observations

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

Roald Dahl

Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May 1941 © Conde Nast, Horst Estate

Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May 1941 © Conde Nast, Horst Estate

 

15.11.2017

‘No one remembers who took second place,’ said famously Enzo Ferrari.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit Ferrari: Under The Skin which opens at the Design Museum today. It is an intelligent and beautifully designed exhibition that sets out to explore the life and work of this visionary man and the marque he conceived seventy years ago.

Read the full story here.

3.11.2017

I’ve been obsessing a little over Patti Smith – the original punk poet. Having devoured her biographical M Train, I’m now consuming Just Kids to the soundtrack of Smith’s 1975 debut album Horses. In both, she makes constant references to her beatnik look, a brilliantly tomboy style she has maintained with just a few modifications since.

Robert Mapplethorpe immortalised this look when he shot her for the cover of Horses capturing Smith in an oversized man’s white shirt, her black jacket slung over her shoulders. It’s a powerful image: Smith’s piercing gaze penetrating the camera, combined with her androgynous style.

Smith took to writing after reading Little Women and, like many of us hopeful writers including me, Louisa May Alcott’s tomboy heroine Jo became her hero. The young Pattie was a lost soul in Camden, New Jersey, the small-minded town of her childhood – her boyish style standing out like a sore thumb. ‘Everything awaited me,’ she writes in Just Kids of the time she boarded a bus to New York in 1967 at the age of twenty dressed in a black turtleneck, dungarees and large raincoat. Smith is a writer, singer-songwriter and visual artist, yet she is as defined by what she wears as her art. The two are intermingled.

A new book Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore landed on my desk a little while ago which highlights this. It made me consider the layered messages of clothing and style. Last week I was told I need reading glasses. As I tried on the collection of frames – vintage, new, artisan, designer – in my brilliant neighbourhood opticians, I was conscious of what message I wished to convey with my new accessory. I opted for a classic Epos frame for a preppy look. It got me analysing my style: understated, a touch conservative, androgynous… Am I subconsciously positioning myself through what a wear to be conceived as a serious writer? Is it perhaps a bid not to be pigeonholed as a female writer of Middle Eastern origin? And when I finally complete my book of short stories, will the hidden Jo in me then extend to my fictional characters?

Legendary Authors has selected 50 writers, past and present, delving into their wardrobes to unravel the sartorial stories they tell, to see what they wore and how they styled themselves through fedora hats (William Burroughs), wallabees (Samuel Beckett), wire-framed glasses (James Joyce) or yellow Corvette (Joan Didion)…

Read the review here

23.10.2017

Rolls-Royce revealed Phantom VIII in July, and I was fortunate to drive the car earlier this month. This is an incredibly important car for the marque, since Phantoms don’t get to be designed and engineered from the ground up very often – in fact the Phantom has been reborn only eight times in its 92 years, when Sir Henry Royce conceived the first model in 1925. Since, the world’s wealthy, powerful and famous have owned Phantoms. It really is a car like no other. I caught up with director of design Giles Taylor to discover a little more about his inspirations, the team’s creative process and to see how he sees Phantom maintaining its position as the ultimate symbol of luxurious motoring.

Read the interview here

01.10.2017

Opera requires gauze to be wrapped around the imagination. It is hoped that the power of music and that most versatile of all instruments, the human voice, helped along by the magic of lighting and design could help penetrate that gauze. So, it was with some trepidation that I went along to the preview of ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. How do they convey that artful magic, which depends on so many improbables to work, and in a museum setting? The V&A has done just that and more.

Read more here…

20.09.2017

‘I get my facts from books, stuff on atomisers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in Egyptian glyphs,’ wrote Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American artist who, in his short life (1960­-1988), drew/painted/wrote/made vibrant, radical, exciting, colourful, lyrical, animated imagery.

The Barbican has created an incredible show to reveal Basquiat’s raw energy as fresh today as when he began creating in the late 70s in the underground downtown New York art scene, then gaining recognition in the early 80s.

Through word and image Basquiat comes alive as he comments on the injustices in society making clear statements against racism and colonialism. He’s inspired by music, free jazz, bepop, Charlie Parker, Beat poetry, art history and philosophy, the abstract expressionist Cy Twombly (my art idol). He takes energy from the clash of high and low art, from downtown NY and the Bronx countercultural scenes, street life, black American life.

What’s evident here is that Basquiat gives us a new space for thinking – foreseeing how we navigate our thoughts today.

Basquiat: Boom for Real opened this week as the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of one of the most significant painters of the 20th century.

Read the review here.

18.09.2017

Fifteen years old the annual London Design Festival at its hub in the V&A, and at Somerset House, Granary Square and throughout the city is bigger, bolder, braver and crucially more inclusive – representing voices from the international creative communities. Here are some of our highlights.

01.09.2017

an excellent quote by one of my literary idols to end the summer:

‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’

Joan Didion, 1976

30.08.2017

The Serpentine Galleries hold a unique position. They are nestled in Kensington Gardens in London’s glorious Hyde Park. They occupy discreet spaces and you may not even notice them walking by. Yet the two boutique galleries – Serpentine and Sackler – have held some of the most exciting exhibitions in the city.

Then there is the annual commission for the Serpentine Gallery pavilions – one of the most anticipated events in the architecture calendar since its launch in 2000 showing work by Zaha Hadid, Frank Ghery, Bjarke Ingels and now Diebedo Francis Kéré.

Yana Peel became chief executive officer of the organisation over a year ago when she took over the position from its founder Julia Peyton-Jones. She has an extraordinary record of service to the arts, co-founding the contemporary art fund Outset, co-chairing the public debate forum Intelligence Squared Group; she sits on many arts advisory boards, and still appears to have time to write children’s books.

Peel also brings a very different approach to the Serpentine programme which I discovered when I met with her in March for an article for Weatherbys Private Bank Magazine.

Read an edited version of my interview here

3.08.2017

Summer in the city

I love summers in the city. As Londoners vacate en masse to sunnier climates, we finally get to experience this crazy metropolis in peace. Traffic thins, as do calls, emails and work. This is the perfect time to roam around discovering the city’s hidden corners. It is also an ideal time to catch up on the city’s design offerings – see them for pure pleasure rather than the pressures of work and deadlines. Which is exactly what I did on Tuesday tagging along a few kids as my research team.

Our first stop was to see the V&A’s new entrance on Exhibition Road by architect AL_A, which really does create a more welcoming space as the gallery merges with the outside world. Then we popped in to see ‘Plywood material of the modern world’, a relatively new exhibition at the entrance of the V&A which explores the history or plywood in design. This was followed by one of my all-time favourite activities – a random stroll through the gallery, walking through rooms packed with visual treasures, and getting happily lost within the labyrinth that is this incredible space (if I was to have a church this would be mine). We then left the V&A to stroll through Kensington Gardens to Diébédo Francis Kéré’s giant tree house for the annual Serpentine Pavilion.

All these I had seen and reported on yet on Tuesday they took on a whole new feel. For it is always enlightening to hear the voices of children. They tend to speak more honestly about design and without much of the backstories, which good or bad, can taint our vision. And they too agreed that Kéré’s delightful pavilion is gentle and unique, and the form and materials in conversation with the surrounding park. I started noticing elements and details that had gone unnoticed on my last visit, and joined the kids in concluding that a slide should always be made of such soft tactile wood…

Happy August!

01.07.2017

Last night saw the opening of V&A Exhibition Road Quarter – the much-anticipated new addition to my favourite London gallery. The work of Amanda Levete and her architecture practice AL_A, it includes new entrances onto Exhibition Road and an impressive courtyard that celebrates the V&A’s storied past.

The scheme has taken some six years to complete and marks the first major construction work at the museum in almost a century. In the midst of all the political gloom, it is nice to see a great new addition to London’s already rich cultural space.

V&A Exhibition Road Quarter opens to the public today with a week-long celebration through a series of art and design commissions. It is really worth visiting.

See the new V&A Exhibition Road Quarter in picture.

24.06.2017

Yesterday afternoon I made Diébédo Francis Kéré’s gentle Serpentine Galleries Pavilion my temporary office. I witnessed people of all ages settle, find a good seat, smile, chat, enjoy treats from the little café.
 
On the lawns of Kensington Gardens until October, the award-winning African Berlin-based architect’s pavilion mimics a tree, one that serves as a central meeting point in his childhood village of Gando, Burkina Faso.
 
Kéré’s architecture seeks to connect its visitors to nature and to one another. It is about giving shelter but not cutting people off… encouraging interaction, building communities.
 
I spoke with Yana Peel the new Serpentine Gallery chief executive a little while ago who was visibly excited about the prospect of working with Kéré. She told me they wanted to push things forward, be more radical. ‘Kéré’s work is so exciting,’ she says. ‘He is a marvel, and perhaps the nicest man you will ever meet, with community and sustainability at the very heart of his practice.’
 
Much like the natural light and soft textures that make the Kéré building, the atmosphere here is warm and friendly. Who knows, perhaps it will help build communities during the summer months.

Read the full story here

16.06.2017

Some eighteen years ago I adopted a little picket of west London as my home. Having moved across the world – from Bristol to Shiraz, then to Tehran, across the world to London, then New York and San Francisco – this crazy little triangle containing Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, Golborne and Kensal resonated and became my home.

That is not to say life has always been easy here. Living in a metropolis like London can be challenging. There is the overstimulation… the constant noise. It involves plenty of lonely times and some scary moments too. It is crowded and traffic can make a warrior out of the most pacifists of us. Yet, no matter how many times I threaten to abandon it all, something happens to remind me of why I stay faithful to this little west London neighbourhood.

As Grenfell Tower burnt into a black shell within visible distance, I witnessed a community unite like no other. The sheer sight of thousands upon thousands of young and old, white, black, beige, pink, blue… volunteer, donate, cheer, sing, dance in a way that only London can offer. The notion that communities are only available in quaint leafy villages is flawed. Villages can be lonely places for those with different views.

In contrast, this part of west London embraces difference. It loves the eccentric, the bohemian, the crazy one. It begs to hear your story. If I have felt patches of loneliness it is because I felt too normal. As the political world struggles to lead us into some universe of conformity, of utter dullness, I celebrate a village that encourages non-conformity, it wants to make a rebel out of us.

Watching locals and Londoners give up their work, their day, their cash, all with a broad smile, to help survivors of Grenfell Tower has made me humble. It allowed me to see that humanity, human decency, will always prevail over cold politics. And it made me love my little adopted triangle even the more.

04.06.2017

BMW Art Car #18 by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei takes the iconic series into the 21st century by going digital – through both virtual and augmented reality, inviting the viewer to participate and transform the M6 GT3 racecar into a living sculpture before racing at Macau in November. I go behind the scenes to meet the artist and see how her BMW Art Car reflects the next life of the automobile.

Read the full story here.

27.05.2017

A couple of years ago, whilst researching The Life Negroni, I asked Adrian van Hooydonk what is his favourite car design of all time. The BMW creative boss immediately responded: Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Countach. Of course he would, for this 1970s icon is too gloriously exotic for words.

I sat down with Lamborghini’s design director Mitja Borkert a little while ago to talk supercar design, and it was interesting to see how Gandini’s design remains so pivotal to his creative thinking.

Good design should be timeless, but also continue to excite…

Read the interview here

20.05.2017

Once upon a time kids aspired to be doctors, scientists, inventors, lawyers, artists, actors. Now, many fantasise about being ‘influencers’. On their various social apps, they watch in awe as these millennials pose by infinity pools in swish villas, drape their honeyed limbs on yacht decks, sip champagne on private jets. The influencer’s life is that of endless hedonism enjoyed in abundant luxury. Their job is to subtly sell products. It is seductive.

The influencer’s life is also entirely manufactured. The seemingly spontaneous snapshots and selfies are meticulously staged, the images filtered and heavily photoshoped. Influencers don’t live this fantasy life; they have been shipped to exotic locations by companies eager to reach their tens of thousands of Instagram/Snapchat followers. And at the end of the assignment the influencer simply posts the approved content and hashtag from their host. And even though we are mostly aware that they are being bribed with the private jets and bottomless champagne flutes, that these are heavily scripted scenarios, it doesn’t appear to matter. In fact, it makes them more appealing (and yes you can draw a parallel with Trump & co.). We sure live in surreal times.

This sales narrative isn’t new of course – product placement has been around for a long time yet the waters muddy when real and fake news are put in the same swim lane, as I was to experience earlier this week on a press event centred solely around the influencers.

To be fair on the host company, this extravagant event was entirely the work of an independent agency with little or no understanding of the brand or its values. Instead the focus was on creating snapshots of ‘experiences’ that make good ‘content’ for social media. The subject in question is a car, and an excellent product, yet the three-day event was devoid of relevant information; there wasn’t a press talk and it involved minimum engagement with the car itself! Instead, we were subjected to a host of what the organisers repeated over and over again as ‘amazing experiences’ – crude, irrelevant brand associations replete with a random celebrity endorsement to help drive traffic.

It is tempting for companies to chase numbers, feel satisfied that a social post by an influencer will reach hundreds of thousands – even though in the case of a car, it’s hard to gauge if these hundreds of thousands are even at a driving age. It raises a host of questions too. Morally, should brands encourage young people to envy a vacuous life that doesn’t even exist? Then, on a more basic level, it feels simply wrong to host someone with no background in journalism on a press event. Perhaps companies should question this endorsement of fake news. Surely brands should be confident enough to rely on professional writers to critique their goods.

As journalists we are fully aware that we play a role in promoting products, organisations and movements, but crucially we offer an informed and independent critique. It could be said that influencers are nothing more than unbridled co-opted advertisers, engaged in promoting a product. That in itself is fine, but to mix the two is wrong.

On the final hours of the event, following a push from the car company’s representatives who seemed equally bemused by the spectacle of the last few days, I got to take a car away and on the road where the product, the drive, the scenery, became the amazing experience …. or according to the agency #ExperienceAmazing.

11.05.2017

Should objects have meaning, and if so does this make them more precious, and if so, does that make them more beautiful?

I thought of this whilst leafing through Jasper Morrison’s The Hard Life – a collection of seemingly ordinary artefacts from pre-industrial Portugal which, together, tell a delicate story of life.

Read the review here

01.05.2017

As the first Frieze art fair of the Trump era opens in New York later this week, the art world is asking what message should a public event as such give. Following his election, much of America’s art establishment showed signs of protest by shutting down their galleries, covering works of art and making protest art. Many of the pavilions at Frieze will be continuing a politically-engaged dialogue.

A copy of Picasso’s 1937 Guernica, one of history’s most powerful political works of art, hangs in the UN building in New York as a reminder of the atrocities of war. Art can’t necessarily change a system but it can spread ideas across borders and ignite the popular imagination.

Bertolt Brecht wrote: ‘art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’

Happy May Day!

25.04.2017

I grew up surrounded by politics. Raised in Iran at the height of its turbulent years, it was impossible not to be. Later, as an adolescent cocooned in the sanctuary of Europe, I rejected it all for I saw my life in the creative world where politics, seemingly, had little relevance.

Now, as Europe peddles into the deep dark waters of dirty politics, as ultra-right populist movements raise their ugly fists, and as we set sail on another turbulent journey that is too close in spirit to one taken by the same Europeans in the 1930s, my world finds itself once again deeply immersed in politics.

For the younger naïve me didn’t quite want to acknowledge that creativity cannot flourish without freedom of expression. And tragically it is this freedom of expression that is under attack by a movement that has no respect for knowledge, fears intellectual thought, has no tolerance for true democratic debate, acts like bullies in the playground with no compassion for others, nor for the environment and therefore ultimately has no appreciation of beauty.

We are all feeling the pressure – families are feuding, friends are separating. At two recent gallery openings here in London – Tate Modern Switch House and Design Museum – the speeches were centred firmly around politics. This would certainly not have been the case a few years ago. The creative world feels under attack, marginalised by a system that sees the arts at its best ‘soft’ and at its worst the enemy.

Art has always had the potential to make strong visual political statements. Now, progressive design can be an even more powerful rebellion. We have urgent concerns – with the environment, movement of people, displaced populations, mass urbanisation – and it is the job of the creative community to rise-up and challenge politicians by being revolutionary, finding real solutions for real issues not just re-creating objects of desire. Whether traditionalists and nationalists like it or not, the world has evolved, and is about to even more.

Some of the most exciting design movements, including Bauhaus, appeared at a similar time in history when the world order was changing. Now too designers have the chance to be at the forefront of a dialogue for progress. Politics has re-entered my world and I am thoroughly enjoying its return.

11.04.2017

Last week was Salone del Mobile, the coveted design fair which takes place annually in Milan. The main buzz is increasingly at Fuorisalone, away from the main event in boutiques, smaller galleries, crumbling old palazzos, street corners around pockets of this vibrant city.

Here you can see exhibitions and work with a more conceptual focus and by less established designers and artists.

Over 300,000 people descend on Milan for the week and it has been an amazing experience absorbing the creative energy of an international crowd in this charming northern Italian city…

Read the first of our reviews, of the relevant and thought-provoking architectural installation MINI Living – Breathe a collaboration by the carmaker and New York firm SO-IL.

27.03.2017

‘This is when art becomes active’, says Frances Morris Tate Modern director at Ten Days Six Nights. And art literally comes to life at the Tate Modern Tanks and outside of Switch House with the exhibition Ten Days Six Nights.

This is the first in the BMW Tate Live series designed to interact with the viewer, explore the meaning of art, the role of the gallery and the power of the arts to help shape society.

This evolving show is visually breathtaking and provocative, and really worth visiting if in London this week.

Read my review here

20.03.2017

Welcoming the first hour and the first day of spring…

To quote the great Persian poet Hafez:

‘Sing,
because this is a food
our starving world
needs.
Laugh,
because that is the purest
sound.’

