Toying with tradition might as well be part of Christopher Jenner’s job description. Just this year, the London-based designer revived two centuries-old mediums. He modernized Yixing ceramics, a Chinese craft that dates to the ninth century, with a new line and installation at Salone del Mobile. And next week at London Design Festival, Jenner launches a silverware collection with E&Co, which supplied the flatware on the Titanic. He's created products and interiors for a host of other heritage brands, including luggage manufacturer Globe-Trotter and perfume makers Atkinsons 1799 and Penhaligon’s. While respecting the history and craft behind these companies, Jenner—who was the creative director of Eurostar—is an expert at using technology and branding to make what’s old feel new again.
Docservis: Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your work?
Christopher Jenner: I grew up in South Africa, towards the end of apartheid. My school, the Johannesburg School of Art, was smack dab in the middle of the city, and we would skip school to attend massive political marches with Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela. It was an electric time, filled with potential and change. This appreciation of change and of respect of difference are values I try to accommodate in my work and outlook.
ID: You’ve been focused on tableware this year. What’s it like working on this scale?
CJ: Products require a more human perspective, which is clearly evident in their function and form. My approach is therefore more rational, which is a direct contrast to our interior projects, which tend be focused on narrative.
ID: What kind of research have you been doing to develop these products?
CJ: Research is a fundamental part of our process. In our collaborations with Yixing Ceramics and E&Co, an in-depth discovery phase helped us appreciate the ancient techniques behind Chinese ceramics and English silverware, respectively. Both of these projects were seen as an opportunity to reposition classic brands in a modern context. We wanted to achieve this by designing products that are both relevant in the post-consumer society and that appeal to our longing for a sense of identity.
ID: Craft and technology are themes that come up in your work. How are you merging these concepts in your practice?
CJ: In the western world, we tend to view craft through the lens of nostalgia. The aim of our studio is to reverse this tendency and to make craftsmanship a tangible part of the everyday experience. For craft to thrive and prosper into the future, we see immense potential in its embrace of technology. The starting point for this is the use of software, which we employ extensively to explore the potential relationship between form and material.
ID: What are a few recent projects?
CJ: The E&Co line, launching at London Design Festival, is a culmination of two years of work. The project, hosted by Thomas Goode and Co. of Mayfair, will include an epicurean experience by food designers Studio Appetite.
A couple of weeks later, we launch a new interior project with Atkinsons 1799, a Georgian perfumer who will return to Mayfair after an absence of 100 years. The four-story Maison will feature a barber shop, a boutique, a salon, and an office space.
ID: Which project are you most proud of?
CJ: Our Rush chair developed in collaboration with Felicity Irons. From my first meeting with Felicity in her barn in Bedfordshire to presenting the chair in Porto Cervo with Gallery Fumi, each step was an immense learning process. In the end, we created a truly unique piece of furniture that drew attention towards a craft technique that few people were familiar with. Read more.
ID: Which person, place, or thing—inside the industry or out—inspires you?
CJ: The Cederberg. It’s a strikingly beautiful mountain range north of Cape Town, dominated by incredible sandstone formations, primitive vegetation, and the most spectacular night sky.
ID: Pencil, pen, or computer?
CJ: Always a pen. There’s no turning back once that nib hits the paper.
ID: Picture books or Pinterest?
CJ: Google Images.
ID: A secret source you’re willing to share?
CJ: James Gilbert and Son, the last remaining brass weaver in England.
View the slideshow for more examples of Jenner's work.