Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christina’s Wish list- Cockpit Christmas Open Studios

Gathering Wood by Katharine Morling
Late November and early December is when consumers are simultaneously bombarded by craft, design and affordable art fairs, all vying for a prized spot on your Christmas shopping hit-list. There’s simply too much choice and too little to spend it on.

Until scientists figure out how to scatter clones across multiple destinations, this year I decided to be well, decisive.  Opting out of polished gallery exhibitions and glossy department stores (cue: beautiful but overpriced gifts), during the last 2 weekends I went straight to the source at Cockpit Christmas Open Studios. Its annual Christmas open studios in upmarket Holborn (25-27 November) and up-and-coming Deptford (2-4 December) are fantastic for picking up unconventional gifts at a snip of the shop price.

Cockpit is a social enterprise which supports independent designer makers mainly through its unique business incubator package. (In case you’re wondering, the name originates from the site of the Holborn building, which was once an 18th century cockfighting yard).

At first glance, the exteriors of both studio buildings were hardly glamorous, my head embossed with the image of industrial factories and billows of black smog. But once inside the festive excitement and was overwhelmingly infectious. Visiting a designer-makers’ open studios is a bit like getting a sneak peek at Santa’s elves in his factory. You get to see where the magic happens (some were literally making), satisfying one's curiosity of how beautiful things are made. It was slightly surprising to discover artisans of diverse crafts working alongside each other in each studio. Weaving looms, knitting machines and digital fabric printers stood beside Victorian letterpresses, kilns and jewellery benches. I’d never seen such eclectic disciplines  drawn together in a dynamic hub of creative talent; brimming with enthusiasm and inspiration of which makers must inevitably rub off on each other.

Each maker’s space had a personalised atmosphere- from music, aroma, to lighting (I was seduced by dimly lit boudoir of Holloway Smith Noir). Even kilns and sewing machines were given a sprinkle of Christmas embellishment or used as display props. Plus there was amazing warm mulled cider and nibbles offered to keep shoppers spirits’ merry. I’ll definitely be visiting again.

In recession stricken times, Cockpits’ success is testament that the artisan crafts spirit, community and industry are very much alive.

Christmas at Cockpit- Top 10 Gift Picks

Spoil Loved Ones (or more likely yourself!)

1.  Extravagantly opulent with gold and precious stones, this Hoard brooch by Ruth Tomlinson is a headturner
2. This bold, contemporary Geisha screen print by Constructive Studio adds a funky edge to any interior

3. Tiny cut glass inspired porcelain vases by Shan Annabelle Valla- so cute you'll want to collect them all!
4. Fun, nostalgic with quintessentially English humour, Ruth Martin's rubber stamped paper creations are perfect for all ages

5. Jessica Poole's gold fluted earlaces with diamonds remind me of angels' trumpets. A glamorous festive touch to any evening or party outfit

6.Naomi Ryder's Kirsty Drinks Tea bone china teacup and saucer features beautifully delicate illustrations taken from her embroideries
7. Maya Selway plays with trompe l'oeil with this clever silver Kishu vase that appears to be a simple line drawing. By putting something in it you can customise and complete its silhouette
8. Like the Pam Am series currently airing on the BBC, I predict Petra Bishai's airline matchbook themed Lucifer rings will be a sure hit
 9. Illuminate a living room into a rural and mythical winter wonderland with Lush Designs lampshades
10. Channel Dita Von Teese with these naughty yet classy Holloway Smith Noir vintage lace pasties.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Get Decked Out in Chelsea and Support a Good Cause

