In the wonderful world of gifts, something of a revolution is underway. More people than ever before are getting into design – and their ranks include both the very old, the very young and virtually everyone in between. Moreover, more designers than ever before are bringing their wares to a vast audience.
Through the internet, smaller designers are now able to access an unprecedented market. This means that they can afford to be quirkier, bolder and braver than they might have been in the past. Here atWho’s it for? we pride ourselves on selecting items which stand out from the crowd – and this is no mean accomplishment, as competition has never been fiercer.
We here at Who’s it for? find ourselves in the privileged position that we can see the results of this change up close. From this position we have witnessed something of a twist on a design philosophy known, playfully, as shabby chic. In this article, we’ll try to get to grips with this change and see whether it’s for the better, or worse. Without a doubt though cutting edge design has found a place within modern gift creation and originality is now crucial if you want a share of the online audience.
Just what is shabby chic?
We should probably begin by explaining exactly what we mean by ‘shabby chic’. The term refers to a style of design which places emphasis on nostalgia. While much of mainstream design tends toward making things as glossy as possible, shabby chic tends to go in precisely the opposite direction. It celebrates everything that is old, worn-out and well, a bit shabby.
This sort of aesthetic has proved popular in coastal areas, where the sand and surf and sea-breeze tends to erode cabins on the beach into a distinct and beautifully shabby state. Many designers based near the coast have sought to co-opt this effect into their work and so the look has thereby migrated from coastal holiday homes, through the mainland and even into inner city apartments.
Shabby chic invites us to celebrate all that is broken-down and decrepit and to recognise that there is value in the old things that we can discard so easily. Not in order to make some grand statement about our modern tendency to demand that everything be disposable, but for the simple reason that these items look good.
Of course, there’s a problem here. When it comes to planning an interior, a bunch of random items acquired during an afternoon spent rooting through charity shops will not make the cut. You will need to mix together some of the work of some quality designers. We here at Who’s it for? are here to help introduce you to those designers whose aesthetic tends toward the most beautiful sort of shabbiness, who specialise in items which celebrate an earlier, distinctly vintage period.
A delightfully shabby schism
The world of shabby chic has been divided in recent times between two schools of thought, each with their own divergent approaches to design. There are those which elect for the more rustic approach and those which are a little bolder and seek to blend their shabby influences with a more modern, sleek approach of a sort not dissimilar to the one which shabby chic once found itself at odds with.
What to make of this? Well, let’s first consider some of what’s being offered by both movements.
Port and Lemon
We begin in Hampshire, where design duo Port and Lemon (Kate and Tracey, to their friends) live beside the seaside. The maritime influence is, suffice to say, greatly evident in their output. They specialise in bold blues and whites, which contrast sharply against one another and have drawn on a range of nautical influences to create a slew of cards, coasters and mugs. If you know someone who likes blue and white, or indeed the sea, then you’ve found a specialist, here.
Our next offering’s work is also inspired by the sea and all things related. Their product range is designed to evoke fond memories that many of us have of childhood trips to the seaside and includes tableware bearing images of all things maritime – anchors, birds and lighthouses being among the subjects of said images.
Such design is evidence that the creator has taken the time to gawp in child-like wonder at the natural world – an impression which all good shabby-chic items should elicit. Like much of the designers featured here, nature is a heavy influence in the work of Magpie.
If you’re going to make a range of products celebrating the natural world, it follows that you should be concerned with preserving it. Magpie’s approach to their work indicates that they are driven by exactly this concern. “Our love of nature extends to our methods of manufacture,” they explain. “Everything we make is suitable for Vegans, our products are all cruelty free without compromising on their design.” If you share their concern for keeping your gifts cruelty free, then this range might be just the ticket.
Magpie’s logo consists of a duo of the black-and-white birds – presumably in order to avoid being ‘one for sorrow’. Wherever it might have come from, the joy in their work is much in evidence.
Amanda Coleman’s work could not be more removed from that which we’ve thus far touched upon. She fashions intricate and unique jewellery from gold, silver and precious stones. She was submerged in the arts from a young age; her parents were potters and painters. She had her first foray into the world of business at a relatively tender age, too; her first venture commenced when she was only thirteen years old. She would make buttons and beads from clay and sell them to shops in Derby and Nottingham. From there she pursued an education in art and design, finally graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1998 and establishing a workshop in London.
Amanda’s work is influenced greatly by the natural world and features a slew of birds, stags and flowers, all made beautifully from precious metals. She has two children, who have both in their own way influenced her outlook on her work. Becoming a mother, Amanda explains, has helped to give her a fresh perspective on design. “Seeing the world through the eyes of my children has ignited an interest in fairy tales, mystery and magic and developed a fascination of bugs and flowers that might have previously gone unnoticed, all of which have found their way into my designs over the recent years.”
Perkins and Morley
Perkins and Morley tend more toward the striking, bold end of the design spectrum. Their animal ink range, for example, employs stark, detailed drawings of animals against bold coloured backgrounds. Their range also includes an assortment of cards, each of which carries a collective noun for a group of animals – and so they are educational and interesting, as well as pleasant to look at. If you feel as though you want all of these nouns in one place, then there is a tea towel which carries them all. The next time you’re doing the dishes, you can remind yourself that the collective term for a group of mice is a ‘mischief’ and smile.
Scottish Fine Soaps
Thus far we have been mostly concerned with the items which look good. But we humans have five senses and it seems only appropriate that we also credit designers which specialise in items that smell, feel and taste good as well. We can think of no better example of the forward progress in design in this sense than Scottish Fine Soaps and their Sea Kelp range.
As one might imagine, Scottish Fine Soaps are influenced heavily by all things Scottish. But, crucially, they combine these influences with well-chosen ingredients, which help to give you a washing experience a step above the others. When you’re done, you’ll feel absolutely brilliant.
The Sea Kelp collection is perhaps the best example of this approach. It brings together the clean, fresh fragrances of the coast into your bathtub and helps to keep you as fresh as can be. Within the collection is body butter, hand cream, moisturiser, luxury soap and bath essence and so, whatever your cleansing needs, you will find something which can satisfy them.
Now that we’ve taken our whirlwind tour of some of the best designers we have to offer, we are left with the question of what to make of it all.
The tastes of the modern household are more eclectic than ever before. Thanks to globalisation, we have access to items which come from far and wide. There is room, therefore, for many different styles.
Shabby chic should not, in our view, be seen as an attempt to supplant vintage items, or to render them obsolete. It should instead be considered a new and modern twist on all that is old and decrepit. The designers are not simply rehashing what has come before but coming up with new and fresh twists of their own. They build, as it were, on the shoulders of giants.
We look forward to seeing where the minds behind these designs will take us next and to selecting the best items they have to offer and bringing them to you, right here on the pages of Who’s it for?.