Is there a place for craft at the London Design Festival?

London, my home town. My career started from the result of interning and showcasing work at New Designers Selection for the London Design Festival 2004 – needless to say this festival has a very special place in my heart.

With clients and shows sprawled across every zone in London, my week started off on Sunday, at the opening day of Decorex. Based at Syon Park, this fair for luxury interior brands is like attending a society event. With Chelsea tractors and ladies sipping gin or bubbles at 10:30am (it’s 5pm somewhere in the world, right?), this show attracts the great and good of luxury residential interior designers.

The annual highlight of Decorex is Future Heritage, curated by Corinne Julius with her wealth of knowledge and her brilliant eye for talent and trend. It’s no secret that this feature has helped attract some much-needed new brands and visitors to the event, but more importantly, it places craftmanship on a pedestal. A highlight for me was Jie Wu’s collection of resin and rosewood boxes. A recent graduate form the RCA’s Textiles programme, Wu’s project explores society’s relationship with natural and manmade materials, and in particular the perceived values of those materials. The result, a beautifully crafted collection of ornate colourful boxes, to be treasured and handed down from generation to generation.

With a focus on luxury and craftmanship, Decorex launched; CraftWork. This area invited 9 small businesses who produce premium interior furnishings, lighting, artworks and objects to exhibit for the first time. I’m proud to say, I had 6 clients showcase (David Pringle, Kevin Stamper, Louis Jobst, RHMB, PIPET & Zuzana Lalikova) in this new area and am even more delighted to say that they all had a positive first show. The organisers have the foundations for something special here:- the showcase offers the opportunity for these small businesses to elevate to the next level because Decorex visitors are avidly looking to invest in the bespoke, unique and handmade. This enables these brands to grow at a comfortable level, whereas other shows are geared to the contract market and expect 50 of the same products delivered within 8-10 weeks. Not all businesses (certainly my clients) want to work like this, it’s about creating the life you want, not following the herd. I look forward to seeing how this develops at Olympia in October 2019.

With my visit to Decorex completed, I used the London Design Festival guide to plan my week ahead. The first new development I discovered was the lack of a map to the guide, it’s lucky I carry two spare battery packs and a plug socket with me at all times, but what about the people who don’t? I feel this was a big oversight by the festival team.

Moan over, here are a few of my highlights:

Paste x The Department Store, Brixton Design District

The new-ish ‘The Department Store’ by architects Squire & Partners has quickly established itself as a decadent platform for artists, craft practitioners and designers alike to use as a platform. This year, ceramicist Christopher Riggio installed his new collection; Paste. Christopher’s delicate ceramics adorned with gemstones and glass inlay evoked a sense of 1920’s French nostalgia.

TRANS-FORM by Mint, Brompton Design District

Celebrating 20 years, Mint’s founder and curator Lina Kanafani selected over 60 material-forward designers focusing on altering the state of matter through the design process, including Future Icons’ Judy McKenzie. Lina’s eye and curation is, in my opinion, stronger than the fabulous Rossana Orlandi in Milan. There are too many good artists to mention here, thankfully the gallery is open all year round. I highly recommend you pop this on your to-visit list.

Polygon Glassware by OAO Works, Shoreditch Design Triangle

If it wasn’t for the mass of colour beaming from the windows of this unassuming shop front, I could have easily missed. Following on from their launch in Milan, OAO Works presented several installations of 31 individual glass elements designed to be arranged into a multiplicity of compositions. Individually, each object has been delicately coloured, but when positioned together the objects created an intense landscape of light and colour.

En Plein Air, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Mayfair Design District

A solo gallery exhibition of works by Italian Architect and Designer Vincenzo de Cotiis. Located on the first floor of a building in Albermarle Street in Mayfair, my first thought was how on earth did the installation team get these pieces up the stairs? 20 furniture-sculptures handmade by Italian artisans from cast brass, semiprecious stone, Murano glass and cast resin. An absolute showstopper of craftmanship and design, these works are the epitome of the DesignArt movement of today.

Sugarhouse Studios, Bermondsey

I’m a very nosey person by nature, so when I see there is an open studio welcoming the public in then I’m usually one of the first through the door. The showcase of the 20 residing businesses’ work within the reception space was a lovely glimpse into what is produced at this former swimming pool and dance studio. A highlight was meeting architect and designer Mauro Dell’Orco. A designer, architect and co-director of WorkshopEast. This gentleman is designing sculptural-furniture pieces heavily influenced from his training in architecture. I’m shocked I haven’t come across his collection sooner.

Having covered central, east, south and west London (sorry north London – must try harder next year), my next stop was The London Design Fair, formally Tent London.

I have to admit, The London Design Fair was my favourite show last year, it somehow pulled together the most interesting collections from new and established small brands so I was excited to see what his year had in store for us.

When I entered, I made bee-line for The British Craft Pavilion, curated by Hole & Corner. I was sad to see it had moved from it’s ground floor presence onto an upper level, I was even sadder to learn that the exhibitors were promised ‘an architecturally designed space to exhibit in’. It wasn’t, it was a dusty concrete room with white walls in it. Thankfully, disappointing venue aside, the quality of the selected exhibitors was overall good.

My clients (Jo Davies Ceramics & Christabel Balfour) both released new installations that pushed the boundaries of their usual and established aesthetic, both gaining excellent feedback.

Other British Craft Pavilion highlights include (all pictured):

·        Richard McVetis: Exquisite micro-embroidered artworks and sculptures, these should be hung in museums.

·        Olivia Walker: Delicate ceramic sculptures and vessels, I particular like the terracotta forms.

·        Joel Parkes: Wood and kintsugi artworks, loving the introduction of bold colours.

·        Alex O’Conner: Mixes her education of sculpture and metalsmithing to produce the finest installations of silver vessels.

I found the rest of the fair extremely difficult to navigate and really only spotted a few other small brands that really peaked my interest. One stand-out designer/ artist from Austria (currently living in The Netherlands) was Laurids Gallée. Laurids exhibited 3 projects, all of which I consider tick the boxes to be described as DesignArt. His stand out piece for me was his large circular topped wooden screen that simulated coloured marquetry. It’s a piece to design a room around - it stands that proud. I look forward to viewing further collections as his practice develops.

This concludes my craft journey for LDF ’18. Of course, I visited designjunction & 100% Design, but alas these platforms focus on showing mass-production brands. It’s good to see that the big events are starting to focus on showcasing a particular area of the market rather than trying to be a one stop shop for all. It’s about time, making for a much happier visitor experience and I hope the sales teams can now concentrate on attracting the very best from their desired sector to make for four ‘must see shows’. As the saying goes ‘Jack of all trades…….’

To answer my title question, Is there a place for craft at the London Design Festival? My answer is, seemingly less so. Reflecting back to my ‘Jack of all trades’ comment, the LDF is so big now, I feel the content across the city is somewhat diluted. Of course, it’s lovely to see one off, insanely expensive artworks amongst the mass-produced collections. Quite often this is a treat for the eyes, but I question if this is the right audience for premium craftmanship. Guy Salter, Chairman of London Craft Week noticed this circa 7 years ago and as a result founded London Craft Week, now coming into it’s 6th year. We also all received news that Decorex will no longer participate in LDF and has made the bold decision to move into October, the same week as PAD London & The Frieze Art Fair.

So, the LDF may not be the perfect platform to benefit collectors of craft, but who knows how our client collections will develop in time? l enjoy the fact that we have various showcase options in London and we can tailor them accordingly.

Written by Future Icons Founder, Louisa Pacifico. Images courtesy of brands - click to enlarge