In Conversation with British Luxury Brand Founders Tom Raffield and Richard Brendon
During HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday season at FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS we are reflecting on the interplay between personal and national heritage.
In the person of our British Queen we see a very visible confluence and deeply woven interplay between these two strands. Both national heritage and personal heritage are also intricately bound together in each of us, whatever our place of residence, national identity, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Within British Luxury the epithet “Made in Britain” draws on a rich legacy of heritage and traditions to take many contemporary forms.
Luxury Britain has an elaborate heritage of its own which stretches back into the 19th century for many leading brands. Think quintessentially British luxury institutions such as The Savoy hotel, bespoke men’s tailors Gieves & Hawkes and luxury car manufacturer Rolls Royce, each pursuing finesse for well over a century, built on design caché and artisan traditions which predate their foundation. Britain also boasts members of the luxury fold whose continuing appeal successfully entwines even older brand history with timeless innovation, think Cole & Son, manufacturers of fine printed wallpapers; Backes & Strauss, the world’s oldest diamond company; and iconic London chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker.
Drawing on specific creative and material heritage engages with long-established traditions for a designer. Whilst defining a personal heritage is an evolving individualised sifting of the essential legacies that hold the greatest value for each individual whether the manufacturer or the customer. Through this interaction we find a basis from which to discern new identities, directions and creativities.
We recently asked the founders of two British luxury brands showcased among the 2016 Walpole Brands of Tomorrow about the conceptual and tangible place of heritage in their 2016 luxury offerings.
Tom Raffield is a British design talent, specialising in the making of internationally renowned, award winning, sustainable furniture and lighting. Tom is based in Cornwall where he produces beautiful handcrafted wooden lighting, furniture and accessories from sustainably harvested timber in his woodland workshop.
What aspects of heritage or tradition do your handcrafted luxury products draw on?
The main technique we use is steam bending; a traditional wood working process associated heavily with traditional boat building, the making of tools, weaponry and the production of furniture, predominantly chairs. Much of what we produce is a marriage of traditional wood working techniques with more 21st century methods, such as laser cutting and CNC routing. We focus on English locally grown hardwoods like oak and ash. Beautiful timbers are as relevant today as ever before, but of course steeped in history. We also use many classic hand tools including planes, chisels and a collection of hand saws. Whenever we look to introduce new materials, it is the provenance and heritage which makes it such a good match. For instance our highly sought after arbor chair is produced using the wool from Abraham Moon, one of the last remaining vertical woollen mills in Great Britain.
What is the significance of your personal heritage for your work?
I grew up on Exmoor, in the countryside. It was a very slow pace of life and I was exposed to the elements of nature – the resource which people have used to get by for centuries: farming, fishing, forestry, growing plants and craft, including woodwork. My parents were very hard-working and passionate, with a love for life; it is this heritage which has helped me become the person I am today.
Does this have a direct bearing on your professional life?
Completely. The company ethos is based around British craftsmanship, sustainability, being inspired by nature and using what nature gives you, this is my ethos and the company beliefs are an extension of mine.
Richard Brendon also joined the conversation about heritage and tradition within the British luxury industry. Richard is a British product designer, who draws on the best elements from the past transforming them into striking modern designs. He specialises in the design and production of exceptionally elegant contemporary tableware.
Does your design process draw on any specifically British traditions?
All of our products are heavily influenced by the heritage of the industries we work with, from our designs to the way the products are made. Our bone china and cut crystal are hand made using traditional techniques and equipment, many of which have changed little since they were developed over two hundred years ago by the likes of Josiah Wedgwood. This automatically gives our products the look and feel of something traditional.
How do you see the interplay between these aspects of British manufacturing and design heritage and your contemporary luxury offerings?
When designing products I draw great inspiration from the heritage of British ceramics and the wonderful products that have been created over the last three centuries. For my first three years designing bone china, I stuck religiously to a colour palette of cobalt blue and white. The reason for this is that it is the most prevalent colour combination in the history of British ceramics. I wanted to take this traditional colour palette and reposition it in a contemporary way. When designing, I like to search for the best elements from the past and reinterpret them in a new way.
What is the significance of this heritage connection for your ceramic and glassware collections?
We specialise in bringing together traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design to create products that are unique and hopefully timeless. I believe the best designs are often hard to place in time, often they look so contemporary, but at the same time you know you’re not looking at something brand new. This is what we are trying to achieve, and I hope that in 50 or 100 years time people will still think our products look contemporary.
In Tom and Richard we see the contemporary outworking of the interplay between personal and national manufacturing traditions and design heritage. “Made in Britain” has a strong legacy of handcrafted fine and luxury goods, yet contemporary offerings continue to innovate, encapsulating the most valuable elements of this heritage in a way which supports British sustainability and manufacturing.
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Tom Raffield, http://www.tomraffield.com
Richard Brendon, http://www.richardbrendon.com
Walpole Brands of Tomorrow 2016, http://www.thewalpole.co.uk/programmes-archive/Brands+of+Tomorrow
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