In our latest Ideas Issue, our radar has honed in on Christopher Jenner (page 31). While he might look like the lovechild of Don Draper and Tom Ford, jet around the globe the same way the rest of us go to the supermarket, have bucket loads of creativity and run a multidisciplinary design studio from London (counting some of the world’s most important brands as clients), a chat with this Cape Town ex-pat quickly reveals an engaging fella with a wicked laugh who is as interesting to speak to as he is delightful. Not to mention just as enamoured with his hometown as before. On the cusp of launching his first furniture collection, Swell, at the Milan Furniture Fair in April, we spent some getting-to-know-you-time with this rising design star.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a designer? It took awhile for it all to fall into place. It was more of a culmination of events and opportunities. I knew I always wanted to design furniture, but getting there was not a clear path.
Do you remember that moment when you first felt that you’d ‘made it’? I can’t imagine any true designer ever feels they’ve ‘made it‘. The creative process is too demanding and one is never truly satisfied, perfection remains an endless ideal.
You studied industrial design but now are the epitome of the multi-disciplinary designer, crossing over from product to interior design, furniture design to interior architecture and branding design. How did this evolve? To get a foothold in the world of design, I needed to have a real understanding of brands and the branding process. Most brands sell a lifestyle with multiple points of access, and this naturally provided the opportunities to design on multiple levels. Additionally, my studio pursues our own self-funded projects, so we can push design in ways that we can’t in the commercial world.
Any upcoming projects that you’re especially pleased or exited about? We are currently working towards our global launch at the world’s most important design show in Milan (the Salone Internazionale del Mobile or the Milan Furniture Fair), where we are planning something very special which we trust will firmly position our studio as one of the key global players in the design community.
Tell us a bit about your new furniture range: the influences, the materials, the design process? Was it nerve-wracking deciding to show at Milan? ‘Swell’ is an imaginative and playful refuge away from the weightiness of the current global mood. This collection is concerned with the simple appeal of delightful objects. It does not demand a superior appreciation of taste. Its charm lies within the combination of naivety and sophisticated form and colour. The toy-like objects take inspiration from childhood play, English carriages and classic furniture. Form and shape are achieved via deep buttoning work, ergonomic pattering and premium finishes to redefine our relationship with traditional craftmanship. The application of extensive technological manufacturing processes from cutting edge CNC, moulding and lathing achieves impossibly complicated structures to deliver a contemporary expression of material perfection. Traditional glass blowing techniques applied in magical and challenging applications define the glass elements. Metallic varnishes, enchanting powders and a million bubbles stir the material cauldron. Colour presentation harnesses the power of electromagnetic light radiation on the human mind. Complimentary combinations convey mood-changing responses in the viewer.
What would you love to design? A yacht, a plane, a train, an hotel and lots of fabulous homes.
The hand of the craftsman/artisan is evident in all of your interior projects. Most of the brands we work with are luxury brands, and as such it is essential that we communicate the special relationship between handcrafted spaces and the values of their products. Additionally, we want to be seen as supporting as many surviving craftsman and woman as possible.
When you design stores for particular brands across the world, how do you ensure that each one carries the brand’s identity but still has a sense of uniqueness to where it is located in the world? So that it’s not a one-size-fits-all chain store. I believe retail will increasingly move towards a ’unique‘ expression of a brand’s identity. Initially, we perform an intense strategic phase to truly understand the unique nature of each brand, we isolate various properties and manipulate these in each project to ensure we are always telling a unique visual story.
How do you go about appealing to the senses and stimulating an emotional response in people rather than just a visual one? Magic is key, providing a new excitement and wonder is essential to our work. The materials (we use) are vital in providing a sense of warmth and a tactile value.
Can you reveal anything top secret about the future? The next big project? After Milan we go straight into the launch of our second, more accessible collection of furniture called ‘Devisor’. It is a very exciting project of five shelving systems in three wood and metals finishes, I think everyone will find at least one of these they’ll absolutely want to have in their homes. Then in June, we launch a flagship space on Regent Street, currently the “world’s most important shopping street”. I can’t reveal the brand, but when you come for the Olympics you’ll know the one…
Will we be seeing you in Cape Town during 2014 – the year that the city wears the crown of being the World Design Capital? I certainly hope so. I think it’s high time the world knew what an incredibly special place Cape Town is. In my estimation it’s simply the worlds most spectacular city. Our studio is open to any suggestions where we can assist in bringing some ‘wow’ and legacy to this event.
Your London ‘Little Black Book’? Liberty The best department store. Ishbilia Where Arabs from the Middle East come to eat simply the most delicious food. Sir John Soane Museum Objet paradise. Red Church Street Great shopping. Monmouth Coffee The best coffee. Present Menswear at 140 Shoreditch High Street, London.
Visit christopher-jenner.com for more.
*Photographs Michael Franke / Christopher Jenner Studio Interview Mandy Allen