Nowruz mobarak – happy Persian New Year

Here’s to a more peaceful year for all world citizens

17.03.2017

I have strong views on the vital role of the visual arts and culture to help shape society and vice versa. My thoughts are that a degree of social engagement is necessary, especially in these volatile times. Without which these are just decoration, an ego massage, or worse strictly commercial enterprises. This applies as much to architecture and design as it does to the fine arts, film and music.

Public cultural spaces are in a great position to be an open landscape for ideas, to bring isolated voices together and instigate exciting discourse and debate.

Last week I met with Yana Peel, the chief executive of the Serpentine Gallery in London – a small gallery in terms of its footprint, but with a ‘local, national and international reach’, she says.

I admire the Serpentine and sister Sackler for they are proof that art galleries need not be grand institutions to make an impact – that sometimes it is often these more independent establishments that are willing to shake things up.

Peel talks of utilising her privileged position, this public platform, to bring in dissenting voices. Alongside the Serpentine’s artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, they have set a courageous programme to explore voices from outside the mainstream art circles.

So, expect some interesting dialogues to emerge this summer as Arthur Jafa, the provocative American cinematographer and filmmaker, exhibits alongside Grayson Perry at the galleries.

Jafa is set out to explore how black film can achieve black music’s sense of theatre and he will be reinventing the Sackler space, teases Peel. Whilst across the Serpentine Lake, Perry’s provocatively titled The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! will do just that – question, as the British artist often does, art’s popularity and populism.

Then on the grounds next door to the Serpentine, in the midst of Kensington Garden’s beautiful nature, Berlin architect Diébédo Francis Kéré will connect visitors to the park and to one another through his winning Serpentine Pavilion project. His work is inspired by a tree which served as a central meeting point in his childhood village of Gando in Burkina Faso – as Peel puts it ‘bringing a little of Gando to Kensington Gardens.’

And the Serpentine Marathons – the supporting talks, debates, conversations – at the Pavilion, across London and on social media will keep a lively debate running all summer. Peel’s hope is that these events will connect with those from outside the art world and with younger generations. She tells me, ‘we need to make sure we are listening as well as talking. It must always be a dialogue’.

Public cultural spaces have to be risk takers – if they don’t, we are in deep, deep trouble. The Tate Modern, with its sheer size and reach has a responsibility to continue to make a stand, show unusual exhibitions, provoke, excite – not just entertain. These should be spaces where culture, politics and art can happen naturally – feed off each other and learn from one another.

Equally, architects and designers (yes, even car designers, a world I’m very familiar with) involved in public work, or grand gestures of creativity, or simple objects that occupy our landscape, should use there platforms to defend the planet, protect its citizens and living species. That is the power of creativity.

09.03.2017

I’ve just come back from Geneva visiting the annual motor show where some of the more exciting cars of the now and future are revealed. Geneva, being neutral territory and with no indigenous car manufacturer, is always the more exciting of the global shows.

More on this later, but for now introducing a very exciting new car debuted here. I’m always intrigued to see what McLaren has planned for the car making company is very young, only seven years old, yet with such an evocative racing history and a fearless mentality to push the envelope and not compromise.

I met with the company’s chief executive Mike Flewitt at Geneva following the 720S supercar reveal. ‘It is special,’ he told me. ‘It almost feels like a milestone in the maturity and development of the company,’ for this car which proceeds the 650S in the Super Series represents the first production vehicle to be replaced since McLaren Automotive was born.

Read the full story of the 720S here

21.02.2017

A pavilion that mimics a tree and offers a spectacular waterfall has been announced as the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion project winner.

Inspired by the tree that serves as a central meeting point in his childhood village of Gando, Burkina Faso, the Berlin-based architect Diébédo Francis Kéré will bring his characteristic sense of light and life to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park when he constructs his temporary structure later in the year.

Kéré’s design follows Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), whose ‘unzipped wall’ last year was visited by some 250,000 people, making it one of the most popular pavilions to date.

I simply love the annual Serpentine Pavilion project for it is public art at its very best, allowing everyone – from park joggers, dog walkers, kids, Serpentine Gallery visitors, tourists to interact with contemporary architecture in the most natural of ways.

Read more here

10.02.2017

There are few professions with quite the allure of yacht design. With their purity of shape and the sexy promise of drifting at sea, sailboats, in particular, feel like the ultimate objects of desire. Yet designing boats, those in the class we’re about to discuss, requires tremendous expertise. Superyachts can be the size of a hotel; they have to perform all sorts of roles too – be a temporary home, provide entertainment and survive the dramas of the sea.

With this in mind, I was more than excited to meet with the co-director of Bannenberg & Rowell, one of the most famous names in yacht design. Dickie Bannenberg also happens to be the son of Jon Bannenberg, cited as the father of modern yacht design. He authored the 1972 Carinthia VI, coined as one of the most iconic yachts of modern times, and his portfolio included some very exciting projects including the rebuild of Talitha for the Getty family when Paul Getty asked him to simply create ‘something wonderful’.

Today, Bannenberg & Rowell continue to sketch, design and build the most exotic of vessels. ‘We do the best we can to follow his design path,’ says Dickie Bannenberg.

Read my interview here

07.02.2017

Like many of my contemporaries, I’m feeling terribly anxious as the Brexit and Trump phenomena – informed by similar forces and circumstances – gain momentum for there can be no discussions on creativity, on design, certainly not progressive thinking, in a system that mocks the basic civil values that allow free discussions to form.

Yesterday, distracted from my work by the allure of the latest news, I came across an interesting piece in The Guardian and on BBC Radio 4 on the writings of Hannah Arendt. The political theorist’s 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism was being discussed in relations to today’s political turmoil.

Admittedly, I was only vaguely aware of her writings and thus found both sources very informative. A scholar of Greek philosophy, Arendt talks of the importance of maintaining a strong civic culture – promoting the ‘we’ over the ‘I’ – the polarity of ideas as a way of preventing the rise of totalitarianism.

Aristotle spoke of man by nature being a political figure, living through dialogue with others, sharing thoughts and ideas – having a marketplace of ideas being more interesting than to think in isolation. For societies to progress, the philosopher advocated the necessity for vibrant political communities.

Speaking of the rise of the Nazis, which Arendt experienced first-hand, she spoke of the context to the rise of totalitarianism. She spoke of radical thoughtlessness – the ‘banality of evil’ which is not rooted in some satanic greatness (as the Nazis and their ilk would like us to believe) but more like a fungus. These are evil without roots that comes out of fragmented societies like we have now which give a voice to Brexit, Trump…

She discusses the thoughtlessness of evil, the lack of questioning, the lack of knowledge, and of course the danger in the normalisation of evil so it can happen every day – as it did so tragically in Germany in the 1930s when the silence of normal citizens allowed the fungus to spread wildly and commit such evil.

These words ring sharply as my otherwise safe world feels increasingly polarised. There are clearly two camps amongst us. One believes it is its duty as a world citizen to defend democracy, stand up to the bully who shows little regard for gender equality, sexual differences, demonises a single religion, picks on the less able, the refugees, and to world leaders who passively support this rhetoric.

Then there are others, who less than a year ago appeared to share the same values, but now appear frightened to speak , or worse, are not interested. Some say they are bored of politics, mocking of the other camp’s discourse – indirectly allowing that fungus to spread.

As a writer, a journalist, a critic … a human being raised in a democratic world, I see no choice but to speak out for sometimes you need civil disobedience to make the law be the thing it can be, as Arendt so brilliantly puts it… restoring the republic needs active citizens.

01.02.2017

The arts – music, dance, design – create the possibility to make us more human for they guide us to see things differently, to explore the world in unique ways – often ever-so subtly. As we enter this rather dark period in modern politics, it may seem trivial to discuss the arts as a vehicle for change. Yet more than ever it is vital to defend the right to free expression and use the arts to help make change happen.

Have a look at the most recent work by dancer and choreographer Siobhan Davies Dance and her touring exhibition material/rearranged/to/be which I caught at the Barbican Centre in London. Here, in The Curve gallery a collective of dancers and artists move in measured motion around installations, projections and academic text in a continuous moving landscape exploring non-verbal communication and gesture. It is being called ‘investigative arts’ for it fits no rigid category.

Read the full story here

27.01.2017

What impact does a building have on its workers? … this was going through my mind earlier this week as I approached the incredible building that is the McLaren Automotive HQ outside London in Woking.

The work of architect Foster + Partners, it never ceases to impress – every visit introduces a new element. On my last visit I approached via the employees route which is this incredibly interesting journey designed to cleanse your mind as you enter this sanctuary.

The experience is cinematic in its most brilliant sense, and yes a little 007. Walking around the polished and serene environment here you almost feel like whispering, walking on tiptoes…

The sports cars and super cars being envisaged and built here are of the highest quality – pure in engineering and equally in design. The latest Super Series I got see this week (more on this when the embargo is lifted in March) is possibly the most complete and brave car for the marque in terms of design.

So does the architecture impact on creative thinking here? I am positive it does, as I for one left Woking feeling a little bit cleansed and a lot excited.

23.01.2017

This weekend over 600 cities around the world took to the streets to protest against the aggressively nationalist and populist politics that has found its voice so explicitly in Donald Trump and his blatantly deluded supporters.

Organised to coincide with his first day as US president, the Women’s March has got to be one of the most spontaneous and spirited demonstrations of recent history. Instigated from Washington DC, this modest idea evolved rapidly and so organically to be much more than a voice for women’s rights. It became a march towards defending human rights (after all women’s rights are human rights) – a unified voice standing up for progressive values, fighting for the dignity and equality of all peoples, championing our vibrant and diverse communities, and speaking out for the safety and health of our planet.

Saturday morning, as we designed and printed our banners, adding our own unique touch and copy of course (the creative input at the demo is to applauded!), over two million people worldwide had already registered to attend. Yet our journey to central London quickly proved that this is going to be a very much bigger event than expected. We met women, men, teens (many) and kids carrying hand-made banners across the capital. Our friends joining us from Oxford and Surrey couldn’t board trains for the shear number of demonstrators making their way in.

Women’s March London alone was an incredible day. I am somewhat of a protest veteran, yet this was a very special event. Here likeminded liberals and intellectuals (a vilified terms these days), internationalists (even more so), and the young marched together without any political dogmas, no specific agenda but to defend the basics of human rights.

As a writer focused on design, what is the future for creativity, how can the arts and progressive sciences and technology flourish in a world based on greed, discrimination and hate – political powers that are terrified of education and oppose intellectual thought?

However, on that bright, frosty Saturday, as 600-plus cities rose around the world in alliance, with one unified cause, one voice, I was reminded of the basic human spirit …. and I am convinced these young, spirited voices will change darkness into light.

See the gallery of images here

20.01.2017

I have a pen-pal in its most old school form. Paula and I live thousands of air miles away from one another, and our friendship didn’t take real form until she’d moved away.

Our friendship is rooted in sharing similar values, we have a huge connection through our love of design, or art and mainly in the same genre and schools of thoughts.

More importantly we both love letter writing, of sending postcards and scarps from our ventures, of course, by post with an old fashioned stamp. Sometimes she personalises it further with her own stamp! It is a special occasion when I spot an envelop from her.

I love that it isn’t instant. one time we both happened to see Mark Rothka together at same time and had sent postcards simultaneously!

This week a postcard of the photograph Le Pont du Carrousel, taken in 1932 by the brilliant Hungarian–French photographer Brassaï arrived. It was part of an exhibition at the Barnes collection in Philadelphia with the excellent title:

‘Live and Life Will Give You Pictures’

It is the motto of my year

15.01.2017

Art and money have always had a mutually seductive rapport. Artists need the patronage of industry, industry benefits greatly from the positive kudos this union can bring.

The truth is big art projects are costly and unless governments fully fund cultural activities (which in the current climate is less and less likely), galleries and museums will need to engaged with corporate capital.

It is a complex relationship that needs to be delicately managed – and crucially the two need to share some ideological commonality. Recently we saw a backlash when the protest group Art Not Oil tried to end to sponsorships of art institutions by oil giant BP. However, with the rights setting, and with as little corporate interference as possible, the outcome can be intriguing.

Last month I met with Thomas Girst, BMW’s cultural manager and an author of a number of brilliant art books including most recently The Duchamp Dictionary.

He has the brilliant job of looking after the marque’s numerous artistic ventures including Tate Modern Live, the Art Journey initiative with Art Basel and the classic Art Car project, which for 2017 explores two very different concepts – minimalism and virtual and augmented reality with two equally different artists, the celebrated Californian John Baldessari and Chinese digital artist Cao Fei.

Read more here

03.01.2017

Ways of Seeing was one of the most influential books I read as a teen. My father bought it for me as I expressed a longing to be an artist. It was my first taste of John Berger, the art critic, author and Booker prize winner who passed away yesterday, aged 90.

By coincidence last week whilst browsing the Tate Modern bookshop I bought what turned out to be his last book Confabulations. Published last year, it talks about language and how it relates to art, political discourse, storytelling. This picket-size Penguin book is packed with his drawings, notes, memoirs. It is a rich source of information.

Berger’s work changed the way I approached and understand visual language. I’m not alone – he helped transform the way a generation perceive the arts. Ways of Seeing still sits above my work desk and I refer to it from time to time when I feel my eyes are drifting …

Berger, you will be missed.

John Berger born 5 November 1926, died 2 January 2017

31.12.2016

It certainly has been an eventful year. The more liberal minded of us have been shaken by recent politics – by the rise of populism and support for fascist leaders around the world. This has been a year when research and fact checking, intellectual debate, clear thought, the truth have been brushed aside, ridiculed even, to be replaced by pure fiction. It’s been a year when leaders who promote hate, ignorance and violence are celebrated.

Being open minded, being an internationalist, an intellectual, clever, different and creative are no longer seen as positive traits. They are deplored. Subjects such as art history have been branded as soft, being almost eradicated from the education system. It is now okay to be openly racist, something that I am sensing for the very first time since arriving on these shores age thirteen. And I’m not alone is feeling incredibly foreign and unwanted.

Almost as if to reflect these dark times, this was also the year when we lost a handful of irreplaceable creatives who have contributed greatly to the world of arts – David Bowie, Zaha Hadid, Leonard Cohen, Richard Adams, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Prince, Franca Sozzani, George Michael, Carrie Fisher…

Somehow in complete contrast with the grim politics of the day, the year happened to be a great one for celebrating the arts especially here in London where we saw the opening of the stunning Switch House at the Tate Modern, the Design Museum, and the city had its first biennale dedicated entirely to design with a relevant opening theme ‘utopia by design‘. The Serpentine Pavilion by Bjarke Ingels was joined by four smaller architectural structures dotted around Hyde Park, and I for one found it impossible to keep up with the many exhibitions and festivals dedicated to art, architecture and design.

It’s also been an interesting year for the automobile, as the car moves towards its next life with some intriguing propositions from some of the main carmakers as well as newcomers and tech companies. Read my top moments here.

So, I welcome 2017 with a positive note. These dark moments instigate progress. As a colleague pointed out on one of my lowest moments, the move towards liberalism is inevitable and this is possibly a last ditch effort by those who feel they stand to lose most from a more just world. It has made us even more aware that improved economic prospects for all and most of all better education are urgently needed to create more socially inclusive communities.

So long 2016, and here’s hoping for a more just and a more peaceful New Year

23.12.2016

As we start to bid farewell to 2016 and welcome a new year with all its fresh promises, I started to put together a list of my top five interesting speculative car design moments of this year.

BMW Group’s Vision Next 100 collective of concept cars for MINI, BMW and Rolls-Royce was the first to come to mind as these vehicles are a bed of vibrant ideas, begging to be explored. Then came Bentley, and the marque’s softly radical approach to the future of luxury in the world of ecological, autonomous driving.

Tesla, of course, had to be included for its dismissal of the strict automotive codes in so many ways – with the products, the people, the stores, the approach. Jaguar Land Rover ‘s impressive contemporary life cannot be ignored.

And Volvo, for as skeptical as I initially was about the company under a very different ownership, the brand has really moved forward in new and exciting ways to remain Swedish in spirit yet rather than be a Scandinavian parody, the marque now represents a nation that is global, connected and therefore exciting.

There are, of course, others doing equally interesting work too – Lexus with its uniquely brilliant vernacular, Mercedes-Benz and its confident design language, Maserati’s successful venture into new segments, Audi’s clear visual language, Volkswagen’s brilliant electric world car proposition. But five was my number so…

… here’s my list and in no particular order

14.12.2016

The concept of luxury is constantly evolving. It is increasingly less and less about the predictable elements instead involving more abstract concepts such as experience, rarity, eternalness… perhaps even meaning (I hope!).

Rolls-Royce, the pinnacle of luxurious motoring, is going through an interesting time too. It is attracting a younger customer through new products designed to appeal to a broader consumer.

As the House of Rolls-Royce releases the first of its short films The Spirit of Ecstasy to celebrate the arrival of the marque’s pinnacle model the Phantom in 2018, I caught up with chief executive officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös to find out more.

Read the interview here

27.11.2016

I try to shop locally, favouring smaller groceries, the butchers and fishmonger, fruit and veg markets, the independent bookstore and the few boutiques in my neighbourhood who support smaller designers. It involves a little more effort trekking from shop to shop and navigating crowded markets in the rain, but the experience is hugely rewarding. Each one of these establishments offers a very different experience, an unexpected find, fun conversation, a laugh, a cry… I come away with much more than a transaction of money for goods.

I’m not alone in actively wanting to return to the old culture of shopping – you know when you’d made a trip to the town market to buy the weekly groceries, did a little bartering, caught up with the politics of the day, learnt the latest gossip, married off your sons and daughters.

Shopping was an event, an experience then, but somewhere along the way we lost that element of curiosity, of adventure, of fun. Allowing for Amazon to decide on our reading list, Spotify to predict our listening and Ocado to deliver our food is soul destroying.

