House of Hackney makes fashion look short-sighted; Why stop at your body, when you can just swathe your whole bedroom in unadulterated loveliness? Frieda Gormley and partner Javvy M Royle create the world I want to live in.
Review of 100% Design London and Designersblock
Recent design school grad Freya Godwin-Brown clutches one of her resin and fabric sculptures after we chatted for thirty minutes about everything from her upcoming move to Australia to the skies of Shanghai which inspired this body of work.
Eleanor Young, textile designer, shows an exciting juxtaposition with her dainty vintage furniture pieces that she’s upholstered with her bold asymmetric geometric patterns, creating something entirely feminine out of shapes ordinarily associated with masculinity or 80s pop ‘topshop’ style youth wear. What she’s created here feels fresh and sophisticated at the same time. She also tries out digital printing for the first time as seen on the pillow on top of the small bench which worked really well with the embroidery. The way she matched her dress to her collection was also a nice touch.
Camilla Meijer is not a recent grad. I didn’t even get a chance to stop and talk to her – but I love her patterns (see Abigail Borg, a rising star as well).
Eadadin Dempsey sits in her final project after she talked excitedly about her first show. Simple construction, nothing extraneous, inspired by thatched roofs in her native Ireland. She’s a graduate from Dublin Institute of Technology.
Aimee Louise Hartshorn who came from Dublin with Eadadin sits on her twelve-legged rocking stool.
Yura Kim from South Korea made these resin light fixtures by hand but don’t ask her how she did it because she won’t tell you. She said, “sorry, I took a long time to figure out how to do it.” Fair enough and she’s done a beautiful job. They are even more impressive in person. The one behind her in pink looks like a fragile shell or a birds nest.
These three women make up Rooms Design, an interior and product design company from Georgia (the country, not the state). Quite an interesting trio. The woman in the middle is the business side and the two women on the ends are the designers. They also worked in collaboration with a fashion designer who dressed chairs in military uniforms. This collection was a inspired by the recent Russian invasion and communist occupation of Georgia during the cold war. The fear is that ‘things will become drab again if freedom is threatened;. The lamp in metal represents the Soviet Union and the wooden lamp is modeled after an American 50s desk lamp, a bold expression of designs potential to communicate political sentiments, something you might not expect from a commodity.
Holly Palmer creates whimsical furniture that doesn’t overpower. I want that table and the teacup behind her. More Alice in Wonderland charming than boutique hotel showy, these struck me as great for small spaces.4 Comments
Chair Arch conceived of by Wallpaper’s Henrietta Thompson
The week transcended all expectations. With a day’s distance from my time at the fair, I see the trends as follows: Reality skewing shapes, new world order inventions for sustainability rocketing us into better mousetraps, intellectual pursuit, bold against black, color and selfassuredness. Here I recount my path of discovery:
The day of my arrival in London was spent gearing up for a week of design immersion. I went to Sainsbury’s to get cereal and yogurt so I wouldn’t be slowed down by morning hunger and was wowed by the convenience of automatic check out. A system that dispenses bills no less. Much easier than Ikea’s system. Do we (America) have that anywhere? Easy, clear, convenient and fast. My good branding and service loving side was in heaven. (I’ve been living in Paris and Barcelona for the past three years.)
Then I went to W.H. Smith and browsed the London city guides looking for something that wasn’t going to consider Big Ben the vital destination and ended up with just an A-Z mini map because everything from Time Out to Not For Tourists felt too commercial or too broad.
It was only when I got to the beautiful, green and tranquil Geffrye museum for Ceramics and the City that I found Max Fraser’s London Design Guide which as it turns out had just been published and would be all over the place within days. It has clear maps by neighborhood and covers everything from big commercial design stores and hotels to the small and independent but it doesn’t consider fashion to be design other than a few biggies like Paul Smith and Dover Street Market and therefore misses the design worthy independents like No-one on Kingsland Road which I found to be a bit of a shame.
At Ceramics in the City, a one day sale of local work, the big winner for me was Hitomi McKenize. Her pieces are a refined snapshot of the spinning ceramic wheel in motion. (F) The museum itself is like a hidden oasis in East London. Along the back there is a hall with small wooden benches and a wall of windows facing fluttering green leaves and dappled sunlight. A great place to sit and read or write.
I looked through all the Brick Lane and market stall stores stopping on my way back to talk with the owner of semi permanent pop up shop, Marsh-mellow, a store dedicated to festival goers in the UK. No longer just the one-off viral marketing stunts they started out as, pop up stores are now the norm for testing the marketplace before leaping. The vibe in London was palpably one of moving forward in creative, thoughtful and innovative ways though. I didn’t get a sense of doom and gloom or the impression creative types were holding onto a safety raft.
Next was dinner with a Japanese exporter who showed meticulously crafted leather goods at Maison & Objet in Paris for the first time and was only in London on his way out of town. We discussed a shared passion for the dying ancient traditional crafts of Japan at Sake No Hana in Mayfair which only made me long for the real thing. When I asked him why the Japanese always eat Japanese food when they’re abroad he said he can do with a few days of European food or Chinese but then he just finds anything but Japanese too greasy.
In the morning I went to pick up my press card and looked through the V&A Telling Tales exhibition of expressionistic escapist furniture and design.
I am trying my hand at agent as well as brand strategist to female led projects so I checked out a handful of recommended stores supporting independent designers. One of these was Beyond the Valley off Carnaby street where I met the affable but fashion week rushed buyer and had a chat.
