A CHAT WITH PETER FLORJANČIČ, SLOVENIAN INVENTOR AND OVERALL GENIOUS
At the venerable age of 98 the inventor Mr. Peter Florjančič still retains the glint in his eyes that symbolises the burning curiosity that his driven him on throughout his entire life. We met with him at the Hotel Kompas, where the owners greatly appreciate his work and deeply respect his contribution to both the world and to Bled, so have gladly assigned an area of the hotel as his office, where he can concentrate on creating his future inventions.
Peter Florjančič is one of the most famous Slovenian inventors and the only one who has made it his life’s profession. He has been behind about 400 patents, among which 41 have been realized. Amid his most prominent inventions are frames for slides, a plastic zipper, spray perfume bottles, hand looms, a lighter with side lighting, a closing system for a plastic injection moulding machine, a ski slide and much, much else besides. In 1957, he invented, although didn’t perfect, an automotive airbag. He is most proud of his invention the Monomat inkjet machine, which is now located in the Technical Museum in Munich. In the course of his lifetime he has owned 43 cars and held five nationalities. His profession has forced him to spend 25 years in hotels, four years in cars, three years in trains, a year and a half in aircrafts and one year on board a ship.
It all started way back in 1919, when he was born in the SHS Kingdom. Ivan Kenda, his uncle, was the owner of Bled Castle, the Castle swimming pool, Hotel Park and Lake Bled, and also had fishing rights for the Soča and Sava Bohinjka river. The biggest hotel and casino he owned was in Sofia, which happened to be Kemal Atatürk’s hiding place at the time. His uncle’s acquaintance with Atatürk was also the reason the founder of the Republic of Turkey once visited Bled and even the reason for the Orient Express stopping at Bled as a scenic pit stop and to let its haughty passengers sip some champagne.
Growing up, Peter Florjančič met almost the entire Karadjordjević family and as a child he played the accordion, so when the Yugoslav queen visited Bled he played for her, fully attired in national costume, as a welcome. She showed him her appreciation by way of a kiss and he can still remember how his ears flushed from embarrassment. He later finished at a textile school and worked in “Jugočeški”, quickly figuring out how much money weaving clothes brought and then starting to weave himself. He created a hand loom out of wood that wove almost as fast as all the other hardware, then opened a weaving and textile plant and consequently became the youngest weaving master in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. At that time, he made his first sales invention: he weaved a scarf for the queen and later became the royal court supplier.
By now you are probably wondering exactly when he got on the road with inventions and what was his first real big breakthrough.
“When I was a kid, I was a Tarzan. We were jumping from tree to tree and rolled around in mud and grass. My whole face was dirty from the mud – I cut a sock, put it on my hand and wiped my face with it and my face was clean again. Well, today the athletes use that “invention” to wipe the sweat from their face.”
He went to Monte Carlo for a fourteen-day holiday and ended up staying there for fifteen years. Whilst there he met with kings, emperors, Maharajas, rich industrialists, world-famous film directors, actors and other influential people of his time, as well as rather less eminent figures, such as the gigolos, crooks, gangsters, and fraudsters of all types he also rubbed shoulders with. During this time, he became a millionaire several times over, as well as a poor man several times over too.
When in Monte Carlo, he observed the women with their variety of bags and so started to think about the large perfume bottles they couldn’t carry around with them. He then made a bottle composed of 18 parts and with a diffuser on top, which quickly became popular. Among other big names, he worked on this with Guerlain and Dior and today every spray bottle uses this system.
“I invented the perfume bottle for women. What a woman carries in her purse is very interesting for an inventor. The first thing you should ask yourself is what market is right for you because the market is the most important thing.”
Throughout his life Peter Florjančič has encountered strong, enterprising women who have created their empires and renowned brands as carried by their names: Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, Coco Chanel and many others, also meeting Belle Otero along the way. Women still inspire him today and indeed he likes to say that “the trick to conquering a woman is also an invention.”
From such a colorful journey it is impossible to overlook the question of how it was to grow up in Bled, a ‘mundane but prestigious destination’, almost a century ago…
“Bled and Opatija were sometimes similar to Monte Carlo, a mundane and prestigious destination. Most of the hotels in Bled were in my family’s ownership: the castle was owned by my uncle, my grandfather owned Hotel Triglav and Hotel Union, my mom owned Hotel Europa, Restaurant Savica, and Villa Ana, and my aunt owned Castle Jelovica. At that time, Bled was practically ours! When the king came to Bled, all the hotels were booked, not just for one day, but for the full three months.”
At the age of 82, Peter Florjančič eventually returned to Bled. He says he has been “waiting to die” for the past 16 years, but in fact he promised his mum that he would return to Bled to die and, of course, he is keeping his promise. If you might think Peter Florjančič is just waiting around for the Grim Reaper to come, though, then you would be deeply mistaken! There is, however, one prophecy that plays on his mind…
“Ali, a friend of my uncle Kenda, foretold me over a Turkish coffee that I may live for as many years as there are steps on the Bled island…”
We all know that Bled island has (only) 99 stairs and the inventor is conscious that this number is fast approaching – but ,of course, he doesn’t intend to start giving up at number 99…
“I told the priest: ‘I have one wish’. He said, ‘Peter, I would do anything for you.’ ‘I wish you would add some additional stairs to Bled island,’ I said. The priest just answered, ‘Go to church, ring on the bell of luck, and hope it comes true…’”
There are no plans to add extra stairs to Bled Island, but Peter Florjančič still giggles about it. He continues to create and search for innovative solutions to modern problems.
“My wife had dementia and she sometimes wandered off. Then I made a folding bird house and put it on the window, so she could spend the whole day watching birds. Consequently, she never roamed anywhere ever again…”
His life story sounds more like something for a movie setting, which he is aware of himself: “The thing that bothers me the most is that I cannot believe what a life I really lived. Sometimes it seems to me as if it didn’t happen.”
Peter Flojančič will soon receive an honorary doctorate, which he is very proud of. He has a clear answer to the question of how an inventor can succeed and survive:
“The inventor must be calm, think a lot, go out and drink coffee and try not to worry if tomorrow he’ll have money for food. You are healthy only if your mind works all the time – from the moment he wakes up until he falls asleep. I have 80 years of service and was married to the same woman for 70 years. I lived in France, in the city of Montre, which is the most beautiful place in the world for me. Charlie Chaplin was my neighbour. We drank together and laughed!”
Peter Florjančič is a native of Bled and symbolic of everything it stands for. There is a lot more than what meets the eye in Bled – it hides mystical tales and inspires with its picturesque settings and fascinating stories of people who create and live in this alpine jewel, and he is certainly one of them. Bled is very proud of its amazing citizen and his inventions, which have certainly changed and improved the world. Stories live on and Peter Florjančič is a source of inspiration to everyone who has heard his story, even when at times it may very well sound like a motion picture from another time.