Earlier this week I caught up with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas who shares a similar belief. Recent political events, the ‘digital representations of reality’ as he rightfully says, should be a good wake-up call to pop the liberal bubble and make some fundamental changes in how we consume not just products but news, information, facts (and increasingly fiction). ‘There’s a lot of disruption going on in the world. These events demand that we have a rethink,’ he says.

In reality, it is time to reinvent the retail narrative not only for these more pressing reasons, but also simply for commercial ones – the current model is no longer working. We connect and consume products in a very different way than we used to. Access is replacing the physical – we are still buying products but for very different reasons. Experience is our new status symbol and it is having a profound impact on how we shop.

What this effectively means is that brands will need to work a hell of a lot harder to connect with consumers. In the future the shop floor will move away from being a place for retail and be a gallery space, where the brand can expose its associations with the arts, its ideological views through teaming with like-minded individuals and organisations.

Read the full article here

17.11.2016

‘Our moment has arrived. Governments must understand that design is very important to the quality of life for all citizens, but also to our economy… design is about optimism and this friendly space is full of surprises. It is about love rather than fear. I hope we can educate and inspire generations to come. We truly want to be international in our approach, and show that design, manufacturing and business are intertwined, that one cannot survive without the other.’

These are the words of Sir Terence Conran, speaking at the opening of the new Design Museum in west London. This vast space, where the 1960s Commonwealth Institute used to live on the edge of Holland Park, is envisaged as a space to promote innovation and nurture future creatives. Designed by architect John Pawson, with its warm textures and soft lighting, it really is a wonderfully welcoming place where I certainly will be frequenting.

Conran went on to say that the Design Museum will ‘allow for us to create a world-class, and truly international space for the celebration of design and architecture. It is a cathedral of design.’

These are poignant words, especially as world politics is showing its truly ugly face. It brings optimism to what has become an almost defeatist dialogue, and it shows that there is still a good majority keen to educate, promote open discourse and champion intellectual thought.

As if to respond to this theme, the sun peeped through the dark clouds as I strolled back to the office through Holland Park smiling.

Read our preview here.

09.11.2016

I’m interested in investigating car culture for our driving habits are informed by a complex network of elements. These include the obvious ones such as traffic and road conditions, the weather, our emotional state – especially today as many of us are hugely agitated by the outcome of the US elections and the general state of world politics today…

Other aspects also impact on our driving. The design of the vehicle for one – the colours, textures, lighting, smell and sound inside the car – even the type of energy that propels the vehicle can impact on how we drive.

There is much study being carried out to see if a sustainable car can help us become more caring drivers. In much the same way, would an interior that works with imaginative recycles, upcycled and vegan materials navigate us towards being better world citizens? These are idea very close to my heart and always fascinating to explore.

As the car becomes much more than a vehicle for transport, as it evolves further into being this extremely intelligent and complex product, it is crucial that carmakers look at these areas to see how the car can help transform our lives and ultimately societies for the better.

Read more on how a collective of inventors and creatives are addressing the senses for a more connected and personalised driving experience.

21.10.2016

Mark Rothko tackled tragedy, ecstasy and doom, what he saw as the fundamental human emotions, and expressed these through colour and abstraction. ‘The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them,’ the master of colour harmonies told Selden Rodman, the renowned critic, in 1956 (published in Conversations with Artists).

I looked this quote up following a visit to the brilliant Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy in London. I too had been hugely moved in the room dedicated to Rothko. I’d seen his work on many occasions before, but somehow here amongst the story of this explosive period in painting, it became a pure moments of visceral intoxication.

Intelligently curated, the exhibition takes us through the story of Abstract Expressionism from its beginnings after the second world war when European Expressionism met American free thinking, when avant-garde music, free jazz, Beat poetry and literature helped stir the likes of Gorky, Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Still, Newman, Kline, Smith and Guston, encouraging them to break free from conventions, of stricter European codes, for a new and confident vernacular.

And you really feel this energy in the halls of the RA where Jackson Pollock’s famous 1947 drip painting mural for collector Peggy Guggenheim’s townhouse – the giant scale alone moves you – dances to the sound of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker & co. The Abstract Expressionists were colourful characters and their work is equally exciting, unpredictable, dangerous.

15.10.2016

This week a songwriter was called a poet and given a Nobel Prize for literature and, of course, it raised some eyebrows. The 75-year-old Bob Dylan was praised as ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’. Yes, Dylan isn’t technically an author of novels, nor is he a poet, but he writes lyrics that are stories with intricate narratives that are long, and at times lovely, at times gritty, at times funny even. Like his memoir Chronicles, his songs deliberately hover the world of fact, fiction and fantasy. And they can be viscerally intoxicating.

Which got me thinking about all these strict codes and classifications we’re told to live by. You could argue that this year’s Noble Prize didn’t take a traditional narrative route, but who gets to decide what’s literature and what’s not? Surely the creative world is one that can afford to be less linear, be more experimental, more open minded, and open to change.

I try not to be an ideologue. And I feel more than ever we need to fight for the freedom not to be made to define ourselves within some strict codes somewhere someone in history invented. It’s suffocating. Last night I was treated to cocktails created by an extraordinary mixologist that were so inventive they were like abstract works of art – full of life and intrigue.

Why can’t poetry be art, lyrics be literature, design be as conceptual as fine art? Isn’t that the whole premise of the arts – to question everything, to turn it all on its head, up-side-down…

Ending this note with one of my favourite Dylan quotes: ‘He not busy being born is busy dying’.

07.10.2016

Last week I went to Paris for the biannual motor show. It was a quiet affair as many car brands had decided not to bother. Car shows have simply lost their luster. They used to be about grand reveals, surprises, crazy concept cars by the likes of Bertone (no longer), Italdesign and others who created avant-garde work that pushed the barrier, that challenged car design.

Today, most reveals are leaked, some purposely, ahead of motor shows. The fun has gone and with it so have the exhibitors. Exhibiting is a big investment – you have to build a pavilion that at least matches the size and style of your competitor, and I guess some marque’s have wised up to the idea that it just isn’t worth it.

This year’s Paris did have some highlights though. The Volkswagen I.D. is a relevant and intelligent proposition for an all-electric clean and autonomous world car forming the core of an ambitious plan to sell a million electric cars by 2025. And it is good to see Mercedes-Benz create a BMW i-brand style division, EQ, dedicated to all things sustainable.

Land Rover also showed that it remains the sports-utility genre’s supreme leader with the new Discovery – a car firmly rooted in providing the most practical family car. Read my interview with the design director Gerry McGovern here.

I also couldn’t help smile at Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6, a six-meter-long hot red electric coupé full of old-school drama – a tribute to the long gone age of the automobile when it could still hold its place as an object of pure lust and desire.

25.09.2016

London is celebrating design in a big way. Earlier this month Somerset House saw the inaugural London design biennale. Last week we had the London Design Festival spread across the city. Early October will see Pavilion Art & Design put up its elegant pavilion in Berkley Square – the objects of desire housed inside will compete head-on with Frieze Art and its display of conceptual art in Regents Park.

It is fascinating to see the concept of design changing so radically in recent years – to see design elevated to a stage where it can command such attention. This was simply not the case when I started out in art school. Design was seen as inferior to the fine arts, it was the applied arts that sat humbly below architecture.

Design was practical, it resided in the modernist dream who had fought hard almost a century ago to put an end to deign as decorative arts. Instead design became a pure expression of the object, and not any object, but practical, useful everyday products.

Design wasn’t really considered to be a conceptual practice. Design history, a subject I studied at university, was a new discipline then. It was seen as avant-garde for it questioned the rigidity of art history. This has all changed, of course, with our broader understanding of design and the many galleries, magazines and events that promote it.

Whereas the modernists fought to rid our homes of clutter, of useless ornamentation, now design is fighting a new corner. We have everything we need so what should design be today?

The biennale was a conceptual show. The objects on display fell under the bracket of design but were not useful objects. Instead they were forming ideas around the topic of ‘utopia by design’.

Concept of nationhood and identity, of sustainability and ownership – these are radical ideas that are consuming designers. This is refreshing. Designers by nature are utopians and they should be looking at ways to improve the world and our lives, and the lives of future generations through design.

Read our reviews from the biennale and festival.

19.09.2016

London has turned into one big exhibition space from east to west, north and south with the entire city, it seems, celebrating visual culture. The inaugural London Design Biennale is in full swing at Somerset House (read our review here). This week saw the start of London Design Festival at the V&A, Shoreditch and Brixton with 100% Design in Olympia happening later this week. All of which is running alongside the glitzier London Fashion Week.

For me, it is amazing to see design elevated to a stage where it can command such attention. This was simply not the case when I started out in art school. Design was seen as inferior to the fine arts and sat humbly below architecture. Design was practical and not really considered to be a conceptual practice. Design history, a subject I studied at university, was a new discipline then. It was seen as avant-garde for it questioned the rigidity of art history. This has all changed, of course, with our broader understanding of design and the many galleries, magazines and events that promote it.

Now, possibly more than ever in recent history, London needs to show that it is at the forefront of creativity, that it is an open space for people from all over the globe to come and join in the dialogue. This city will always hold a unique space in the creative world for its inherent acceptance and almost encouragement of differences, of eccentricities; of being open to change and lacking some of the ‘rules and regulations’ – be it ideologically or aesthetically – that tend to constrain radical creativity in some of the other main European cities.

Read our London Design Festival highlights here.

10.09.2016

I’m sitting in the magnificent Somerset House courtyard overlooking Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s towering navy sculpture that moves ever-so-slowly to the nudge of the September wind. Forecast explores Britain’s rich maritime history and its involvement with the development of wind energy. Created by the local designer duo with the help of the V&A Museum and engineering firm Arup, it evokes the past and proposes a future powered by renewable energy. It is also meant as a wink to the nations obsession with the weather.

Somerset House is hosting the inaugural London Design Biennale with the working title Utopia by Design. The theme celebrates the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s classic Utopia with hugely diverse responses from the 37 participating nations. Some pavilions have looked at tangible solutions for a possible utopia. Others have observed more abstract concepts. A few have envisaged a future that is more dystopia than utopia. One or two are relying purely on visual dazzle with sadly only a tenuous link to the working title. Together, though, they present an intriguing tapestry of possibilities for a shared utopian future.

The sky has turned abruptly from the beautiful blue it was a few minutes ago to a worrying grey – the angry clouds adding to the drama of the Somerset House setting. And I cannot help thinking the weather is also highlighting the volatile nature of utopian ideologies and dreams, of some of the modernist design it inspired, and later crushed.

London Design Biennale 2016 is on at Somerset House until 27 September and really worth visiting.

Read our review here

01.09.2016

‘For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen. Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.’ wrote GK Chesterton in his poem The Rolling English Road in 1927. He was referring to Kensal Green Cemetery, the oldest of London’s ‘magnificent seven’  built in 1883 to resemble the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

With its wild nature – thirty-plus species of bird and wildlife live here – it is a sanctuary, a place of great escape from the urban noise beyond its old walls. The late afternoon summer light adds to the ethereal quality.

Danish designer, Timothy Jacob Jensen, once told me coffins should be more like ‘the next home rather than a final one’. I rather like this idea. We often view cemeteries as morbid ghostly places, but they are a great place to observe history.

Kensal is home to three chapels and serves all faiths. Here large mausoleums of the wealthy past and present sit side-by-side smaller graves, daunting Gothic monuments and softer Grecian-style buildings.

The design of each grave says a great deal about the time in history. There are important figures in science and the arts buried in elaborate tombs, Godfather style vaults with long Italian names scribbled in fancy type; there are newer graves of a newer wave of immigrants, some with fresh, many with artificial flowers. Here is the story of London – of its inhabitants, of mortality, of migration.

Read more here

27.08.2016

The era of big, bold personalities, remarkable intellectuals, original thinkers, the romantically destructive is over. The modern world no longer admires eccentrics and great thinkers. It is too concerned with fleeting impressions, Snapchat moments – that wow factor that explodes and vanishes in a second. I was contemplating this whilst reading the latest book by Stephen Bayley Death Drive, reviewed here.

This is a book about glamorous deaths in the motor car. It is also the story of the death of the motor car. It is a hugely engaging read with a wonderfully original script told in a way that is unique to Bayley – himself a personality that somewhat belongs to these more romantic times.

It seems strange that the more educated and aware we’ve become, the more connected we are to the world, the less open we are to differences – cultural, sexual, mental, physical – and the less interested we are in others. We have become conformists under the illusion of enlightenment. We have access to an endless pool of information yet we are less engaged with debate and with analysis than ever before.

The motor car lost its sexiness as it became better built, and cleaner and safer to run. As Bayley so rightfully suggests, the human race is suffering from a similar concept. The chapters in this book are testimony to this. The characters in Death Drive are exciting – they are grand intellectuals (Albert Camus), some are plain badass drunks (Jackson Pollock), other insanely beautiful and a little bit naughty with it (Grace Kelly). They are almost all decadent and dangerous, and live life fully… a far cry from the judgemental and sanitised world of today. 

… or perhaps I’m just over romanticising the past.

03.08.2016

I am sitting on a piece of history as I write my little observations today. Our new office sofa, delivered earlier today, is by the Danish master craftsman Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007) and was named GE236 Sofa when created in the 1960s.

Wegner is credited as one of the main driving forces in midcentury Danish modern –a movement that help change the way the world viewed furniture design. He championed modernism, craftsmanship and Nordic functionality but took influenced from Chinese furniture, an interesting fact I knew little about.

His designs are at once functional and graceful, and from the 500 or so chairs he designed, 100 were made. Several became icons of modern design, most notably the 1949 Round Chair that was featured in the first presidential debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1961.

I love that this simple three-seat sofa is so much more than a combination of wood, metal and fabric. It is a delicious slice of design history.

18.07.2016

As the car becomes a hugely sophisticated product with multiple functions, the interior, the cabin will take centre stage.

Car designers are increasingly willing to explore materials from outside the more traditional vehicle design narrative. Materials have to be hugely safe and resilient to extreme heat and cold in cars. Yet new processes and advanced manufacturing methods are introducing a whole new menu for the car design world to explore. These are exciting times.

Here we caught up with Fabio Filippini, design chief at the Italian creative consultant Pininfarina, to discuss his take on material, colour and trim trends, and how he is exploring new processes, and working with more traditional materials but in provocative ways.

07.07.2016

‘Cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes. Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.’

I found this quote by the philosopher and author Kwame Anthony Appiah early this morning whilst leafing through my notes flying high in the sky over Europe. How true are these words in light of post Brexit – they resonate more than ever.

We, as in the UK’s EU referendum remain voters (the supposed elite from London, and the big university towns, and generally the country’s youth), have had a few weeks to adjust to the reality of a Brexit. Many of us are already feeling the economic consequences, especially those of us running smaller businesses and involved in the creative world.

But, as Simon Kuper, the economist and FT columnist rightfully observed in his weekend column for the paper, ‘cosmopolitans’ can cope with this and if need be pack our bags and relocate to another metropolitan, one that remains open to the new global world.

What is perhaps harder to digest, is to see a country that has essentially shunned modernism for localism, for tribalism, rejecting facts for fiction.

To some of us this notion of re-creating the glories of the past is as bizarre as the theories advocated by Prince Charles some years back who famously suggested, instead of looking for a modern vernacular to define contemporary London, re-creating replicas of the classical greats – a sort of ‘Las-Vagas-in-London’, so to speak.

The referendum has divided the country into the globalists and the nationalists, as Kuper nicely puts it. What it highlighted is that some of us were born cosmopolitan. I was born in the UK, spent my childhood in Iran and my teens in London, twenties in New York…

And what continues to attracts me to the metropolis is that they look ahead, not back. They live for the life that is now and strive for a better life in the future. They do not live in a perpetual bubble of nostalgia for a bygone age and misdirected anger at incomprehensible new realities.

For as the Buddhist so rightly say, life starts in this moment. It begins now.

With a single blink it’ll be over.

04.07.2016

The car is heading towards its second life. How we drive, and not just in terms of fuel and power, but our relationship with our vehicles, and the role, the personality of the car is about to change dramatically.

Semi-autonomous, or piloted driving is already here, and most cars now offer some degree of driver assistance. Shared car schemes are impacting on how we view car ownership. Crucially, the millennials, as in future drivers, are simply not responding to the motorcar as their parents do; they don’t have the same emotional connection and are expecting much more from their vehicles.

So the car of the not-so-distant future has to become a multi-tasking machine – a transport hub and a mobile work stations that seamlessly connect our worlds, guide us and even helps form communities. The second life of the automobile will be an exciting one to witness.

Have a read of how some car companies are responding to this here.

24.06.2016

24 June 2016 will always be remembered as the day the United Kingdom voted to leave Europe, and a day in which the United Kingdom felt extremely un-united. The EU referendum simply highlighted a pretty heavy divide between those who want to stay, and those eager to go.

London and some of the big university cities, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay and it was on the whole the young, city workers, professionals, doctors, scientists, teachers, lawyers, architects and creatives… who fought to keep us in and active in Europe. Sadly, we composed only 48.1% of the voting population.

So we have entered a period of economic and political uncertainty. From our perspective, the creative and cultural exchange we get from wider Europe will certainly be restricted as will be the way the world sees us. We now run the danger of not being viewed as an open society, somewhere to invest in, somewhere to set up international headquarters. Instead we could be defined by our geographic island status – a closed, narrow-minded country that harks back to an old England which, as architect Sam Jacobs so brilliantly wrote in a piece for Dezeen, is in itself an imaginary place.

And why would we look back when being part of a bigger, wider dialogue is what makes this world an exciting place, what makes working exciting, what makes living, seeing, dinning, drinking exciting. This world the Leave campaign romance over sounds tired, insular and frankly hugely dull.

Today, as I went about my daily work, everyone I encountered on the streets of London – white, brown, black, old immigrant, new immigrant, even one tourist expressed their sadness.