Then I made my way to the famed “b store” on Saville Road which left me markedly underwhelmed. It’s one of those concept stores that are dark, cold, housing a paltry collection of overpriced garments exalted way beyond their level of originality or interest – with the requisite shelf of independent handmade magazines, “Me” magazine, the newspaper format magazines focusing on one very specific banal obsession, in this case ‘light’, and a self-involved sales staff that never looked up to say hello. There are one or three of these in every fashionable city.
This was a surprise because everywhere I’d been in until now, the friendliness and charm had been total which I think is way more modern than aloof unfounded snobbery of past years (or of Paris in general) so with b store, I really could not see what all of the fuss was about.
Here’s a regret. On the other end of the humanist spectrum, I missed the ‘Reclaim’ exhibit at Eco Age. It was just too out of the way of everything else. I had really wanted to meet Orsola de Castro who with partner John Teal made art out of unclaimed luggage. I hope to catch up with them via email. I thought of them when my eyes landed on a quilt made from dolls and baby toys at 100% Design. They made a similar quilt out of the contents of the luggage.
Tuesday the pace increased exponentially. I missed Responsible Design – and not because I was irresponsible! – but because the website said the talk was at 9:30 and it was actually at 8:30 but I recovered from the glitch while perusing the Brompton Design district. The Knit Wit exhibit at Skandium was lovely though I wouldn’t say terribly unique. The store itself is a joy, especially Klaus Haapaniemi’s Iittila cups. Afterwards, I sat down with the striking Priscilla Carluccio, owner of Few and Far and of brother Terence Conran and Habitat fame (F) and then went around the corner to Mint, a gallery shop that sits on the border of design and art, cherishing concept and metaphor over strict functionality. The staff were knowledgeable, unpretentious and welcoming and the content, strangely beautiful. The highlight was the “At One” couch made from ash, latex, crushed velvet, and foam by Charlotte Kingsnorth who was influenced by rising obesity and the paintings of Jenny Saville. The work is a comment on the relationship between a human being and their furniture “which has been devoured by its obese occupier.” This bulbous melting structure was actually pretty comfortable.
Next I went to interview Dieneke Ferguson, founder of Hidden Art. For the duration of the London Design Festival, Hidden Art took up residence at Tom Dixon’s temporary exhibition and showroom space at Portobello Dock which also housed nascent designer projects. Dieneke who is Dutch, has been a kind of fairy godmother for independent designers and artisans in the UK for the past twenty years, eleven of which under Hidden Art (F). It was day one in the space for her and we took some time trying to figure out the process for ordering lunch. She had the rabbit. I’d eaten a sandwich in transit and had my third cup of coffee of the day which didn’t hinder my sleep one iota by the time I went to bed.
I ended the working day with an interview with Danish designer Nina Tolstrup whose Pallet Project created a second life for “pallets” (wooden crates) as chairs. She commissioned artists Gavin Turk and Cornelia Parker to paint a chair each. The chairs were auctioned off for a charitable organization where women in poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires come together to make pallet chairs for their community. The woman who set up the foundation approached Nina with her idea after seeing her chairs online. (F).
Wednesday: the actual fair now a day away, I had a packed schedule. I attended the book launch of “Discovering Women in Polish Design: Interviews and Conversations” which to date was the most eye opening and relevant to What Women Make’s global / local female focus (F).
At night I ended up missing Lee Broom’s opening that I’d RSVPd to as well as the London Design Medal which I do regret, but I made a new friend who creates textiles and innovates design processes, one of which will be used to ornament hospital ceiling tiles. I was introduced to her by the Blueprint Magazine product editor, Luca Amadei, who led and wrote the Polish Design book project. I’d met him the night bfore at Nina’s party and we hit it off right away. Ana Aranjo, who moved to London from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, teaches at Oxford when she’s not running her company, Atelier Domino. She invited me to a talk at the Wapping Project. We had dinner in the converted factory and she filled me in on London creative entrepreneur life as I considered a move there.
The highlight of my week was between breakfast and dinner. It was my interview with Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books. It had nothing to do with design. After all, What Women Make is not just about design but about creative women and female leaders leading creative businesses. Ten years ago after stints at the Financial Times and the Observer, and a book of her own under her belt about women writers, Nicola founded her publishing house and bookshop in Bloomsbury. Persephone Books publishes out-of-print female authors from the 19th century that she personally loves. I won’t say any more. You’ll have to wait for the interview to post. (F)
The fair arrived. I started with Designers Block where I stopped four or five women designers whose work caught my eye, from recent grads to new entries, to the hugely successful founder of Ella Doran. The rest of the day was spent walking a maze of delight around 100% Design, definitely concentrating on the back center and right quadrant for new and experimental design and concepts dealing with sustainability. (F)
Reluctant to admit this is my last day, I was slower than the rest to make it out the door. When I did, I headed right to Brick Lane’s Truman Building for Tent thinking its at least a half-day event but I ended up seeing only one or two items of note and finish the single floor in forty minutes including a chat with a woman who upholsters beautiful antique trunks with her hand printed textiles.
All in all, my evenings this week were spent mostly with friends and not at parties, save one. That might bore you, but on my last evening dead tired and unable to make it back to East London for the festivities, I spent it gathered at a bottle of wine with a new New York acquaintance lamenting our city’s dwindling steam, both of us for the first time considering moves to the dynamic, engaging, poised, diverse, and somehow seemingly more intellectual and daring, London.
And that’s my trip. Please follow me on twitter and my RSS feed to be alerted to the interviews and features as they post. A selection of photos of women and their work will post next and a video of the week will be coming shortly after.
-Chauncey Zalkin5 Comments
A walk through some of our favorite female designers at the London Design Festival September 2008.0 Comments
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