of the dinner, we start changing the music into something a little bit more upbeat. Great wine or a well stocked bar, so people can drink whatever they like. Cocktails are often something I do. I like creating one or two fun cocktail recipes and serving that throughout the night. 

Then just relax. It’s all about having fun, letting go and if something doesn’t go according to plan, then it doesn’t go according to plan. Just let it go. I think that’s such a big thing I’ve learned throughout the years. If it’s going to be stressful for you, if it’s going to be too much work, then why do it? Figure out a theme for the food, and try to match the table with the theme. And yeah, sometimes it turns into a dancing dinner party, which is always fun!

LATINNESS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

FEDERIKA: Don’t fully focus on the details, and don’t take too much time to launch. If you launch something perfect, then you’ve launched too late. You’ve dedicated too much time to do that. It’s something I learned that I try doing with everything. It’s so hard, though, because I remember when I was launching Collecto I was like: this is my image. This is who I am. I can’t launch something to the world that it’s not in line with my level of detail and aesthetic, and that was so hard for me. But I was like you know what you have to start somewhere and you have to do it. So that’s something that I still have a hard time doing, even with content that we launch our new initiatives or new marketing strategies. It’s something that the sooner you do them, the sooner you learn if it’s going to work or not so you really don’t need to take as much time and think it through because you don’t really know what the outcome will be.