To quote Benjamin Hubert, designer and founder of Layer, who wrote in Dezeen today: ‘I think people missed the point that togetherness and inclusiveness is strength and modernity, and this backwards, isolated, often bigoted point of view on primarily immigration – which is where this referendum has swung on – is unbelievable really.’

22.06.2015

An exciting company launched on Kickstarter earlier this month. Sonoma-USA’s mission is to turn waste into usable products. The Californian-based apparel manufacturer will divert used materials from the landfill, transforming them into unique, individual and exciting products – nicely designed and practical accessories such as bags and totes.

This is company driven by a relevant cause. It advocates rethinking waste – it is about upcycling and using the imagination to give waste another life.

Have a read of our interview with founder of the company Steffen Kuehr here and support Sonoma-USA on Kickstarter here.

17.06.2015

I’m having a bit of a love affair with London lately having moved here in my early teens, forming a little crush but abandoning the city for more exotic destinations though soon to return and fall madly in love again… For London offers unexpected moments, it feeds the mind, body and soul with visual, spiritual, conceptual, intellectual treats. It is a living city that is in constant motion, developing, evolving, embracing the new, the avant-garde.

Last week saw the unveiling of the Serpentine Pavilion, a small annual project with a big impact. Read the full story here. Today Tate Modern’s much-anticipated extension opened its doors to the public, and it is not to be missed.

Switch House is designed by Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron, and is pretty spectacular – a bold, twisting, distorted, textured pyramid, clad in perforated lattice of brick, and reaching high up into the sky.

Inside is visually striking too, with its contrast of sensuous swirling concrete and sharp defined angles and edges. We recommend walking the ten floors to the viewing gallery – the journey itself is part of the charm as the staircase alters in form and proportion almost like climbing the stairs of an old church. Up on the pyramid, the open platform offers panoramic vistas over London’s architectural history.

Switch House will continue the discourse set by Tate Modern to expand its representation of art history to include much more multi-media work, performance, film, interactive installations, and more work by female and international artists. Herzog & de Meuron’s intriguing space offers unexpected opportunities to exhibit art in new ways and for visitors to engage with art in a less formal manner.

Tate Modern is the most visited museum of contemporary art in the world, and it will be interesting to see how the public respond to an even larger and bolder gallery.

Read the full story here.

11.06.2015

There is a delicate neo-classical building on a little hill in the middle of Kensington Gardens nestled in thick grass and wild flowers and with views over the Long Water. You can see Henry Moore’s Arch across the water from here. I often run in Kensington Gardens stopping briefly by this romantic summer house. There is an old tree to its right – the trunk is a good size and perfect for a hand stand. Upside-down, the summer house is even more intriguing.
 
Queen Caroline’s Temple was designed in 1735 by William Kent for Queen Caroline who was responsible for the shape of the gardens as they are now. Some of the graffiti dates back to 1821 when Hyde Park was first opened to the public. Up until this week I had no clue as to the history of this summer house and in many ways the mystique had added to the romance.
 
Now, the building is at the heart of the annual Serpentine Galleries Pavilion project which has grown from one commissioned temporary installation to five. This summer Hyde Park has really transformed into a feast of architectural dialogue.
 
The star of the annual Serpentine Pavilion project, however, is a bold project by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group that sees some 1,802 modular fibreglass boxes stacked on top of one another for an  ‘unzipped wall’ and quite a dramatic structure in Hyde Park’s Kensington Gardens.
 
The Serpentine Pavilion scheme is hugely exciting. Since 2000, every year the team commissions an international architect to construct a temporary building in whatever material they see fit – the structure remains in the park from June to October.
 
Past projects have seen buildings erected using plastic, stone, even cork… and it is always fascinating to see how they age, how they withstand the unpredictable English summer, how they live in Hyde Park, as well as how the public responds to them. After all, these are not decorative art installations, but buildings that are there to be experienced.
 

03.06.2015

London is in the midst of quite a creative moment. The Design Museum is soon to open in the £83m conversion of the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, and the V&A has announced plans for a second museum of visual culture in east London’s Olympicopolis at the south end of the Olympic Park where there will also be a Sadler’s Wells and Washington DC’s Smithsonian outposts.

But before all this kicks off, the city will experience its first Design Biennale which will join forces with the annual London Design Festival. Alongside the festival, the biennale will aim to unite a global community of designers, artists, architects, as well as design historians and theorists for a celebration of visual culture.

John Sorrell, co-founder of the festival and biennale says, ‘If you believe in design you know it can make the world a better place, and I say the more international design dialogue the better.’

But do we really need two design festivals at the same time? The two, we are told, will function on very different levels and complement one another. Whereas the festival is about showcasing new works of design and site-specific installation work, the biennale will be more about creative thinking, speculative design, theory, ideology.

‘The unique combination of these two events will offer a world wide window on design,’ says Sorrel.

Working under the title Utopia by Design – a nod to the 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, and looking at London both as platform and subject - the biennale will focus on talks, education and conversations thus giving substance to the work on display. The biennale will work on pushing ideas rather than objects. This is an intriguing proposition that could be a template for other global festivals as such, and we cannot wait to experience the two together.

Should be exciting to see.

Read our highlights from LDF 2015 here

24.05.2016

It has been a challenging month moving house and office. The sheer volume of paperwork alone is exhausting, and for a freelance writer, it has been hugely disrupting to my working life.

Yet moving is tremendously exciting especially for someone with a little nomad hidden inside. Ah, the sheer promise of a clean sheet, the opportunity to de-clutter, finding that lost treasure buried at the back of the loft, the thrill of discovering a new neighbourhood, new faces, new places, new smells, textures… the surprises that await…

Then there is the excitement of envisaging a new space, visiting galleries, showrooms, searching the web, meeting the designers, sourcing the products, finding new solutions.

We have moved a twenty minutes or so walk away, yet in typical London style the new neighbourhood is a world away from the one we left behind. Unlike our previous area, here has a sense of community, it is like a small village buried in the thick of urban chaos.

This is the beauty of a big metropolis like London. Our city is in constant motion. It is eager to meet new cultures, new ideologies, new smells and textures and tribes, learn from them, absorb them and make them so very unique to London.

So here’s to a new adventure…

03.05.2016

Good design, better society

It’s easy to get depressed driving through London these days. My chosen city, one that I love dearly, has become one giant construction site with cranes hovering over the skyline like arrogant dancing robots.

In the years following the Second World War, a similar scale of construction saw buildings designed and erected to help restore a society. So we saw schools, hospitals, social housing – all planted in areas to encourage social mobility and build a better society. Sadly, the construction frenzy of 2016 is concerned more with making use of every molecule of London for private profit.

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The word ‘luxury apartment’ is everywhere – often used shamelessly out of context and erected tall and arrogant on every corner, on busy roundabouts, in schools, civic buildings, former social housing and in areas once deemed un-inhabitable by the very people who will occupy them. Prices are high with the young starting out life here, even middle income families, being flushed out of the city.

Not all is lost though. Saturday we headed east along the canal that runs across London to Hackney Wick, where the towering glitzy buildings give way to warehouses inhabited by artists, designers, collectives, craft distillers, artisan makers.

We saw urban artists painting derelict walls. There were scenes out of Wild Style, the 1983 graffiti film set in the South Bronx. This is a world far removed from the sterile one we left behind in the City. It is hugely uplifting.

Sadly, the rich have little imagination. Before we know it their greedy noses will be sniffing this part of free London. Bankers, financiers and their ilk are generally a colourless bunch, forever occupying the lifestyles of the creative world. Then pricing them out! Just look at what New York has become. This is a city once so creatively fertile it was hard to keep up. Even Brooklyn, I’m told, has lost its edge; the originals who made it cool are looking as far as Providence, Rode Island!

Walking along the London canal we came across social housing with great vistas over the city. The 60s planners were generous with their social projects: the idea was for the disadvantaged to be exposed to the good things London has to offer, to mix with people of other classes, races and so on – not to be locked away in the way the French have so shamefully done with their social housing (and we all know the long-term implications of excluding those not lucky enough to be born into the right environment from society).

Architecture and design are essential to how we respond to the environment we inhabit and ultimately the choices we make in life. If London is to remain this inspiring, creative hub… if we are to maintain this as our so-called soft power on the international scene, then it is our duty to respect and nourish it.

22.04.2016

Milan once again transformed into a city-wide celebration of visual culture for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (12 to 17 April). In its 55th year, some 300,000 people arrived here last week with a shared passion for visual culture and ready to soak in the creative spirit.

The main buzz is increasingly outside the main exhibition hall at Fuorisalone, which sees boutiques, smaller galleries, crumbling old palazzos around pockets of this vibrant city exhibit work with a more conceptual focus and by less established designers.

We love the extra layer Milan’s dynamic architectural backdrop offers too. Few urban settings have such a collage of architecture – decorative courtyards, charming palazzos, confident narcissistic fascists architecture, gritty post war brutalism, and contemporary builds all seem to co-habit peacefully.

There is a lot to take in, yet certain themes stood out. Read our report here

13.04.2016

‘Salvation is in the imagination,’ said Piero Fornasetti, ‘If I were a government minister, I would set up a hundred schools of imagination…’ wrote the Italian designer in 1948.

I cannot get this brilliant quote out of my head as we head out once again to the streets of Milan for the Salone del Mobile. The annual design festival sees shops, boutiques, galleries, old crumbling palazzos around pockets of this brilliant city open their doors to creatives from around the world for a hugely inspiring week.

There are installations and pop-up exhibits all around us, and the atmosphere is so fantastically creative. Fornasetti is right; the world would indeed be a better place if we did have universities of imagination, if governments encouraged more creative weeks like this, or perhaps made on-going festivals of imagination…

09.04.2016

An old analogue Olympus camera was discovered at the back of the cupboard whilst packing to move house earlier in the week. It was a gift from my sister some years ago as a way of re-igniting my love of photography – a love lost in the age of digitalisation, camera phones, and the far too easy crop/filter/expose world.

Olympus cameraI tried loading the only film I could find in the house, a dusty old Kodak, with little luck and thus concluded the camera is broken. Yesterday, as I headed to Mayfair to interview for an article, I took the Olympus with me in the hope of rescuing it. I was convinced the camera is obsolete.

My interviewee – a leading mixologist with a passion for photography – observed the camera, smiling. He had just the place in mind. I waited in line at the camera shop, observing the high-tech equipment on display. I apologetically handed my humble camera to the assistant as his face lit up. He began carefully examining it, treating it as if it was an object of great value.

As it turned out the only fault were a couple dead batteries. Promptly the assistant loaded the camera with a new black and white film, and as the line behind me grew longer with serious looking photographers, he took his time reminding me of the art of analogue photography. This old heavy Olympus almost slowed down our communication as we joked about past dark room incidents, and he offered professional tips.

I left the store in search of an old leather camera case, one befitting of this beautiful object. Past Oxford street, away from the hustle and bustle of shoppers, I came across a small vintage camera shop. The young assistant offered similar levels of enthusiasm on seeing my camera. He said his generation are returning to analogue, that they want to experience the whole process of sourcing a film, loading it, taking extra time deciding on a shot knowing that the film can offer only a certain number, that processing and printing are costly.

Of course I’m not in any way denouncing the technical brilliance of digital photography, nor the ease and practicality of phone cameras (I am hugely guilty of crop/filter/social-media-paste myself). Yet, much in the same way that printed magazines and books can live along the web world, and vinyl alongside Spotify, there is room for analogue photographs. Perhaps what digitalisation has done is to almost free analogue from being a mode for capturing daily life to one that could perhaps offer a larger experience that expresses the whole process of sourcing, carefully selecting the shot, processing, exposing, printing…

Which bring us to my next assignment; to assemble my very own dark room.

31.03.2016

It is extremely sad to hear of the untimely death of architect Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture. She was loved and feared in equal measures for not just her work, but her formidable, larger than life character.

The argument was always that had she been a man, she would not be criticised for being so outspoken. Yet she was a pioneer – one of the few female architects to be commissioned on grand public buildings in this highly male dominated world of architecture. For that alone she needs to be commended.

I first met Zaha many many years ago in my early days as a journalist. We were in Leipzig to see one of her first realised buildings, the BMW factory. The building is incredible – with her signature strong linear sweeps, and sensuously sculpted concrete. It is hugely theatrical too celebrating car making (she was fond of cars even though she couldn’t drive) with the constant flow of semi-finished vehicles dancing along conveyor belts hovering above the core of the building.

Naturally, I was so excited to meet her. As they sat me next to her at dinner, she almost made me cry with her harsh manners. Her assistant told me she was in no mood to be interviewed! Then she looked at me, her face softening – something must have triggered. Perhaps I looked like someone she knew.

She asked where I was from and our shared Middle East background opened up a whole new dialogue … we talked of the past, our stylish grandmothers, our destroyed worlds; she spoke passionately of building new worlds and I am sure I detected a tremble in her voice and maybe a tiny tear in her eyes…

We never did get around to discussing the building for which I was commissioned to write a piece.

Zaha Hadid, born 31 October 1950 in Baghdad; died 31 March 2016 in Miami.

27.03.2016

Good Friday, being a particularly beautiful spring day, we signed up for an urban boat trip of sorts. The leisurely sail set off from Kew Bridge in west London drifting along the river Thames to Hampton Court at the edge of the city. The destination was almost irrelevant here. The idea was to cruise as slowly as possible, soaking in the sights and sounds. In other words, it was to be the antithesis of modern life’s fast lane. We were to drift the whole day with no real purpose. Just to be in the moment…

It took the younger ones some time to adjust. Why, they enquired, are we not simply driving to Hampton Court for it takes a fraction of the time. Yet, not so long into the journey and they too had settled into the almost meditative state the trip commanded. Phones put away, with no external distractions, we experienced a wonderful new London observed from water rather than road.

We took in the many architectural styles, the river wildlife, admired the willow trees softly caressing the water, watched as Londoners settled in riverside pubs, laid out their picnics. We found ourselves waving at pedestrians and cyclists along the river, and they waved back – unheard of in a big city like London.

It made me think of how much we need such indulgent times – to have a rest from information overdose, from performing tasks, from the external life… to calm the mind so as to be able to make some sense of this world.

Happy Easter!

20.03.2016

Spring is such a special month with its delicate daylight, daffodils and blossom, singing birds, buzzing bees… there are signs of fresh life everywhere in this uplifting time of year. In many ways spring should mark the beginning of the new year rather than dark and dreary winter. The ancient Persian Norouz, which I celebrate, does in fact see the new year begin roughly around the 20 March, at spring’s very awakening. It is purely an ode to spring.

‘Norouz mobarak’

19.03.2016

What role should a design museum play in a world where ‘design’ is seemingly everywhere? This came to mind when London’s Design Museum announced its relocation date yesterday. The plan is to pack up current site and move to Kensington in November into the transformed former Commonwealth Institute building.

The new space is three times the size and with its size comes bigger ambitions to be, in the words of director Deyan Sudjic, a small scale institution dedicated to design.

The problem is London is a hugely different city than it was in 1989 when Sir Terrance Conran and Stephen Bayley opened the original museum. Discussions on design were in their infancy, and creating a space dedicated to design was a radical concept.

It helped elevate the status of design to be (almost) on par with fine art, and initiated a much needed discourse on the subject. Soon a few universities began teaching Design History as an undergraduate course, which incidentally is where I ended up. These were exciting times.

Today though there is generally a higher awareness of design. Copies of mid-modern classics can now be purchased on most high streets, and many of these pioneering designers are now household names.

The Design Museum’s new premise will allow for more diverse ways of communication. The directors are thus planning a challenging programme that encourages new work and new thinking. Sudjic wants to nourish young creatives, and for the space to act as a bridge between the V&A and the Science Museum – both only a stone-throw-away.

See the images of the new building and read more here.

11.03.2016

Last week we attended the Geneva Motor Show. The annual event is a great place to observe the future of vehicle design, and even though the offerings are far less conceptual than they used to be, there remains a nice buzz leading up to the show.

The degree of innovation – be it in design, material use and manufacturing methods – is at the highest level in the automotive sector. It never ceases to astonish how much they have to deliver.

Cars are at once a combination of industrial design, product design, architecture, textile design, electronic design… they need to pass stringent regulations, be safe, move efficiently, be comfortable and practical to inhabit, connect our words. Some have to be dynamic, others need to be beautiful sculptures that stand the test of time. All neatly packaged in a relatively small object. It really is industrial beauty.

At Geneva we saw some pretty spectacular examples. McLaren’s 570 GT, for instance, has a refreshing purity of design where form expresses the car’s intention. Form follows performance was also at the heart of Bugatti’s highly exclusive new Chiron. And Aston Martin’s stylish DB11 also abides to this simple yet powerful philosophy.

We spoke with the design directors at all three marques. Have a read of what McLaren’s Frank Stephenson has to say on designing the 570 GT and the future of car design for the marque.

09.03.2016

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a celebration that dates back to 19 March 1911 when over a million women around the world rose up to raise awareness for equal gender rights. Thanks to these pioneering women, most of us in the western world now live a much more equal existence. There remain areas that require change, yet on the whole our rights are not comparable to the women of 1911.

Yesterday a post on social media alerted me to an intriguing exhibition at the Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zürich, DADA Differently: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hannah Höch, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (on until 8 May).

The focus here is on the female voices of this avant-garde movement, one mostly associated with men – Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Maz Earnst… Few would have been exposed to the works of these fantastic female Dadaists, who were creating truly revolutionary and often provocative work not so long after that first 1911 IWD celebration. Cannot wait to visit Zürich.

It also got me thinking about a much lesser exhibition proposition, Champagne Life at Saatchi Gallery ending today. This absurdly titled show featured the work of 14 contemporary female artists who share only one thing: they are not male. The link here isn’t about age, ideology, form nor genre, but singularly gender. Needless to say it was not an exhibition worth visiting.