British Red Cross Exclusive Designer Shopping Event (1st December 2011, 4-7pm)
Chanel Jacket at Chelsea's Red Cross (Photo by Tina Stallard)
With the second recession and Christmas around the corner, there’s never been a better reason to indulge in a bit of guilt free, feel-good shopping. Known to fashionistas/stylists for its high-quality designer and vintage donations, Chelsea British Red Cross shop’s annual winter sale is perfect place to snap up a stylish bargain this Christmas. The crème-de-la-crème fashion gems throughout the year are cherry-picked exclusively for this event. Expect clothing, bags and shoes by Stella McCartney, Prada, Hermès, amongst other labels as well as unique vintage gear. Last time I spotted a Jenny Packham skirt for £37.5 (dearer than your run-of-the-mill charity shop, but still a snip considering the quality)
Plus you get a complimentary glass of wine, if only to ease the guilt for splashing out on that pricey Mulberry handbag last season...
My Top Charity Shopping Tips
  • Shop with an honest friend who isn’t afraid to tell you what looks good and what looks naff.
  • My rule of thumb is to make sure the item works with at least 5 outfits in your existing wardrobe
  • Don’t give in to your inner magpie grabbing the first glittery, sparkly, shiny thing you see. (Been there, done that!) Think about the occasion. Classic structured pieces are timeless and can be worn day to day. Save the heavily embellishment for evening and party wear 
  • Always try before you buy and never, ever buy something a size too small (wishful thinking especially after the mandatory festive pig-out)
  • On the other hand, don’t worry if the piece is slightly too big- that’s what belts are for (hurrah!). Hem and waist alterations can be made easily on a sewing machine- enlist help from your Mum, Nan or neighbour if necessary.
  • The secret to making charity shop look, well, non-charity shop is customisation. Think out of the box and embrace the make-do-and-mend mantra. Adding your own personalised touches to the outfit makes all the difference, be it with quirky accessories, revamping with a different collar or buttons. 

British Red Cross
69 – 71 Old Church Street, London SW3 5BS

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Handmade in Britain- Review

I always feel out of place in Chelsea, not least because the flashy designer boutiques, affluent Harvey Nichols shoppers and their mulberry handbags make me stick out like a sore thumb with glasses. Consequently, I was somewhat anticipating snobbish sellers and ludicrously high-priced wares on my first visit to Handmade in Britain (28th- 30th October) Over 70 designers working in wood, textiles, ceramics, glass, jewellery and leather were selected this year for their "eco-conscious and sustainable" making practices.

The venue for the annual contemporary craft fair is Chelsea Town Hall, a fine neo-classical building (designed by Leonard Stokes in 1908) on the fashionable Kings Road. With elegant marble columns, beautiful chandeliers, oil paintings and frescoes, its Victorian decor makes interesting contrast to the stalls of contemporary goods sold to early Christmas shoppers.

Post-recession even the Kensington purse strings have tightened this year, reflected by the inclusion of a ‘Handmade, Made Affordable’ page on the catalogue. Of course, for those happy to splash the cash there’s a ‘Christmas Wishes’ section too. Although 70 makers were suppose to be on show, but only 60 had stalls. The rest were single examples displayed on a low fronted platform in the back of the hall, without the designer present. I felt cheated out of my ticket, as my definition of a craft fair includes engaging with the artist. Nevertheless I was delighted to discover a number of exceptional makers there.

Sarah Parker Eaton’s gold and silver jewellery animates the spectacular structures usually reserved for the eye under the microscope. From sea plankton to spores of tiny seeds, she translates their movements, symmetrical and repeated patterns, shapes and textures into hybrid creatures that appear ready to spring onto you.

Delfina Emmanuel exquisitely decorated teapots, teeming with life and growth are inspired by the rich marine life of Sardinia, where she was raised. Glazed in soft pastels, the painstakingly hand formed spikes, urchins, shells and corals are accented with luxurious gold lustres. Though functional, they appear far too precious for mortal use, more fitting in a mermaid's palace instead. Such extravagance speaks of the 19th century British Rococo-revival, when fanciful porcelain tea services like Belleek and Coalport were ostentatious symbols of wealth and power.

A painter as well as a potter, Joy’s Trpkovic’s wall pieces are made of delicately pinched porcelain sea forms. The arrangements mimic the movement of shoals and waves washed along sandy shores. Her lethal spikes and sea shards are the thinnest, tiniest and sharpest I’ve ever seen. So many of our oceans have been tainted beyond recognition by man; it is ironic, even startling to see such unspoilt beauty created by the hands of a craftswoman.

