This is a guest post from new Design-Calendar contributor, Katie Bone.
The breadth of London Design Festival always presents a whirlwind of design exploration and this year proved no exception. Boasting more than 400 events and exhibits spread far and wide across the city, the Festival champions the work of up-and-coming talents in the design world, alongside heritage brands and design legends. From the V&A’s exhibit What is Luxury? to the Decorex theme The Future of Luxury, there was significant focus this year on the evolution of luxury and our changing values in the world of design and in society at large.
On the wall of the V&A luxury exhibit, a sign read “In a busy and intrusive world, people increasingly value time and space for enjoying special moments and extraordinary experiences. Contemporary designers engage with how the availability of time and space, and the quality of time spent, can be seen as luxuries in their own right.” This assertion was supplemented with an installation by Marcin Rusak, which featured items designed to celebrate getting lost and the quiet moments associated with being alone in the world. Called Time For Yourself, it featured thoughtfully designed, purely analogue “tools for experiencing life outside daily routines,” including a wool blanket, a compass, and a dial-less watch. “It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days,” reads a quote by Rusak next to the installation. “It would take a lot of effort to experience this luxury.”
The V&A exhibit served to challenge the notion of luxury in a contemporary world. It directly confronted the prominence of elite brands in a world rife with social inequality, and presented a new idea of luxury; an idea which is at once more universal and more relevant in the present era. It highlighted the themes of time, authenticity, and craftsmanship as growing values and challenged preconceived concepts of luxury.
These ideas were somewhat mirrored at Decorex, though (predictably) with a strong nod toward heritage. Presenting The Future of Luxury alongside Future Heritage, Decorex brought the contemporary relevance of nostalgic design values into the forefront. The theme of authenticity played a role, as wool and other natural materials were embraced throughout the exhibits, as did craftsmanship, especially well demonstrated in the New Craftsmen exhibit which showcased the skill of fine craft-makers and celebrated the hours that went into making each piece by hand.
Nostalgia was an overarching influence across the festival. In a busy, switched on, technology-obsessed world, numerous exhibits and installations pointed to a desire to celebrate the values of the past. This statement was made most explicit with the debut of the MP 01 Mobile Phone by Jasper Morrison in collaboration with Punkt. Unveiled at Somerset House, the phone suggests a better-designed version of one’s first mobile phone. Designed to “rebalance people’s relationship with technology,” the phone enables calling and texting only, and throws all new smartphone technology out of the window. Only available in design stores, and not through mainstream mobile retailers, it becomes clear that this old way of using technology has become more synonymous with luxury than the most technologically advanced smartphones on the market. “We believe it is time to disconnect and discover the more simple things in life,” says a Punkt leaflet describing the Somerset House exhibit.
Wood, often presented simply and sometimes unfinished, was a significant trend observed at the festival, offering a clear nod to nostalgic design and the values of simplicity, authenticity, and craftsmanship. Presenting the material in its most natural form, Max Lamb showcased 131 logs from the same tree, his grandfather’s, in his exhibit at Somerset House titled My Grandfather’s Tree. With an aim to preserve their structure as objects from the natural world, Lamb dried the logs over a period of seven years. They are now for sale for use as stools, side tables, or any other purpose the user can imagine for them.
Jane Withers curated an exhibit at the V&A titled Robin Day; Works in Wood. The exhibit celebrated the material as a resource and an inspiration and embraced classic mid-century modern forms alongside more playful elements including hatchets and wooden slingshots.
A major theme in both lighting and furniture design, wood also surfaced as a popular material for exhibit displays. Pakiet, Oskar Zieta’s first wood furniture collection, drew significant attention at What Goes Behind, an exhibit of ceramics by contemporary Polish designers at Tent London, curated by Culture.pl. There was even an installation of a tube station built entirely in wood (complete with wooden editions of the newspaper The Metro) on display at Designjunction.
Handicrafts were well represented across the festival, further representing the themes associated with utilizing natural materials and moving away from technology. From the Culture.pl exhibit to a dreamscape of hand-sculpted pots and vases in muted tones by Tortus Copenhagen at the Tent London entrance, the timeless art of ceramic pottery shone at multiple venues. Textile arts were also a feature. Jamie Knitted Textiles debuted beautifully simple dip-dyed knit pendant lamps. Meanwhile The Knit Collection by Curver, the star of the Designjunction opening event, brought knitting into the modern age by melding contemporary materials and technology (plastic and 3D printing) with classic textile arts.
Natural materials, muted tones, and simple shapes comprised the aesthetic landscape of London Design Festival this year. Through these design clues, strong ideals toward restraint, integrity, and craftsmanship emerged, suggesting values from the past play a big role in the future of luxury and the future of design.