It applied the same opportunistic logic as some other recent exhibitions at not just Saatchi’s but other reputable galleries where artists are grouped according to race, colour, sometimes even continent – Chinese Middle Eastern, African. The assumption being that those in Iran, for instance, share similar ideological or aesthetic values with Saudi artists, which of course is completely absurd and hugely patronising.

As a female writer in a predominantly male world, the subject of women in car design is regularly put in my vision. Companies naturally feel my gender makes me qualified for covering this niche area. And don’t get me wrong; women’s plight in design is of interest, and yes the percentage of female car designers is worryingly low. Yet, it feels almost opportunist to make a case for this in isolation to other gender related issues, or indeed race related issues in this predominantly white male environment.

So what does IWD mean to us today and more importantly what significance will it have for future generations. Perhaps much like DADA Differently it remains a day to celebrate women for their individual and collective contributions to the arts, science, technology, economics and politics. And I hope the next generation will continue to mark the 8 March and raise a glass to the brave women of 1911.

28.02.2016

Coco Chanel famously said luxury is ‘a necessity that begins when necessity ends’. Luca di Montezemolo’s definition of Ferrari was massimo edonismo – as in maximum hedonism, says the former chairman of the company.
Yet luxury today is no longer so simple to define. Perhaps we’ve overused the word so it has lost its purity. Perhaps the new world demands a new set of values. It certainly isn’t as simple as conspicuous wealth though.
 
Even amongst the super rich, luxury is no longer defined by maximum hedonism – something that was put to discussion at the Superyacht Design Symposium last month.
 
Instead luxury’s abstraction lies in how it embodies a whole host of values to include time, authenticity, meaning… yet design remains hugely at its very core.

Read the full article here

20.02.2016

‘How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky…’ Umberto Eco, 2009

In memory of the Italian author who passed away age 84.

24.01.2016

More on the subject of name play…

When I enrolled at a foundation course in the arts in the 1990s, it was divided into ‘the fine arts’ and ‘the applied arts’ – this was how design was referred to.

The modernists had challenged this at the start of the century though, arguing that design isn’t the decoration of objects, it isn’t simply craft. In fact to the Bauhaus founders design was quite the opposite of applied arts: it was all about stripping it down to its structure, its function, its usability and its ultimate role in helping shape society for the better.

So, when did design revert back to applied or (the even more dreaded) decorative arts? Post-modernism certainly played a cruel joke on the hard work of modernists to rescue design from its ornamentation. Sometime in the 1980s and into now, design became fine arts’ baby sister – hungrily gazing at its star status and fat pockets.

The design world wanted a taste of this too! And so the profession became (and remains) full of individual egos creating objects with status and for conspicuous consumption. You could say it is a world of design for desire.

The problem is designers rely on consumption to survive. It is their narrations that sell old objects and continues the life of new objects. It is the promise of speed, sexiness… the storytelling behind the, say, latest sports car that promotes sales. No one ‘needs’ a 200mph supercar. It is the promise of an exotic, unknown world, and all that it conjures up…

But what role should design play in our current world? Should the object be used as a tool to critique society? Or better can it be a visual and tactile language for social change?

Perhaps we are entering a new dawn. It is hugely telling that the fantastically interesting design and architectural collective Assemble should win the coveted Turner Prize last year – a prize usually reserved for artists. The event had become tiresome in recent years for the banality of its winners who create art that is consumed by a few, and pretended to be understood by an even smaller elite.

Design as a tool for change! Now that would be a promising role for the former applied, decorative arts.

16.01.2016

Name play

A new super gym has opened in my neighbourhood. Bodyism prefers the title ‘members club’ rather than gym and costs, for a Platinum membership, some £30,000 a year.

The claims are high here. The blurb says the hand-picked experts will ‘transforms and empower,’ you. ‘You can be part of the movement,’ the website claims. What movement I’m not quite sure, but it clearly isn’t one with social or political ambitions.

BodyismThe language on the website, and used by the supremely toned staff, is overtly dramatic, peppered with emotive words that are made meaningless in this context. It is also backed with strong scientific claims: ‘the science of a long, lean, athletic body,’ it shouts.

The brand ambassador is the former supermodel – nicknamed ‘the body’ – Elle Macpherson, possibly someone in little need of any science.

Now to the all-important name… Bodyism is quite a word. I wonder how many copywriters sat around till dawn conceiving a brand name with such weight. Did they pat each other on the back at its double meaning?

The ‘ism’ itself is telling, as is the nod to the clear negative connotations this word carries. Yet it is used in a highly superior, almost insulting fashion. Or is it? Perhaps the science of long, lean and athletic missed out the intellect. Perhaps the wordsmiths who came up with Bodyism didn’t consider the real meaning of it.

We live in a world of image, or vacuous image. This week we lost one of history’s most commanding artists, David Bowie. His death highlighted just how empty the creative world has become. We have allowed it to be taken over by meaningless talent shows, by the X-Factors of this world where hopefuls participate to be famous… that’s all, just to be famous.

Bodyism is a symbol of this emptiness whereby a powerful word is used in this haphazard, hollow way. Is there some cruel irony in there? Who knows but for £30,000 a year why would the members care.

01.1.2016

Other countries, other cultures, other conversations

‘The power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before.’

These words are by Jhumpa Lahiri – and her novels certainly have had a profound impact on my way of thinking and of seeing the world.

The world she paints is about other countries, other cultures, other conversations… her books take us deep into their intimate lives, we experience their joy and their pain. We perhaps begin to see cultures beyond the walls of ours…

With the start of a brand new year (for some cultures) we begin to reflect on life, on the year gone, and the years to come. And it certainly has been quite a year with countries torn apart, communities fragmented, nations displaced, populations searching the world for a place they can call home… not always with welcoming arms.

Which brings me to another quote, one that I’d like to begin the new year on Design Talks with. This one is by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah who writes: ‘Cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes. Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.’

Thank you for your support and wishing you all happiness in 2016

14.12.2015

What is luxury?

I’m often asked to consult for luxury brands, to consider what is luxury now and in the future, and how to communicate this effectively editorially and otherwise.

I thought of this whilst watching Boyhood the other night. It wasn’t my first screening, and so I was able to reflect on it in peace. Boyhood is a coming-of-age movie shot in real time – the director Richard Linklater gathered the same cast every year or so, over 12 years to shoot the story of Mason from the age of six to 18.

Linklater and his dedicated cast committed themselves to this project fully. His idea (as he told the Telegraph in an interview) was ‘this big, long time-lapse canvas about a boy growing up. I couldn’t find that one moment in the process that would have summed it up – so I thought, what if we did it all…’

The complexity of making a film like this is enormous – it relies on a cast willing to cooperate for 12 years, and a studio willing to gamble on a film that won’t pay in over a decade of financing, and may never profit once complete.

Yet this delicate film captures the concept of modern luxury. Time, authenticity, skills, craft, originality, a sense of purpose, of being part of something bigger… these are just some of the elements that define what luxury is in a world where ‘stuff’ is too readily available and so easily disposable.

I receive an obscene number of daily emails with luxury in the subject area. In fact as I was scribbling this note, an email came through about some London residential scheme with ‘a new standard in world luxury’ as its title. Much like design and curate, luxury has become a throwaway word used far too casually and out of context.

To reclaim this once beautiful, sacred, evocative word we need to evolve the concept, inject some relevance to it. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity – yet the wealth she proposes isn’t necessarily material but spiritual, it promotes a human element, it is about happiness.

So if luxury is associated with wealth, but we view wealth not as material, not as the number of cars in our garage, but rather the quality of life, of the time spent with our loved ones, the energy injected in to a dedicated cause, the delicious food we share with family, the moments that make us insanely happy, the stranger that smiled at us today… then this defines the true concept of the word going forward.

If the purpose of luxury is to promote happiness, and happiness is a collage of the above, then the concept cannot be reduced to just ‘stuff’. We get to reclaim the word, paint it sacred again, and make it relevant to future generations.

5.12.2015

Cin Cin

Thank you to Negroni and cocktail aficionados, book lovers, design appreciators, passing Londoners, curious shoppers, baffled tourists, and of course our fabulously supportive friends and family for stopping by our pop-up concept store this week and purchasing our latest book The Life Negroni and the inspired artwork.

It has been an incredible week as we got to introduce the book to a wider public and, in complete contrast to our digital world, we got to meet – yes yes physically meet – and talk to our readers.

This is so rare these days given that we tend to resort to social media communication as it is quicker, easier, less personal… and it got me thinking of how much I miss physical contact, talking face-to-face… as it certainly is a much more spirited form of communication!

In a way this is how I see print verses digital – the physicality of books, the sheer touch, feel, smell, look… this is what sets it a million worlds away from online media. And this is why people are returning to paper.

The pop-up closed its doors this evening but you can browse through and order a copy from TheLifeNegroni.com.

22.11.15

Mixing art and politics

We are a part of the reality, says Ai Weiwei, ‘and if we don’t realise that, we are totally irresponsible. We are a productive reality. We are the reality, but that part of reality means that we need to produce another reality.’

This is a quote are from Ai Weiwei Speaks, a series of interviews conducted by the art historian and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist with the Chinese artist over several years, and highly recommend reading for greater insight into Ai’s work.

I picked up a copy in the gift shop at the Royal Academy after visiting ‘Ai Weiwei’, his first retrospective in the UK. This is an excellent exhibition on so many levels (read our review here) but it left me longing to know more.

Obrist says he was inspired by David Sylvester, the critic and curator of modern art who had an ‘infinite conversation’ – a recurrent interview offering continuous dialogue – with the British artist Francis Bacon.

This small Penguin book is a hugely inspiring read. The almost unedited continuing dialogue offers us the chance to observe and explore a wide range of aspects of the artist.

Ai is a hugely complex artist – at once a poet, an architect and urbanist, a writer and blogger, a curator and an activist. He keeps extending the notion of art. And it is near impossible to understand his work and the workings of his mind without such natural conversations.

13.11.15

Political art often falls under slogan art becoming almost kitsch with its execution and delivery. Not under the masterful direction of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Visiting his first retrospective in the UK, you cannot help but be profoundly moved by his commentary on complex histories, value of material, the fragility of life, of human and historical loss.

The artist has a great gift for material and proportion too. His installations are huge; some have such volume they occupy whole rooms at the RA. Ai offers multiple readings. You know you are faced with a work of art carrying the weight of a profound message even if you are unaware of what this may be.

He reminds us that today, possibly more than ever, we need cultural and political art. This is an exhibition not to be missed.

Read our review here

06.11.15

The concept of luxury has evolved. It is hugely more complex now and will be even more so for future generations. Time, authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skill and memory – these are just some of the concepts that will join the more classical terms associated with luxury.

In a series of talks with some of the leading creatives we assess the meaning of luxury in the future of car design.

Read our first interview with Stefan Sielaff, the new design director at Bentley Motors, who offers his take on the subject in light of the latest product the Bentayga.

30.10.15

The World of Charles and Ray Eames, Installation view of moulded plywood furniture, Barbican Art Gallery, London 21 October 2015 – 14 February 2016 © Tristan Fewings/ Getty ImagesCharles Eames drafted the following notes in 1949 to advice students. They describe the workings of the Eames Office beautifully:

Make a list of books
Develop a curiosity
Look at things as though for the first time
Think of things in relation to each other
Always think of the next larger thing
Avoid the ‘pat’ answer – the formula
Avoid the preconceived idea
Study well objects made past recent and ancient but never without the technological and social conditions responsible
Prepare yourself to search out the true need – physical, psychological
Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need
The art is not something you apply to your world
The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude towards it

A new exhibition at the Barbican in London explores the work, lives, ideologies and thoughts of Charles and Ray Eames, two of the most pioneering designers of the last century. Their work and theories remain hugely relevant today.

For over four decades the Eames Studio in California moved fluidly between the mass-production of objects for everyday use and the transmission of ideas through exhibition, film or installation.

They were concerned with connecting art, science and technology, to educate society, and to utilise good design as way of improving life.

The World of Charles and Ray Eames is the first major UK exhibition of their work in over 15 years, and it is not to be missed.

Read the review here

13.10.15

The Life Negroni cover ©SpinachSeptember was an exciting month for me as a book I’ve been involved with has seen the light of day.

The Life Negroni straddles the world of drink, cocktails and mixology, architecture and design, art and film, politics and poetry.

The story centres around this classic Italian cocktail, yet this is essentially an ode to the sweet life – a celebration of the pleasures of living.

And the reception has been incredible. Have a read of some of the quotes and review:

‘The Life Negroni is a gorgeous book offering voyeuristic insights into a way of life which may never have existed anywhere other than the imagination, but one that is no less intoxicating for that. … I was reminded of Luc Sante’s epic No Smoking of 2004, a masterpiece of book design. It is an album, a love letter, a guide, a memoir and a rich source of graphic delight. Only hedonists would enjoy such a thing,’ Stephen Bayley in The Spectator

Be warned: this is a gripping read,’ Time Out, London

The book is FABULOUS!Gary Regan, author and mixologist

‘… Like the drink, the book drips European post-war cool. It even manages to juxtapose Florence’s Ponte Vecchio with the Playboy Club…It’s a book in thrall to the Italian idea of sprezzatura, a kind of off-the-cuff stylishness that you can trace back to Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courier. And it’s just possible it might make you a little thirsty,’ The Herald Magazine

I am obsessed with it, pouring over each beautiful page, and carrying it all over my home. I may even change my Facebook status to “In a Relationship” with…’ Mariena Mercer, chief mixologist The Cosmopolitan of Los Vegas

Absolutely stunning! This book is destined for greatness,’ Sam Galsworthy, co-founder of Sipsmith

It is struck me as a reminder of how sweet and beautiful life in Italy has been and, in spite of our chronic financial and political dire strait, still is… It brings out elements of the charm and elegance of our country and of our lifestyle that we Italians sometimes have the tendency to overlook or to forget,’ Maurizio Stocchetto, owner Bar Basso, Milan

‘I love the look and feel. The drink itself had me convinced a long time ago!’ Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group director of design

Absolutely stunning book… already can see that I am going to love every single page and image,’ Paula Champa, author

The book arrived but I could only see it very briefly because Luca Bassani liked it so much that he took it home!’ Monica Paolazzi, on the owner of Wally Yachts

I see you found a page even for me… I am honoured,’ Chris Bangle, car designer

The Life Negroni is no ordinary cocktail book – it documents the historical, avant-garde, and artistic element to the drink, even down to its botanical origin. It’s like going on the Negroni grand tour. La dolce vita!Urban Junkies, London

Mille Grazie for taking me on the journey,’ Michele Fiordoliva, co-owner Negroni Bar, Munich

It is an honour to be in such a great book with the best bars and colleagues from all around Europe,’ Marco Vezzozi, bar manager Fusion, Florence

Liquid history. The Life Negroni, finally out. Honoured to be part of the journey,’ Valentina Dalla Costa, The Unseen, Milan

It is even more gorgeous than I thought it would be! I love the size, the canvas feel to the cover… the illustrations inside are just amazing, one after another. It is hard to put it down!!!’ Azadeh Maroufi, New York

It is such a beautifully produced book (but I knew it would be),’ Hilary Whitney, Sacred

A celebration of the sweet life,Yashu e Prem, Italy

‘The glamour oozes off every page. I was transported to another place and time – one which I wished I could inhabit. I could hear the chink of hand-cut ice cubes, see the perfectly cut suits and smell the waft of expensive perfume. And God did I want a drink!!’ Graham Biggs, BMW Group

Purchase from The Life Negroni.

24.09.15

There is an abundance of creative energy in London. The metropolis is home to a number of leading art and design schools, and its multicultural nature offers a constant flow of influences from other worlds and cultures, bringing their collective and individual experiences from far beyond the city walls.

Many cities around the world stage annual design events – most notably the Salone del Mobile in Milan. London also benefits from a vibrant commercial scene; businesses from around the world have headquarters in here and there is a great deal of collaboration between commerce and creativity, adding a sense of reality to more conceptual work.

The annual London Design Festival is a good place to observe this. The nine-day event, in its 12th year, seems to be growing in size and reach. This year LDF presented some 400 events across the capital. Read the highlights here.

The international scene looks upon London for ideas and inspiration. Let’s just hope mounting living costs does not lock emerging creatives from contributing to this vibrancy, and that we don’t let big business completely overshadow raw creativity.

21.09.15

This weekend saw the start of the London Design Festival, a show that seems to be growing annually in size and reach. The 2015 event kicked off at its main hub at the V&A on Friday with a range of exhibitions largely addressing material and process.

Having attended the press preview, I revisited the show on Sunday with family, and as always it was hugely intriguing to see how others, especially children, interact with conceptual design.

Faye Toogood’s Cloakroom encourages museumgoers to put on one of her 150 ‘Toogood’ coats, and using the map inside explore unseen and unexpected locations in the V&A. The kids loved the weight of these coats made of high-tech Kvadrat compressed foam, and seemed amused by the different faces painted on the back of each one.

Elsewhere, an installation by Grafton Architects and Graphic Relief in the Tapestries Gallery explores our relation with concrete by encouraging visitors to touch the columns like tree trunks. Here too the kids automatically explored the columns and the textures created by the metal elements.

Other interesting work includes a mesmerising installation by Austrian design duo mischer’traxler in collaboration with champagne house Perrier-Jouet. Here tiny hand made insects dance inside 250 mouth blown glass globes creating quite a meditative buzzing sound – possibly pushing the boundaries of design but still beautifully constructed and attracting enough attention for a queue to form outside the space.

18.08.2015

I was reminded of this wonderful quote by the author Roald Dahl the other day.

It reads: ‘and above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

It is printed here as a daily reminder (to myself mainly) when the mind drifts to darker climates, yet I hadn’t read it aloud for a while.

As London empties for the month of August, its citizens migrating to sunny shores, we can find the space to reassess our values.

I love London in August. There is stillness in the air allowing us to quiet the mind and fall back in love with magic.