Emma Dolan's charming hand-printed Harris Tweed cups encapsulate perfectly the nostalgia trend that is everywhere at the moment, from vintage/retro boutiques to crafty sewing cafes popping up all over the country. Paying homage to iconic ceramics such as Blue and White china, Royal Chintz and the brightly coloured Art Deco wares of Clarice Cliff, the inspired patterns are stitched or transfer printed onto Harris Tweed. Her nursery teacups are even more adorable, depicting quirky children’s illustrations. The base of each cup is certified as genuine Harris Tweed with its official Orb, which she likens to a potter's mark (to me it’s the Vivienne Westwood’s logo minus the Saturn ring!) Though sweet in appearance, her pieces speak of the importance of traditional textiles and our emotional reminiscence to ceramics, such as the familiar comfort of a well-loved mug or family heirloom tea set. 

Hussein Bolt, Elizabeth Taylor and the endangered Northern White Rhino are amongst other contemporary subjects celebrated in Rosh Keegan’s whimsical human-animal figures. Like the Victorian Anthropomorphic taxidermy of Walter Potter, her figures are grandly dressed and posed with uncanny human resemblance. The reassuring fact is they are hand built in stoneware instead of stuffed dead animals, making them amusing rather than sinister looking. The Indian born, African raised ceramicist has always been attracted to the hybrids of Hindu deities, literature and mythology around the world. Egyptian god Anubis and Bottom from A Midsummer’s Night Dream are some of the famous animal heads juxtaposed on buxomly human bodies, flamboyantly dressed up in feathers, fabrics, metal and jewels.

Overall, Handmade in Britain was a quaint experience personally; having used to spending hours in large fairs it took some adjustment to a smaller venue. Despite some exceptional craft, by the time I’d finished browsing (which wasn’t very long at all) I couldn’t help feeling, ‘Is this it?’ Perhaps it’s time the organizers thought about expanding their venue for a more fulfilling visit.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Roll Neck Resurrection

Celine A/W 11
I love that fashion always comes back in cycles, reinventing cringe-worthy blasts-from-the-past into the latest must haves. As a cynic, I usually classify these trends as either-

a) Passing fads or
b) Impractical or
c) Ridiculous or
d) Requiring the confidence/body of a supermodel. 

So I was instantly sold when I heard practicality was back in vogue this A/W. The humble parka, knee-high boots and roll neck (you heard me right) sweaters/dresses were firmly in the spotlight. Yes, you can be warm, comfortable and stylish this winter!

The innate paranoia that comes with roll necks is ending up neck-less, double-chinned or more frumpy than fierce. But with the right colour and clever pairing, this is a versatile piece one can rock in real life.

5 of the Best Roll Necks

Navy, teal and burgundy are great alternatives to black, or draw attention with a bright pop of colour like crimson. For the rest of the outfit, choose pieces from the same tonal palette to elongate silhouette. The 1940s style pencil skirt, skinny jeans, leggings or sleek tapered trousers are hot choices right now. Finish off with a parka, blazer, wool trench or my favourite, an ankle grazing duster coat. You can customize your outfit to channel anything from elegant (a la Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, 1957), boyish to highland heritage.
Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, 1957

Kate Jackson (Far left) from Charlie's Angels, 1970s 

The best bit for me is that I’ve had roll necks in my drawers for years. Nostalgia always comes back in style. Not that I needed another excuse not to spring-clean my closet. Oxfam’s loss is my gain.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ceramics in the City (23-25th September) Review

The Geffrye Museum did not strike as an obvious location for ceramics fair. Charting the history of English domestic interiors since 1914, the Grade I listed 18th century Shoreditch almshouses and its preened gardens seemed more fitting as a period drama prop. Then again this was my first visit- appearances can be deceptive.

No sooner had I entered did I find myself in a walking time capsule of lavishly decorated living rooms, from the 16th century to present. Fitted with furniture and decorative arts that were integral and cherished at the time, it dawned upon me. Perhaps this was not such an odd location for a ceramics show. After all, most of us buy ceramics to do just that.

