Akshay Sharma of Woodfeather makes a propelling case for aviation-inspired decor as he collaborates with Paramount Pictures’ Top Gun franchise.
The rotating hub and radiating blades, aka the propeller, that thrust the aeoplane into air forms the core of Akshay Sharma’s decor company, WoodFeather. Inspired by his own dreams of flying and the dearth of companies catering to aviation decor, Sharma started WoodFeather that creates handcrafted Burma teak propellers as pieces of art. LifestyleAsia talks to Sharma about his flight of fancy and how a happy coincidence led to the collaboration with Paramount Pictures for their new Top Gun franchise.
Tell us about the genesis of WoodFeather?
As a certified pilot when I was designing my home in 2014, I wanted to put a propeller in the house. I wanted to add an element related to aviation but realised it’s impossible to find a propeller in this side of the world as there’s no culture of private/hobby flying. So I ordered one online and after two months the piece got lost in transit. I was not only upset about the loss of time and money but the fact that I wasn’t able to put a propeller in my home. While I don’t have a backdrop in woodwork or architectural design, I decided to make one. So I bought some wood and everyday I would spend an hour trying to create this labour of love. Despite its flaws, the piece was well received by many so I decided to do it professionally.
This led me to find the carpenters, carvers, polishers and set up my passion project, WoodFeather. Initially I created about 10 simple smaller pieces, more for myself, but they were taken up and I realised there is a market for propellers even amongst people with no aviation backgrounds. They were simply looking for a good looking and well-finished product. It was around 2017 that I decided to take it to another level, and came up with a more specific game plan.
Why only propellers as a choice of aviation-inspired decor?
When you want something connected to an aeroplane, you realise that the objects are either too large (like the wings & the tail) or a generic item like a seat or cockpit item. There’s little practicality and most items are treated as scrap, but when it comes to a propeller it’s something that is very integral to an aircraft. Initially all propellers were made out of wood like the vintage World War I one’s, metal came in much later. A well-designed good quality wood propeller can be made to look aesthetically very pleasing with a vintage look to it. It can easily be mounted up on a wall and therefore I personally feel it’s a great piece of aviation art.
Tell us about your own flying journey.
As a child the only plan A and B was to be a pilot and all my studies were aimed in that direction. However, before going in for flying school I realised that I have a number that with a slight increase would disqualify me from getting a professional pilot license. Therefore I had to drop my dream of becoming a pilot and take an alternate route to marketing. Currently, I run a marketing firm which is my bread and butter but since I couldn’t learn to fly then I promised myself I would do that later in life when I could afford it. I got my pilot license from the USA since that’s always been my first love. So now I do a lot of leisure flying at least a couple of days every year.
Who is the WoodFeather client? Is it limited to flight personnel and collectors?
While there are people like me who are flying enthusiasts or have a background in flying, most of the clients at WoodFeather are in fact have no connection to aviation. They are mostly luxury home buyers who are looking for a great looking home decor product, and they see a propeller as an alternative to a more common piece of art/sculpture. A propeller is a sure-shot headturner, and the WoodFeather customer is one that is looking for something quirky and unique to adorn their home.
Adding to this is the fact that a WoodFeather piece can be custom-made or customised as per your need. Even a ready-to-pick design can be personalised with a special date (birthday/anniversary), a name, number or a family emblem.
How did the collaboration with Paramount Pictures’ Top Gun franchise come about?
Growing up, as an aviation enthusiast, Top Gun was the coolest picture and its main character, Maverick was a bit of an inspiration. So when I heard the news that Paramount Pictures is coming up with a new edition, my interest was immediately piqued. Given my work at WoodFeather, I decided I must make a Top Gun propeller simply as a product thought. At that time I could never imagine a big enterprise like Paramount or Top Gun to pay heed to a modest little workshop like ours. So I made a fan piece for myself, and on a whim I reached out to a local representative.
So I called up the CEO and introduced myself and my brand, and to my surprise he asked me about a recent piece I had made for a client, who turned out to be his head of design. So he had basically seen and loved the piece and just like that I got an in at Top Gun. A few months later, we had a deal with Top Gun and thereafter we’ve been working on this challenging but rewarding collection.
Take us through the individual pieces from the Top Gun collection.
The first and the most popular piece from the collection is named after Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick which is inspired by the red-and-white helmet he used to wear. This visual is translated on everything from the colours, the decals to famous movie dialogues. The second style, called Wingman, takes individual patches of the eight pilots from the Top Gun Academy and puts them on the propeller. The F/A-18 is inspired by the fighter jet that Tom Cruise flies in the upcoming movie, and uses elements of its shape, line, decal and canopy colours. And the last one, namely the P-51D is a vintage airplane that he flies as a hobby in the new movie, which is actually his own aircraft.
Enlighten us about the manufacturing practices at WoodFeather.
All our pieces are made by hand, there are no CNC machines or tool cutting. For this we use high-quality, reclaimed Burma teak, which is extremely hard to source and picked from auction lots and ports. Each piece is hand carved and crafted and takes about six weeks to make one.
As WoodFeather goes global with the Paramount Pictures for their new Top Gun franchise, make sure you book your propeller now to avoid a two-month plus waiting. Here’s a closer look at the pieces that will serve you well as a wingman.