For without magic there would be no creativity, there would be no art or design, no great buildings, no avant-garde fashion, no experimental food…

To quote another children’s book author and illustrator Dr Seuss: ‘fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.’

Happy August

07.8.2015

The most beautiful book arrived at our offices this month. The Way Out is In, the Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh gathers a collection of sayings by the prolific author, poet, teacher, scholar, peace activist and Buddhist monk.

Nhat Hanh teaches mindfulness – the practice of staying in the present for a healthier mind, body and spirit, a philosophy that is finding much following in the West.

‘In my calligraphy there is ink, tea, breathing, mindfulness, and concentration,’ he says. ‘Writing calligraphy is a practice of meditation. I write the words or sentences that can remind people about the practice.’

Here he uses the art of calligraphy, of drawing and illustration to distil ancient Buddhist teachings into simple phrases written in a way that will resonate with modern life. This is art, design and philosophy under one cover.

The Way Out is In is the perfect book to read over and over again during these lazy summer months.

Have a read of our review, and indulge in some of his inspiring sayings here.

01.08.2015

There’s an elite group of architects making decisions on the vernacular of our urban landscape. These so-called starchitects – Gehry, Zaha, Foster & co – are shaping major cities around the world. And sadly much of what they are proposing is centred heavily on their egos. Their work seldom speaks the local dialect; it is not concerned with social issues, and certainly couldn’t care less about connecting with the soil it inhabits.

Weren’t such showy buildings that arrogantly protrude high, dominating the skylines of London, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi… the architecture of fascism, of single-minded ego-driven governments of our more dangerous past?

The cityscape of 20 or so years from now will indeed be a tragic vista if big business and governments continue to hire the same elite, refusing to take risks on more avant-garde architects, maverick designers who are willing to explore beyond their personal style.

Architecture is in serious danger of loosing its sovereignty – it has effectively been bought out by big business, by commerce. Yes, there has always been a mutually seductive rapport between great art and serious money, but the balance is shifting too dramatically.

Dwindling government-sponsored social projects and the lack of exciting civic buildings has altered the role of the architect. It has left the more pioneering practitioners having to be very imaginative, working on unusual projects, often non-profit ones that fuse the different creative disciplines.

Take the work of UK collective Assemble who have been nominated for the Turner Prize (almost always awarded to artists which also speak volumes about the state of contemporary art), Rural Studio in the US, Raumlabor in Berlin and EXYZT in Paris, even BIG in Denmark.

These are all architects with utopian visions who are working to create architecture that is about problem solving, that is socially responsible, and is there to change things not be show pieces without purpose.

Our complex world needs architects who will make provocative work, work that speaks of political and social issues, not buildings that speak of, and only to, the rich.

29.07.2015

I attended an interesting talk at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London last week on the power of creativity. The debate touched upon how we can harness the arts to forge new identities for nations and at the same time open up dialogue on race, identity and religion.

Hosted by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and to coincide with Shubbak, the UK’s biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, Dubai Next is reviewing the role of the arts in forming nationhood.

The focus of the discussion last night was on creativity and city culture, looking at the country’s ambition to be a creative global hub through building a cultural infrastructure.

Given Dubai’s unique geographical location in the Middle East, it will be interesting to see if and how a dialogue with neighbouring countries can have an impact on the region as a whole.

The synergies between art and politics are fascinating and I believe increasingly relevant. In a recent interview, Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed his mission to utilise creativity to exercise an influence on politics.

Rama, a fascinating man and himself an artist, has been working with an international group of contemporary artists to do just that in another unlikely setting.

Rama noted that if dictators have historically controlled art, then there must be something in it that is threatening so why not unleash it and see what happens.

Nothing can change the world quite like art. And it makes complete sense to employ the experimental and exploratory language of the contemporary arts so as to make some sense of the contemporary world.

It is true that artists and designers can think in a different way, perhaps in a less linear way than politicians and so the real world will benefit enormously from being exposed to it.

I like to compare it to being upside-down which is something we do quite often in our yoga practice. Your vision is completely altered in an inversion. I strongly recommend turning on your head outdoors where a familiar landscape evolves into something utterly new, unique and full of surprises. It changes your perception of the world. It is hugely liberating.

Ultimately it is important to build spaces where culture, politics and art can happen naturally – feed off each other and learn from one another.

Have a look at highlights from the Shubbak Festival here.

20.07. 2015

We have just returned from an unforgettable trip to Tuscany, Italy. Perched on top of a very steep hill, distanced from the rush and noise of human life, we silently observed nature in its very finest form.

Evenings were mostly spent listening to the music of birds and bees, at dusk drowned by the symphony of crickets.

We observed the manic mass movement of ants at sunset as they hurried in unison carrying loads so big it was hard to see the insect beneath.

We soaked in the changing colours of the vast open sky as it turned from piercing blue to pink and orange and then to the still darkness of the night…

Man can learn a great deal from the beauty of nature, the order in which it operates and the unspoken rules. Yet it is impossible to completely mimic it.

I thought of this on our return journey when reading an article on virtual reality. Of course advanced technology is such that we could recreate all the above, even the smell of nature, and deliver it in the virtual world.

Yes it would mean not needing to drive up a steep, twisting narrow dirt road where the only possible transport was the smallest car we could rent. Yes it would mean not being bitten by unfamiliar insects. And yes it would mean not having to try to get by on a few poorly pronounced Italian words peppered with expressive body language. But what would be the fun in that?

It is the unpredictability of nature that makes it so exciting. Even though it functions within some sort of grid, it is our interaction with nature, those brief encounters that paint the full canvas.

Our beautiful Tuscan farmhouse on the hills of Cortona would have less value if it weren’t for the sheer thrill and craziness of that ride: will we make it without stalling, without scratching the car… (we did)

Evenings wouldn’t have been the same if it didn’t involve familiarising ourselves with local insects – observing them more closely as to know the ones to love and the ones to avoid.

And it certainly would have suffered if we were not sampling local food, fresh and organic ingredients purchased in the market that day using pidgin Italian, and if we were not sipping wine from the local artisan vineyard – the produce of the very nature we enjoyed.

09.07.2015

A flat-pack IKEA-style relief vehicle, a car born through the sound of music, a self-healing vehicle and a 21st century interpretation of the ancient burial ritual – these were some of the more inspired ideas at the Royal College of Art class of 2015 Vehicle Design graduation show.

As the car evolves to be so much more than a mode of transport, tasked to be a home and office on the move, to seamlessly connect our worlds and to do so ecologically, students of transport design are expected to offer ideas that explore mobility far and beyond the metal sculpture, the package.

The second chapter in the life of the automobile offers an exciting opportunity for new dialogues, multiple narratives for the car. Sadly not all emerging designers are capable of such speculative thinking. The RCA, though, is renowned for nurturing some leading talent in all spheres of creativity, so it was good to see many of the students working on ideas that could help form the future of mobility.

Read the report here

07.07.2015

‘To wake the soul by tender strokes of art…’

Inspiring words by the English poet Alexander Pope, written in Prologue to Mr Addison’s Cato in 1713 and spotted above Richmond Theatre stage.

01.07.2015

Speed. There is something at once modern, advanced, superhuman, and utterly sexy about it. It demands a visceral reaction. Speed is about pure emotion.

These are now famous words coined by the controversial founder of the Italian Futurist movement F. T. Marinetti who wrote in the 1909 manifesto:

‘We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire…’

Speed symbolises progress, and in the epoch of sustainability, it is perhaps not getting quite the glory it deserves. However, recent products such as the BMW hybrid i8 supercar have proved that you can have an environmentally caring product and still race like they did in the golden age of the automobile.

Last weekend we were at Goodwood Festival of Speed, the annual event that simply celebrates speed in its very rawest of forms. The setting is beautiful in one of the UK’s most picturesque spots in West Sussex. The famous hill climb sees drivers race to complete an uphill course – and it is quite spectacular watching the parade of exotic metal, as RAF Red Arrows perform some stunning air acrobatics over Goodwood House.

Read more about the 2015 festival here.

26.06.2015

This week the Serpentine Gallery unveiled the Pavilion by Madrid-based practice Selgascano. In its 15th year, the scheme that sees a temporary installation imagined and constructed in the middle of Hyde Park, is one of the most inspiring creative events in London. This is what art should be – questioning, intriguing and engaging, and accessible to everyone and anyone.

I love the idea that you come across art and design by chance whilst, say, walking the dog. It can light up your day and in the case of Selgascano’s installation, this is definitely the case.

Whereas last year’s Pavilion by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic was a little dark and mysterious, here we have a series of colourful plastic cocoons that are so wonderfully playful they can bring happiness to any day – even on the morning the show opened to the press as the skies opened up on a unseasonably cold, wet summer’s day…

Read our review here

19.06.2015

A beautiful and inspiring poem by my father…

‘If’

If the tree had a voice

It would woo the wind to hug.

 

If the mountain could walk

It would bend to let slip the clouds

into its barren garden.

 

If the sea could swim

It would climb up the rivers and wash away our arrogance.

 

If the wheat had wings

It would fly to the ovens

of every village starved of rain.

 

If, brother, you could think

You would reverse the clock to the days of hope

And talk to the swallow for wisdom.

 

If black could choose

It would keep its yellow bile and blue terror

And let the red free for my brother to raise up.

 

Mohsen Shahmanesh, June 2015

14.o6.2015

This week we travelled to Munich for the unveiling of BMW’s latest luxury car, the 7 Series.

The venue was BMW Welt, a fantastical building of glass and steel that projects high into the clouds. It is an engineering triumph much like the car it hosted that night.

I was there in 2007 at the building’s opening. It was futuristic. It was beautiful. And I was happy to see that it has retained its drama, and in fact acquired a little more harmony with its city and surrounding buildings thanks to ageing.

The metal and glass are now a less shiny, a little grey and on this particular day the pallet merged beautifully with the Munich sky.

Read our review of the BMW 7 Series with insight from the design director Adrian van Hooydonk here.

05.06.2015

‘A museum is a magical thing,’ says David Chipperfield, ‘something that talks about collective desire. One shouldn’t underestimate the reach of these things.’ The architect was talking to Edwin Heathcote in the FT Arts & Life about his expansion scheme for the Royal Academy in London.

I was reminded of the quote last Sunday as we met up with old friends at the British Museum. We walked around, browsing room after room, observing the wonders of ancient Egypt, Persia, Europe…

The children were curious as were the adults and knowledge was shared amongst us – the adults learning as much from their offspring.

A little while ago, on a press trip a colleague got talking about virtual reality. A tech geek, he was hugely enthusiastic about a future whereby we wouldn’t have to leave the comfort of our living room, instead observing the treasures of say the British Museum through a helmet on our heads (OK so the design will hopefully be a little more upbeat than old sci-fi movies, but you get my gist!).

It saddened me to think of a world where we would forgo the real experience – the physicality of it, chance encounters, the unexpected – for the virtual. Of course we can programme all this in, but then the element of surprise no longer exists.

The British Museum was all the sweeter that Sunday as we had escaped the London rain, accompanied by old childhood friends from across the globe, observing the children boasting their knowledge of Jesus on the cross, the Egyptian mummies, the remains of Persepolis… forming friendships over old treasures.

30. 05. 2015

This week we experienced autonomous motoring on the roads of Shanghai in an Audi A7.

It was quite something being piloted by a computer. And yes images of Knight Rider did flash before us as we tried to stay calm and collected whilst local drivers overtook in all directions at terrifying speeds and without any warning.

As the automobile evolves further and further into becoming a big, complex tech gadget, autonomous motoring moves closer to reality.

Google and Apple have made promises, but Audi is the only company that is offering a full production driverless vehicle, in the flagship A8, in just two years time.

In Shanghai the company also showed us the ultimate driverless car, a conceptual electric supercar in the shape of the R8 e-tron.

Yes it may seem like a total contradiction to have a sports car that a computer drives. Yet piloted cars offer us the choice to drive or not, and only take control when it is a pleasure to do so.

Of course for fully autonomous driving to be safe there needs to be a higher degree of connectivity between car and cloud, car and car… and that’s another story.

Read our report from CES Asia here.

22.05.2015

I am very excited to be heading to Shanghai tomorrow for the International Consumer Electronics Show – CES Asia, China’s newest technology event.

Tech shows as such are becoming increasingly relevant as the boundaries between the various sectors blur further and further.

In terms of design, you cannot separate it from innovation. From an automotive perspective, Apple and Google have completely challenged the status quo – the way carmakers have been building vehicles for the last century.

With their autonomous cars, they have approached design and manufacturing from an entirely different angle – from a tech angle.

With one of the defining themes at CES being connectivity, it will be interesting to observe and report on how the more traditional carmakers have and will respond.
Nargess

15.05.2015

Earlier this week we flew to Rome to drive the latest Vignale car, a wonderful old company revived by its owners Ford.

This carrozziere, or coachbuilder, is very much part of the fabric of Turin where, since the beginning of the life of the motorcar, highly skilled metalworkers and upholsters created amazing metallic sculptures to ‘clothe’ the chassis.

Some of these companies remain alive today mainly thanks to the patronage of larger car marques, but sadly others like Bertone didn’t quite survive modern motoring.

It is therefore very exciting to see Ford revive the Vignale brand – breath life back into something that represented the emotional side of the motorcar.

Let’s hope this is more than just a commercial exercise and that the firm does justice to this once valued company.

We spoke with the head of European design, Chris Bird. Read the interview here.

08.05.2015

Happiness by design

A poster displayed in a bookshop read ‘Happiness by Design’.

As the UK elects a new prime minister, and the US prepare for presidential elections, one topic that seems to be visibly missing is happiness. I was contemplating this as I went to cast a vote last week.

Happiness could be achieved through a more balanced work/life pattern.

It could be helped through encouraging more intelligently designed living and working spaces that contribute to an easier, more enjoyable life.

It could mean creating a healthy society by encouraging social projects, creative energy, supporting independent business, valuing free thought…

I could mean creating a better future for our children by embracing sustainability beyond the obvious ‘tick-boxes’ and in a more holistic way.

After all, why shouldn’t life be a more pleasurable, happy experience?

01.05. 2015

This time two years ago I went on a yoga retreat. Nestled amongst one of the most enchanting spots in the English countryside, we practiced the asanas, the poses, but mainly we meditated.

Our mornings were spent in utter silence exploring our inner world, letting go of the ego, of the dramas, forgiving, understanding, opening our hearts, developing compassion and finding peace… and so connecting with our fellow retreaters on a very special level.

Thanks to our wonderful guide Aki, on May 1st I fell in love with yoga on an entirely different level. I had been practicing for almost a decade but it was no longer limited to the physical act. Instead I began a journey to understand that it is, as the name suggests, a unity of body and soul.

It has fundamentally altered my inner world but also shifted my attitude to the universe, to the world outside, to how I see things, understand people, analyse and, as a journalist, report. Who would have thought spending time upside down and sitting cross-legged could have such a profound impact on our thinking.

The modern world encourages anti-meditation. It doesn’t want us to sit cross-legged and stop thinking. It doesn’t want us to flip upside-down, falling over, giggling as we see the world in the magical light of youth. This does not serve a world filled with ego. This world needs us to be competitive, to have hate, be terrified and to destroy.

Since that life-enhancing weekend, I have had the privilege of meeting some incredible teachers who are full of wisdom, who have generous spirits, and give so much to each and every class.

The practice is ongoing – and that is the beauty of it. The goal in yoga isn’t to become the champion, but to champion exploring this complex world with the inquisitive, open eyes of a child. We learn that life is a privilege; that we need to be positive in spirit, heroic in action, compassionate and patient, free in mind and hugely, hugely imaginative.

Happy May Day!

24.4.2015

Is it a crime not to pay writers?

A writer’s career can be uncertain. This is especially the case if you are an independent freelancer. To an outsider the task may seem simple. After all, it is just a few typed words. Yet to write an article that is more than an opinion piece, more than just a blog, requires skill.

It takes imagination to come up with an idea. It takes time to research it. It takes contacts to land an interview with the relevant professional. It may require distant travel. Then there is the physical act of writing and editing, and increasingly these days, picture sourcing.

It is a skilled profession and it should receive a certain degree of respect, at least from publishers – the employers of writers. Alas this is not always the case.

Read the full (tragic) story her

20.4.2015

Pushing in… or joining in?

There is a growing concern that Salone del Mobile Milano is turning into a marketing operation with too many straightforward product launches. The main fairground at Rho certainly feels so. With designers Jasper Morrison nicknaming it ‘Salone del Marketing’, and Hella Jongerius launching her ‘Beyond the New’ manifesto attacking it for being a ‘cornucopia of pointless products and commercial hype’, it seems that all within the design community need to carefully examine their exhibits at Milan.

This includes car companies. Up until a few years ago the auto world came here as spectators. The week is dedicated to product and industrial design; the venue acts as a platform for discourse on design and speculative debate. It isn’t meant to be a stage for showcasing new cars.

With more and more car companies participating now, what is the right way, the correct etiquette, when it comes to exhibiting in Milan? Unveiling a car is definitely not the right approach, and designing objects that directly reference the cars also lacks imagination.

Instead, the concentration of designers, architects, artists and critics gathered here from all around the world provides the perfect space for a dialogue on urgent matters namely the state of mobility, and the role of the automobile for future generations.

This year BMW, MINI, Lexus, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford exhibited in Milan, and how they chose to be seen by the wider creative world speaks volumes.

Read the full report here.

10.04.2015

Painting was out of fashion in the 1990s. When I enrolled on a foundation course in art and design age 18, as an art form it was, you could say, discouraged.

The contemporary art world was consumed with more theatrical forms of expression than the humble paint on canvas. Alas I was too young and impressionable to march ahead with the only way I could express my inner world.

This came to mind whilst visiting Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Benefitting somewhat by his geographical location in California and the American West, Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was able to isolate himself from the schools of art that tended to be born and breed mainly on the more edgy East coast.