The 3 day selling event in its tenth year, Ceramics in the City’s eclectic selection of 43 potters ranged from the established to emerging talent across the country. Spanned across 3 rooms, the intimacy and informality was immediately apparent- a warm welcome to the stressful crowds and intimidating atmosphere of some exhibitions. There were no airs, moody, straitlaced expressions or pressure to buy (although with many items priced £10-50 it was certainly tempting). Rather it was a friendly meet and greet with makers genuinely passionate about their craft. From vessels, tableware, lighting to figurative, non functional pieces in distinct styles and diverse techniques, there was something different for everyone.  A sense of belonging to the home was the only coherent theme.

Amongst the seasoned ceramicists the works of Claudia Lis, Sue Paraskeva and Ruth King lent a soft, feminine edge to the show.

Lis is known for her celadon-glazed ware imprinted with rust flakes that bleed into pale green glaze. The marks are random yet convey a sense of deliberate precision, while imprints on her aptly titled 'Petri dishes' were reminiscent of spreading bacteria.
Claudia Lis

Sue Paraskeva's wheel thrown bowls were intentionally dropped with heavy objects to cause cracks, which are accentuated with coloured oxides. The relinquishing of control was a refreshing contrast to her previous industrial shapes.

Bulbous curves and geometric lines converged seamlessly like magic in the forms of Ruth King’s pots. Glazed in subdued iridescent greens, browns, blues and lilacs, I would dare anyone to resist the urge to touch the inflated pillow-like shapes.
Ruth King

In terms of pattern Ben Davies and Yo Thom stood out of the crowd. Davies’ university background in geography and geology was apparent in his work. His ‘Stone’ series involves layering slips over coils with marks created by tools, which are scraped back to reveal intricate stone-like surface reliefs. Equally mesmerising were his ‘Strata’ pots characterised with marbled patterns resembling mille-feuille chocolate swirls.
Ben Davies

Yo Thom’s Ai-indigo range of stoneware tableware featured graffito lines over indigo slip and matt white glaze. The variegated blues, elegant markings and unsophisticated forms an effective ode to her Japanese heritage. 
Philomena Pretsell

For a celebratory mood, there was Philomena Pretsell’s playful earthenware creations. Gently poking fun at contemporary culture with her transfers (William and Kate's Royal Wedding memorabilia for instance), gold lustre and cheerful colours, they would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Lou Rota’s animal and botanical transfer plates were also part of the humorous, quirky ceramics on show.                    
Lou Rota
Newcomer Claire Lovett, who graduated in 3D Design from University of Plymouth in 2009, stole the show with her peeling wallpaper vessels. Lovett’s’ paperclay vessels were inspired by the concept of family ancestry and traditional English wallpapers. Like excavated treasured relics passed along generations, they would not have appeared out of place in the museum’s 19th century rooms.

On a whole I felt the presentation could have been more polished-tables with white cloths were a bit too informal and did not do the works justice. It was impossible to compare Ceramics in the City to high profile exhibitions such as Origin, akin to comparing home brewed cider to chardonnay. If you were expecting cutting edge, controversial ceramics you would have left feeling underwhelmed. Ceramics in the City was an understated, no frills event of ceramics to enrich the home and the lives of people in them. Plus it gave the museum’s barren ceramics collection a much needed rejuvenation.