Read the review here

2.04.2015

The web has indirectly benefitted publishing. The huge influx of on-line magazines and blogs has forced the print world to buckle up, put every effort into creating books that not only offer information, but a physical experience.

We are hungry for some aspect of physicality, and only books, beautifully crafted, thoughtfully written, artfully illustrated and designed, can offer this.

Fornasetti, Practical Madness, just published by Thames & Hudson, is just such one. It celebrates the whimsical world of this popular Italian artist and designer. It is also a delicious book in looks, feel and subject that begs to be opened, read and the content devoured. Read the review here.

We recently put a post up on how we intent to start promoting select books from self-publishers. The subject will need to be in-line with what we do here, so topics on design, critical theory and creativity are all welcome. And the books need to offer something unique – something that the more accessible world of on-line cannot.

Please contact us with your thoughts.

31.03.2015

On a recent press trip abroad, trapped in a restaurant with total strangers, the only shared commonality our career choices, I was asked how I define myself.

This is a question that has come up time and time again – and it never ceases to baffle. I suspect they would like a full commitment to nation, class and career:

‘I am Iranian’ (or indeed ‘I am Persian’ for some extra oriental classification!). ‘I am British’. ‘I am an immigrant’. ‘I am a writer’. ‘I am a Londoner’… They would like concrete answers.

Yet, these are simply layers that have come to define us. They are meaningless. And their importance depends on where you come from.

For instance, in some parts of the world the first question someone would ask is how many sheep/goats/chickens you have. Other nations enquire about the number of children. In the west we obsess over careers, where we live, our education, our kids’ education.

It is pointless answering this question. Whatever you say, even if reactionary, will define you. Not answering this empty question also creates its own layer to define you.

The layers are abstract. They are meaningless.

I was examining this in relation to creativity. Last week I went to see an exhibition by the American artist Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy in London.

His work did not fit into any ‘ism’ – any concrete school of art. Being in the west coast in the 1950s and 60s allowed him the freedom not to conform to the confines of the dominant artistic movements then in New York, namely Abstract Expressionism.

How free was he to be creative. Just be himself. Just explore his own intuitive narrative. Just be.

27.03.2015

In 1957 Fiat created a car that came to symbolise the optimism of its time. Introduced on 4 July, the 500, or cinquino as it was lovingly dubbed, appealed to young Italians, the new generation of boys and girls who yearned for a more modern Italy.

The car was reincarnated in 2007, albeit with much added size and weight to comply with 21st Century safety regulations. It has been a huge commercial success for the marque helping to save the company from bankruptcy.

It doesn’t, however, make the same revolutionary stance as the nuova 500 did, and to be fair, Fiat hasn’t made such claims either.

Which is why it was fascinating speaking with Roberto Giolito, head of European design at the Fiat Group, earlier this week on how he would like to see the marque contributing radical ideas for today’s pressing needs.

The event was the unveiling of the 500 Vintage ’57, a retro car that salutes the cinquinto. Watching old footage from 1957, and browsing the Centro Storico Fiat museum in Turin, serves as a reminder of how urgently today’s world requires a similar foresight.

Will be interesting to see how Fiat and the team respond to this.

Read the full review here.

20.03.2015

نوروز مبارک

Tonight marks the very start of spring and the Nowruz celebration, the ancient Persian new year festivity meaning ‘new day’.

We wish all our supporters who celebrate this wonderful occasion, and those who don’t, a happiness …

12.03.2015

Savage Beauty

‘I have always loved the mechanics of nature,’ wrote Lee Alexander McQueen and his last fully realised collection, completed before his death in 2010, salutes nature.

Plato’s Atlantis was inspired by Darwin’s 1859 the Origins of Species with a narrative that concerns itself with devolution rather the evolution of mankind.

Here McQueen’s complex, digitally engineered prints, inspired by exotic sea creatures, meet intricate craftsmanship, meet technology, meet the digital age.

The collection was streamed live over the internet to entice dialogue between the creator and the consumer.

It is in many ways an expression of all his work, his avant-garde thinking.

And it fittingly marks the end to the intelligent, theatrical and visually exhilarating Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A Museum in London. Should not be missed.

Read the review here

05.03.2015

Calling out to exciting book publishers

Today is World Book Day and we are using this occasion to celebrate books in all their shapes and sizes. Contrary to predictions that the internet will erase our love and need for print, book publishing is on the rise pretty much everywhere around the world.

The FT Weekend ran an uplifting piece recently about Self Publish, Be Happy, the online platform for self-published artists’ books. The London-based initiative with a focus on photography books has been a huge success since it was set up five years ago with some of the more rare books fetching up to £400.

Digital technology has helped with the design and production of print, and social media is an excellent source for promotion and selling directly to the customer thus saving a great deal of cost for self-publishers.

It also allows for a certain amount of artistic freedom – and for some of us who have had to deal with book publishers, they tend to stick to a more conservative, tried-and-tested, possibly dated model.

We have a dedicated design bookshop on DT where we source and sell specialist books. Sadly, megastores like Amazon have hijacked this market – who can compete with their slashing prices and in a way we would not want to show a lack of respect for the work and passion that goes into publishing books by following the Amazon model.

For printed books to succeed, they need to be more special, more beautiful, more intelligent, more precious – and independent thinking.

Which brings me to our next venture – promoting select books from self-publishers. The subject will need to be in-line with what we do here, so topics on design, critical theory and creativity are all welcome.

We are keen to hear from you, so please contact me at Nargess@me.com.

02.03.2015

Retaining drama

The motoring world has turned its gaze towards Geneva as the annual motor show kicks off tomorrow.

Sadly, gone are the days when shows like this promised a number of exciting surprise debuts.

Nowadays most unveils are strategically leaked in the weeks leading to the event leaving little to entice the imagination on the day.

This year, though, Bentley has been able to keep a little old school drama with the EXP 10 Speed 6 coupé, announced tonight at the annual Volkswagen Group event and reviewed here.

I was lucky to be possibly the only journalist who was given access to this exciting new concept months before the event.

Having spent an afternoon in the company of the gifted and super charming design director Luc Donckerwolke, I also got to understand the significance of this car and what it means to brand Bentley going forward.

Have a read and a browse through the gallery.

24.02.2015

Old world. New world

We have been traveling in India, exploring a nation that is at once ancient and modern. Here the high-tech resides effortlessly with old world customs – there are after all few places in the world where you can witness the latest European premium cars driving side-by-side the Tata Nano ‘people’s’ car, scooters carrying entire families, tiny colourful toy-like tuk-tuks whilst half a dozen cows stroll by. There is much chaos and some order, and it somehow works.

India fascinates the senses from the moment you arrive at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)’s impressive Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, the modern structure and its ornamentations wonderfully expressing this sense of duality. It continues as you navigate the craziness that is Mumbai…

Returning to Europe feels almost bland. Our mature economies have too much order perhaps… everything feels too calculated, too clinical, too engineered. The energy that exists in emerging economies is missing. Chaos is missing. Perhaps you need a certain degree of craziness for creativity to flourish.

06.02.2015 

Design history through a cocktail

A new world has opened up to us through a project we’ve been involved with. The Life Negroni is a book about a classic Italian cocktail. It is also the story of so many other elements, including history, people, art, design and branding – the components that have created this drink. And it has been a fascinating journey. But more on the full project later when published in the spring.

In terms of design history, two of the most intriguing companies we have come across on our journey have been Campari and Martini & Rossi. Campari is an institution – in Milan, the liquid hijacks the fashionista city’s evening aperitivo ritual, its hot red hue decorating almost every bar in town.

Read the stories here

01.02.2015

Challenged by convention

I was one of the first to drive and review the BMW i3. The designers of this all-electric car, one envisaged to pave the way for modern urban driving, had spoken at length with me about their intentions for this and the high-performance i8 sibling.

The cars were designed as an architect would a building – to direct occupant behaviour. Much the same way a building can impact on how we interact (think of some of the latest criticism of open-plan offices) cars, theoretically, should be able to do the same.

We all know a hot red sports car will entice a little aggression – it is part of its animalistic charm. In the same way, a car that is meant to enhance a sustainable lifestyle needs to invite a calmer, a more compassionate driver behaviour.

And driving the i3 with a colleague through London’s grimmest inner city traffic that day we both felt a sense of calm, a sense of pride at being part of a bigger picture.

The interior design of the car, the abundance of light streaming through, the natural materials and fabric, the silence, the sheer silence from the lack of a conventional engine, makes you feel at once connected to the outer world and responsible towards other road users.

In the last few weeks I’ve spotted a great number of i3s in and around our neighbourhood, driven mainly by youthful, affluent professionals – the kind of demographic group BMW had in mind.

This week, shaken from a car collision involving a London black cab crashing violently into the back of my car forcing me straight into the Range Rover in front (note, neither vehicles were damaged, whilst my poor delicate BMW is currently severely sick in hospital), rushing to the hospital I came face-to-face with an i3 at a crossing.

The driver looked at me. I met her eyes with a smile. She aggressively moved forward almost knocking me over! Alas, not all driver behaviour can be tamed – not even with the best of design intentions.

Read our review of the i3 and the i8, and an interview with the designer Benoit Jacob discussing BMW’s electric i cars.

23.01.2015

The love of print

We’re very fortunate here at DT in that we get a wide variety of books sent to review. Almost every week a parcel arrives. It is exciting to tear open the box, discover the treasure inside, smell that wonderful aroma of brand new print…

We get to read books that we possibly wouldn’t have selected, or known about. It also forces us to read perhaps more than we would volunteer to do so!

At the same time, reviewing books inspires you to soak it up in a completely different way than you would if reading for pure leisure.

This was put to the test recently when I came to review The Afterlife of Emerson Tang. Unlike all the others on the pages of DT, this is a novel – albeit one that connects the world of fiction and design.

It is also written by a colleague who I respect tremendously, putting all the more pressure on being true to her work and open to my own reactions and thoughts.

This is an immensely enjoyable book that is wonderfully crafted raising all sorts of ideas on life, death, the meaning of design – and it was therefore effortless to review.

In pure contrast, our latest review is of Archibet. This is fabulous frivolous fun – an alphabet book for adults paying tribute to some of the world’s most pioneering architects.

It is projects like these that make life all the more exciting.

09. 01. 2015

Defined through art

I read an interesting column over the weekend by Peter Aspden in the FT on the role of the arts in this century.

‘Of all issues, it is identity – personal, social, national, religious – which require the most nuanced thinking in today’s world,’ he argues.

Can the arts help us understand who we are as human beings, help us define ourselves, discover what our purpose is in this complex world?

Whereas politics talks in a direct, an often crude language designed to be understood by a wide audience, whilst politicians avoid abstract and complex issues, artists live for complexity and deliver a more ambiguous dialogue.

The concerns of the 21st century perhaps require a more subtle response.

Art, he writes, is there ‘to find questions where there appears to be certainty, to open up avenues of inquiry amid the cul-de-sac of calcified thinking and prejudice.’

Having the arts feed our imagination, help us subtly explore the world around us, is a necessity of life.

Art, design, literature, music, dance… these are what makes the imaginative universe that defines us as individuals and as a collective.

Aspden concludes: ‘Let them (politicians) put aside their microwaved answers to complicated issues, and engage with a real world that is thirsty for a deeper level of political response.’

We agree.

01.01.15

It is that time of the year when you feel compelled to be reflective. What was it about 2014 that stood out?

On a personal level, it has been a year of variety, of extremely exciting assignments, traveling to new places, discovery… and of learning, learning a lot.

Working on two books – one a story of a cocktail, the other a children’s illustration book that couldn’t be further apart – has opened up new worlds, hugely exciting ones at that… and I cannot wait to dive deeper.

On a more general level, 2014 has been a year when we have come to question how we digest information. In previous years, as social networking sites began to take over our lives, and print magazines saw subscription fall in favour of digital publishing, it seemed like the world as we know it was about to come to an abrupt end.

Yet we seem to be finding a balance. Print will not die. That we now know. In fact there seems to be more newly launched print magazines than ever before.

What it has had to do is to re-invent itself – be reflective. The old formula doesn’t make sense anymore. Weekly magazines that have so little to offer apart from cheap copy and bad design are for the memory books.

Print has to be precious to compete with digital. This means highly researched, meaty features. It means original photography and art. It means beautifully crafted books and magazines.

Digital will never be able to replace the sheer touch, the feel, smell… the collectable nature of good print, and print can never compete with the speed of digital.

I’m very much looking forward to 2015 when new projects will begin (starting with a gastronomic-themed book) and a whole other world will open up.

Thank you for your support and wishing you a Happy New Year.

29.12.14

If in London during the festivities it is really worth visiting Guy Bourdin: Image-Maker at Somerset House.

This is the largest UK retrospective of the French fashion photographer and artist who rose to fame in the 1970s for his provocative work.

In Bourdin’s fashion photography the product is secondary to the image. He almost decorates the space around his models – his images are concerned with this backdrop, the stage.

The stills are meticulously choreographed. There is a perceived narrative, creating tension between the subject and the backdrop. This combined with his brilliant use of vivid, almost hyperreal colours makes for a fantastically theatrical impact that is at once stylish and playful… and in some cases pretty evocative.

Have a look at some of the photographs published here.

19.12.14

Designing cars is tricky business. It typically takes five years from concept stage to production car, and the product needs to be relevant for a further five or so years.

The car is so much part of our landscape – visible in our daily lives. It takes an extra dose of planning, of predicting future trends, for car designers. As is evident with some of the cars on the road, this isn’t always a successful attempt either. Their work isn’t easy especially now that the automobile has somewhat lost its lustre.

It is therefore good to see a car company like Audi realising that its once forward design is in need of a little boost. The products were beginning to look a little too alike – all perfectly sculpted metal, sharply chiselled, yet everyone else on the premium ladder had caught up and if you want to be ahead of the gang, you have to lead and be more radical.

The Prologue concept car is a design study that explores the evolution in Audi design. We were in Milan last week to view the car up close and interview Marc Lichte, the new chief of design who penned the car. Read the interview here.

15.12.14

Much of my work involves speaking with designers and architects, and I am always intrigued to know what inspires them. The curious thing is that in most cases this is far too predictable. A few minutes into the conversation, and often a quick glance at the clothing particularly accessories, and my mind starts playing guessing games.

They will often reference the Bauhaus before reeling off a list of the top designers working today – Patricia Urquiola, Konstantin Grcic, Hella Jongerius, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec…

There isn’t anything wrong with appreciating good, innovative design, but what’s interesting is that inspiration seldom comes from outside the comforts of their world.

Car designers will almost always talk of how extreme skiing, sailing and racing inspires… I would just love it if one day someone would startle me and say they’ve secretly wanted to dance, be the next Billy Elliot, have taken to midnight graffiti on the subway.

Of course it would be wrong to make a generalisation about all creatives. Some interviewees have opened my eyes to a new world, new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking. Yet far too many are too closeted in the safe world of design to dare look outside and be truly challenging.

6.12.14

Someone I respect very much in the industry told me he liked the idea of design ‘as an expression of the pleasure principle’. He was referring to The Life Negroni – a book I’ve just completed.

I like this phrase very much. It got me thinking about what design means to us. It is an overused word these days, but in its true context, in its real form, good, thoughtful, respectful design adds pleasure to our lives. It makes our daily existence, in this flawed world, just that little bit more pleasurable.

This also got me thinking about meditation, and bear with me on this one. I meditate, some days with more success than others. Meditation, to me, is to find space where the mind can find peace, where the imagination can explore the beauty in people and places.

Viewing design… exploring innovative ideas is almost meditative. There is nothing quite like understanding and exploring the world around us. It is an expression of the pleasure principle.

27.11.14

I’m attempting to write and illustrate a children’s book. It is a task so far removed from my daily writing yet it poses similar questions, mainly of how to interact and engage with an audience.

It makes very little difference if readers are five to seven year olds, or 20 to 40 year olds (as is the average age of our readers here) – you still need to speak their language.

So, in simple terms, I’ve had to go back to the future and become six. Although back to the future is possibly the wrong term as I’ve had to become six in 2014, which is no easy task!

The story involves a road trip of sorts (after all, given my love of cars and driving, it would be so wrong otherwise), and a journey of discovering the world… the many cultures that inhabit it.

Ultimately it is celebration of our contemporary world, of being part of this wonderfully diverse, international existence.

In this context it isn’t too far removed from what I do on a daily basis. After all, design is an international language; real creativity is about sharing ideas across borders, continents, time…

7.11.14

Alexander McQueen was one of the most imaginative and talented fashion designers of our time, challenging the boundaries of art and fashion, combining his profound grasp of tailoring, of craftsmanship, with the latest technology.

There was something of a contemporary Elsa Schiaparelli about McQueen in the way he infused a sense of fun, an almost surrealist approach, to his work yet the clothes were always beautifully crafted and flattering.

Sadly with the way our art education is heading in this country, with high college fees where money seems to talk louder than original thinking, it is difficult to imagine talents like McQueen or indeed his Saint Martins fashion school alumni springing up today.

Perhaps exhibitions like London’s V&A upcoming Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty will help inspire the new generation. Read our preview here

19.11.14

It has been a quiet week at DT as we make some final changes to The Life Negroni, the book we’ve been working on that captures the allure of this classic cocktail.

It has been a fascinating journey, one that at first glance seemed a million miles away from our normal activity of visiting design shows, interviewing creatives… yet an as it happens, our experience of researching the book hasn’t been so different.

The journey that started in May took us initially to Florence, the birthplace of this drink (and there is a nice little twist to this), then to Milan and Turin… back to London, New York and well all over… where we have visited the distilleries that make the ingredients, the suppliers who create the glasses, the ice, the fields that produce the oranges… and the specialists who imaginatively combine these for their unique compositions.

It really isn’t a million miles away from designing objects. The end product certainly provides a similar pleasure, if so for only a few moments.