Monday, 3 October 2011

I Left My Heart at Origin Photo Gallery

Choosing the best makers at Origin is like choosing your favourite child. So I've created a photo gallery of Origin exhibitors that caught my eye for your eyes to feast on...enjoy!
Lisa Swerling

Alison Haddon

Pauline Edie

Piret-Eve Kändler

Alex McCarthy

Akiko Hirai
Eileen Gatt
Helen Noakes
Clare Knox Bentham

Polly Horwich

Charlotte Sale
Lucy Sylvester

Aneta Regel Deleu (Photography by Sylvain Deleu)

I Left My Heart at Origin

Last week's London Design Festival (17-25 September) marked the most exciting celebration of creative  design industries worldwide. Hundreds of events were held all over the capital and in case you've missed any of the the action, here's a roundup of my personal highlights. There's still time to visit the V&A's Power of Making and Postmodernism Style and Subversion 1970-1990 exhibitions, which opened during the festival.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, once again Crafts Council brought together the best in contemporary craft in its annual fair origin. This was the second time it took place at Old Spitalsfield Market, a historical, dynamic landmark in the cultural hub of East London. Encompassing a broad spectrum of disciplines from glass, ceramic, jewellery to wood, textiles and paper, I call it the Diagon-Alley of applied arts. A must-go event for craft lovers, designers, students to view and purchase beautifully made items and meet the designers themselves

This year saw iconic department store Liberty curate Liberty Selects display windows around the pavilion. The themed windows were adorned with specially chosen exhibitor pieces, reflecting the fashionable, eclectic and covetable spirit of the store. In addition there was  Lux Craft, a new collaboration with Nokia Design, showcasing innovative lighting by 10 selected makers. Suspended and placed on elevated black platforms in the pavilion's centre, the exhibits gave Origin a cutting edge and space age feel.

It's always great to see fresh talent, new work and exhibitors, which was evident this time. The selection panel- Michelle Alger (Liberty's home and gift buying manager), Yvonna Demczynska (Flow Gallery director), Lee Broom (Product/interior designer), Brigid Howarth (creative industry specialist) and Henrietta Thompson (Wallpaper editor-at-large) have done a commendable job for choosing a good balance of established, up-and-coming and international makers. Regarding the latter, it's not every day one gets to be up close with fantastic American, Japanese, Korean and Estonian craft to name but a few. Their strong cultural influences shape their styles and separate their work from British based designers. 

The works of Korean ceramicist Hyosun Kim and Japanese ceramicist Yoshimi Azuma intrigued me in that although remarkably similar looking, incorporating fused, distorted thrown containers. Both makers look at their native ceramics heritage for inspiration- Kim interprets the translucent qualities of Korean Moon jars and waster forms, while Azuma uses the traditional Japanese Kiyomizu technique.

Hyosun Kim
Yoshimi Azuma
Sophie Woodrow's porcelain creatures charmed me in an instant, reminiscent of the magical monsters in Spirited Away.Weird, amusing and adorably eerie, they were fascinating to look at, not least because of the labour involved- Woodrow painstakingly coils, incises, impresses and builds up the intricate textures of each one.

Sophie Woodrow

Kerry Kastings' stoneware vessels were some of the most amazing ceramics I have seen in a while. She has perfected a technique of adding oxides and carbonates to the clay body, glazing only the inside of the forms. The harmonious zen-exuding sky-like colours are a result of the glaze reacting with the additives in the clay body. A visual marriage made in heaven when paired with the elegant, speckled grey matt exterior.

Kerry Hastings
Kathryn Roberts' blown glass vessels blew me away with their understated elegance. The fluid shapes were illuminated in gorgeous jewel colours. Upon closer inspection you will see deliberate cut marks, which Roberts says, is a conteraction to the instinctive, loose way she makes glass.
Kathryn Roberts
Ceramics, glass, precious and non-precious jewellery were particularly strong, with  incredibly diverse approaches to each material- indicating the level of skill and reflecting the individuality of maker. What was surprising was the  affordability of many of the pieces (£100 and under). A clear sign of industry's understanding of shifting consumer attitudes towards buying contemporary craft in the current economic climate. This is good news for consumers as it makes authentic, quality craft accessible to all, not just the elite.

The only criticism was the lack of originality of some textiles, which to me all looked very similar, indistinguishable in a sea of same coloured knitted or woven patterns. The fact that few of the Lux Craft makers were present was another. The catalogue is impossible to navigate either. Besides this Origin has lived up to its reputation. No doubt I will be there next year, spending hours exploring the mecca like a child in a candy shop, enjoying every minute of it.



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