The Life Negroni is now with our art team at Spinach

1.11.14

Surfboards conjure up a pretty exciting picture… the brilliant sun, vast blue seas… the sheer thrill, and danger, of riding the waves, of conquering the ocean and being one with the sea. You don’t really get much sexier.

But like most good things in life, surfing too has become a victim of commercialisation, the board fighting to maintain its integrity.

This is the premise of Surf Craft, Design and the Culture of Board Riding, the latest book by MIT Press, reviewed here.

30.8.14

I wonderful book was sent to us recently for review. ‘Cape Cod Modern: Mid-Century Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape’ tells the story of how a remote area became so significant in the evolution of Modernism.

This is the story of some of the most influential European architects, designers and intellectuals, including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer and László Moholy-Nagy, and their response to American Modernism, to the Outer Cape landscape and fishing villages.

Having fled politically unstable Europe in the late 30s, the former Bauhaus members brought to America their take on Modernism at the same time absorbing their new homeland’s hunger for change. This was an America so very different to now; a country that encouraged intellectual growth, championed creative thinking.

It is a fascinating read and beautifully photographed. Read the review here.

17.8.14

Co-founder of OMA, architect/urban-planner/philosopher, Pritzker-prize winner Rem Koolhaas is known as much for his architectural creations as for being outspoken on the role of architecture. On his 68th birthday Archdaily has collected some of his classic quotes. We particularly like these two:

When asked if he has a certain aspiration, he told Index Magazine in 2000: ‘It’s very simple and it has nothing to do with identifiable goals. It is to keep thinking about what architecture can be, in whatever form. That is an answer, isn’t it?… continuity of thinking in whatever form, around whatever subject, is the real ambition.’

And on New York City to Wired in 2003: ‘Zero tolerance is a deadly mantra for a metropolis: What is a city if not a space of maximum license?’

The architecture world could do with more interesting characters like him.

Happy birthday Rem Koolhaas.

8.8.14

We love the House for Essex, the latest project in the Living Architecture series by FAT Architecture and Grayson Perry. The dynamic duo have crated a magical Hansel and Gretel-esque creation. It overlooks the Stour estuary in north Essex, an area not so far from London, but a world apart from this metropolis. The two are responding intelligently to their environment and the Living Architecture ethos of encouraging the regular person to engage with modern architecture by letting these houses as short let holiday homes. We can’t wait to see the end product later in the year.

Read a preview here.

25.7.14

We visited Campari recently researching for a book I’m editing, The Life Negroni. One of the highlights was being taken around Galleria Campari – a wonderful space designed by architect Mario Botta.

It is exciting to witness how Davide Campari was so ahead of his time in truly understanding the power of design and branding. He had such strong brand vision. Davide understood the power of design, of advertising, of collaborating with interesting, and at times radical and controversial (Italian Futurists) artists, designers and filmmakers.

9.6.14

Sustainable driving is about much more than saving energy. Sadly most carmakers are so focused on numbers, on reducing carbon and essentially convincing buyers of the money-saving side of electric and hybrid cars that they have lost sight of what it means to be truly sustainable.

Driver behaviour, how we interact with other road uses, is a crucial component. A high-performance sports car begs you to be a little more aggressive, and it encourages others to react more negatively.

It’s up to this generation of car designers to consider the behaviour of the people driving these cars. This is something BMW managed to achieve with the electric i3 where you feel responsible for your immediate environment. Driving the car’s new sibling, the i8 high-performance car, I’m intrigued as to how even in such a powerful machine, my attitude, reactions are directed through design.

This is a hybrid-electric car where you can choose to ride on an all-electric motor in the city, or kick the throttle for a more traditional sports car feel. The two experiences have an impact on your behaviour yet the interior environment somehow takes the aggression out of the driver.

The truth is our desire for speed will not wane, but this shouldn’t mean there is no place for sports cars in the age of sustainability. You just have to create them more intelligently – as with this fantastic new car. As the designer Benoit Jacob says: ‘The i8 delivers a lot with very little emissions, but with great if not better emotion.’

Read more here.

1.6.14

‘We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire…’ wrote Marinetti in the 1909 Futurist manifesto.

And there is something at once modern, advanced, sexy, almost superhuman about speed. It symbolises progress. It is kind of sexy. We do live in a world where concerns over sustainability have perhaps shadowed speed, but you can’t help applaud it.

This was my thought over the weekend as we attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The annual hill climb celebrates speed in its rawest form and it is quite spectacular watching the parade of exotic cars, as RAF Red Arrows perform some stunning air acrobatics over the picturesque Goodwood House.

Read about Jaguar Project 7 here.

9.5.14

We’re on the charming little island of Formentera where apart from the odd hire car, tourists and locals get around on small scooters and bicycles. Most of the island caters for cyclists, with wide cycle lanes running along the main roads. It is simply fantastic experiencing this island by bicycle – it slows down the pace and you get to see, smell everything on a different level.

Design Talks likes its cars though, the new, the classic and the exciting. And we’ve just published a little road trip we did in the new Mini hatch on an island not so far from here. Mallorca shares the same sea, yet the vibe couldn’t be more different

We’re also across the water from Ibiza, yet these Balearic islands are worlds apart. Life is slow paced here – most of the food comes from the sea, and the herbs are mainly local as we discovered foraging around the hills in search of botanicals to experiment for the book we’re writing on the Negroni cocktail…

But this is an entirely different story to be told soon when the book is published by the end of the summer.

31.5.14

‘Fundamentals’ will guide this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. The curator, provocative architect Rem Koolhaas, feels the biennale needs to move away from portraying purely contemporary work.

‘This time it will be about architecture, not architects,’ he said at a press gathering at the Italian Cultural Institute earlier this year. He said he’d been asked to direct it a number of times before, but I held out for two conditions: ‘That I have a year and a half to plan it, and that I can sever all connections with contemporary architecture,’ which he feels is ‘not in particularly good health’.

Koolhaas says Venice should observe history, and try to analyse where architecture finds itself today, as well as speculate on its future. Should be an intriguing biennale this year. Read our preview here.

16.5.14

There’s much debate these days as to the relevance of print in the age of digital. Paper books are obsolete, say the anti-print brigade, claiming that the internet’s information stream, and the practicality of digital book and magazines will wipe out the traditional printed press.

A new book arrived at Design Talks the other day that is living proofs that printed books, when created intelligently, can still have an advantage over digital.

Wa, The Essence of Japanese Design is made with craft paper, featuring a cover that evokes traditional Japanese lacquer, and is bound in the ancient Japanese method. This is a beautiful object in its own right. Touching the cover, opening the pages shows how visceral our relationship can be with paper, ink and the printed book.

8.5.14

The journey to research for the book The Life Negroni took us to Italy last week to meet Campari in Milan and the (disputed) birth of the Negroni drink in Florence. This was an inspiring road trip where we met some people from the world of mixology, hotels and hospitality, design and branding – worlds that are intimately linked.

One of the highlights was visiting the Campari headquarters at the historic production site on the outskirts of Milan, originally created by the company founder’s son Davide Campari in 1904. Parts of the building were restored and a new HQ and Galleria Campari constructed by architect Mario Botta in 2009.

This is a fascinating place that tells the story of a brand that is very much at the heart of Milan. Come aperitivo time, when the city stops work to enjoy a slow pre dinner drink, all you see is a sea of this vividly coloured red spirit.

The company has collaborated through the years with artists, designers and filmmakers creating some pretty avant-garde work. Galleria Campari features work by Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero, Marcello Nizzoli who designed the1950 Lettera 22 portable typewriters for Olivetti, American graphic designer Milton Glaser best known for the I ? NY logo, and filmmaker Federico Fellini. Today Campari works with creatives such as Matteo Thun, Tobias Rehberger and Markus Benesch.

It is exciting to witness how Davide Campari was so ahead of his time in truly understanding the power of design and branding.

Read our story of Campari here.

30.4.14

I’m helping research for a book on a very special cocktail the Negroni – and the journey is intriguing. We’re encountering people with an incredible passion for their craft. For instance master mixologist Tony Conigliaro who uses molecular mixology in cocktails at his London Drink Factory research and development laboratory. He talked of the science behind his cocktails, and designing the perfect drink through smell, sight – even music.

Later we met with Sam Galsworthy who with his childhood friend Fairfax Hall set up Sipsmith, one of the first of the new wave of artisan distilleries, five years ago. The premise in west London is small and intimate. Here they make very special hand-made spirits in copper pot stills that helps with the purity of the drinks. And these bespoke giant vessels look incredible.

When you make something – anything be it cloths, food or drinks, by hand, in small batches, the quality is simply better. Sam notes that ‘when you slow down, savour, take more time and care and attention – ultimately show more passion’ your product, much like these beautifully bottled spirits, tastes better because they have love and history and a story to tell.

We live in a world that is highly connected, yet we have no real connection with the food we eat, the products we buy, their origin, their story. We need to connect with them so that they have value. And it is truly wonderful to see artisans from all spheres of life embracing this concept.

We’re off to Italy this week, on a road trip of sorts to discover more about the history, the stories old and new that make the Negroni such a classic cocktail.

Keep up-to-date on book here.

10.4.14

Italy seduces the senses through its art and architecture, design, fashion, food, even language. Everything is so voluptuous, so desirable and so utterly Italian.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014, just opened at London’s V&A museum, tells the story of Italian fashion, tracing its history from post war Italy through the glamorous 50s and 60s, and the fashion powerhouse that it has evolved into today.

Writing this from Milan, where the annual design week is in full swing, it’s obvious that fashion is so instinctive a part of Italian culture.

1.4.14

Architect Bjarke Ingels, founder of Danish firm BIG, said something that resonated with me a little while ago. He used the term ‘hedonistic sustainability’ to describe his attitude and the firm’s work – and I’ve been thinking about this since.

BIG do brave work, almost always with a sustainability angle. Denmark seems more open to some of these projects like his 8 House but the firm has proposed innovative ideas worldwide that look at sustainability not in isolation, as something ‘green’ or simply ecological, but in its wider sense of better living and a more caring way of life that doesn’t have to be drab, dull, but can be sexy and desirable, even fun.

‘Hedonistic sustainability’ is an excellent phrase that needs to be embraced and incorporated in all areas – architecture, cars, industrial design and our daily lives.

24.3.14

We live fast lives. Everything has to be instantaneous. We demand a constant flow of information, a quick click to do our shopping, apps to turn our clumsy snapshots into photographic marvels. Process has given away to instant gratification and we are losing a great deal as a result.

I thought of this the other day when I was offered a Nespresso. The Nespresso is essentially a modern day instant coffee – the Nescafe Gold for the international set. You are told what flavour to expect from the pretty coloured capsules. You do not see the substance until a liquid emerges almost by magic into your cup. You feel no connection to the coffee – it has no history, no backstory, it has no soul.

It is the process that makes drinking coffee such an intense pleasure. This begins with sourcing the perfect beans. Having them weighed and priced over a chat with the sales person perhaps about the origin of the coffee beans. Taking them home. Grinding them, spooning the soft granules into the espresso maker. Turning the gas on. Standing by, the aroma of coffee brewing as you listen intently waiting on standby ready to take it off the heat at that precise moment before the coffee burns. Pouring the dark liquid into a cup as the room fills with the sweet smell of coffee.

It seems to me that Nespresso has become a metaphor for the new instant world, championed by Nespressonists. Perhaps we need to demand a little less instant gratification and try to enjoy all the little steps that make every part of our lives just that much more valuable.

14.3.14

I love the idea of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Hyde Park. For three months in the summer Londoners are treated to an often-intriguing temporary structure that is left for us to love, hate, engage with, meet friends in, picnic around … it opens up dialogue and it is an exciting project. It is also hugely popular. Sou Fujimoto’s cloud-like structure last year, for instance, was visited by almost 200,000 people.

This year’s Pavilion has been handed to Chilean architect Smiljan Radic and from the teaser images we’ve seen it looks to be one of the most interesting ones in recent years… read our report just published here.

5.3.14

It is going to take some time to change the stereotype view of ‘made in China’ – to erase the idea that products created in China are poorly made and cheap imitations.

Our on-going series designed in China will hopefully open up debate in this area. We’ve teamed up with Bundshop, an interesting Chinese organisation, to deliver a series of interviews with some of the most pioneering young designers working there today.

What’s fascinating is how diverse this group is. We’ve interviewed some sober, thoughtful product designers, and we’ve spoken with artists with a very contemporary Chinese aesthetic. Have a read of our latest interview with Wang I Chao, a toy designer who is taking us for a trip back to the imaginative and innocent world of childhood.

China is developing at an astonishing rate and these interviews are an interesting insight into this very exciting nation.

If you are a designer working in China, we are always keen to hear from you, see your work and listen to your ideas. Email us here at nargess@me.com.

14.2.14

Can the car be more than a vehicle that takes you from A to B? This has been a subject much discussed in recent years. I remember talking endlessly with Chris Bangle, the former design boss at BMW, on this very subject – something that has been at the core of his design thinking (remember GINA?) – at a time when few car companies dared or even cared to venture into anything that signified a real change from the conventional automobile. There is more urgency now to address these issues and we’re seeing some interesting ideas floating around, and a degree of commitment from some of the larger manufactures.

Still, we’re a long way off from truly shifting our mentality. It should be up to the emerging generation of car designers to look at the profession as more than merely refining surfaces and creating yet another metallic object for individual consumption. It all feels so tired. Thankfully there are some who are attempting to shift the paradigm.

7.2.14

The age of the electronic vehicle deserves its own sound. This is the premise behind an initiative Sonic Movement that’s setting out to discover a sound that isn’t just about warning other road users, but something that adds to the urban landscape.

Legislation will soon dictate that electric cars should produce a noise. What we’re seeing though are sounds that are imprisoned by what we assume a car should sound like – fake Ferrari engine notes or sounds that depict speed.

But what if we look at it from an entirely different angle to discover the aesthetics of sound and the responsiveness, how the car can respond to the city around it through sounds….

7.2.14

Is design purely about problem solving. Is its task to make things more beautiful, more aesthetically pleasing, more practical, more appealing or should design also act as critique – agitate even? This is the premise behind an intriguing book I’m currently reading Speculative Everything.

Design has increasingly become commercialised and it feels more and more passive to technology. It goes without saying that if you operate within the commercial world, no matter how creative, how rebellious, it will limit your imagination.

But perhaps what we’re lacking is the kind of radical design thinking that can happen outside the confines of reality.

Authors Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby call this ‘critical design’ – a term they coined in the mid 90s from their frustration at the uncritical drive behind technological progress.

The book argues that there is the need for more pluralism – to place design speculation in relation to futurology, speculative culture including literature, cinema, fine art and radical social sciences. What they mean is design that opposes the status quo. It isn’t negative for the sake of it, contrary or opinionated commentary – but offers real solutions a world that may or may not exist.

It thrives on the imagination and can encourage a free flow of thinking thus helping to redefine our relationship with reality. It is about dealing with un-reality. This isn’t about trying to pin the future down, Dunne and Raby argue, but understanding the possible futures and using them as tools to better understand the present and therefore open up discourse on the future.

‘If something is conceptual,’ they write, ‘it is only an idea, but that is missing the point. It is because it is an idea that it is important.’

Read the review here.

22.1.14

Electrification. We’ve been told that this will be the next phase in personal mobility for some time. We’ve been promised interesting cars, thoughtfully designed cars, relevant cars that are propelled by an electric motor, for some time. Some of, us lucky to be taken behind the scenes, have even seen some intriguing visions for electric cars for some years. Yet until recently all these have been exactly that – visions.

Carmakers are not entirely to be blamed. A real infrastructure in most counties, even in the highly developed world, has simply not existed. Government incentives have been less than inspiring and without a strong road presence of charging zones and all the other furniture that completes electric driving, there seemed no real urgency to develop these visions.

Until now. We have already seen a number of decent electric cars on the road from the Nissan Leaf to the Renault Zoe, and we drove and reviewed BMW’s rather special i3 at the end of last year. The latest edition to lighten up our roads soon is the Volkswagen e-up.

Where the i3 is a brilliantly crafted machine that is perhaps not for everyone, the e-up is a car precisely for the masses. Much like its gasoline-powered sibling, this tiny city car has been envisaged and created with a wider world in mind. And the electric e-up holds the same promise of universal – and in this case – electric mobility.

4.1.14

Welcome to the New Year.

The festive season allows for the opportunity to be introspective, to reflect on the year gone, the events that happened, theories that were formulated, questions raised decisions made, or not made… and 2013 was certainly a year full of unanswered questions.

It was a year when we really started questioning ‘peep culture’, a world that is heading towards some kind of bizarre mass intimacy through endless social media.

We questioned how information is communicated, and how much is actually needed to make this a better world. We also questioned gender stereotypes, which seem a little dated in a world where most of us carry powerful computers in our pockets and 3D printed human organs aren’t that far from reality.

In a report in Wired magazine, actress Natasha McElhone spoke of fighting gender objectification, of reinventing gender roles. I read the report with interest as I did the magazine with its informed reports on technology. As I flicked through – possibly due to reading McElhone’s words – I became more and more aware of how focused the publication is on male readers.

Wired talks about technology in an intelligent way – it isn’t Stuff, or any of the other gadget magazines blatantly hawking the male pocket. So why the clear gender focus? Most of the ads are aimed at men, yet in today’s world women have as much interest in the content in Wired as men.

McElhone spoke of a world where colour-coded children’s toys – pink for girls, blue for boys. Do magazine for grown adults also need to be colour coded?

Much of my writing is focused on cars. This is a blatantly sexist industry where few women make it to the Board, and even in design studios hardly any can be spotted in senior positions. I am amongst a handful of female journalists and the numbers are not growing despite the fact that we all drive cars.

I’m looking forward to 2014 when we can begin to answer some of last year’s unanswered questions. The world is moving fast but we are still struggling with some of the most basic and fundamental issues including the question of gender identity.

Wishing you a happy 2014.

Nargess

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