To gaze at London-based designer Richard Brendon‘s Reflect collection offers substantial insight on the history and future of an industry in transition. For the series, Brendon pairs gold- and platinum-gilded teacups of his own invention with patterned saucers found at antique dealers across Britain. Brendon honors his discoveries and intensifies their beauty with his own work. And it represents more than a clever product collection; it’s a rare and bold idea in the diminishing historic craft of bone china in England’s Stoke-on-Trent.
“I fell in love the whole history of British ceramics from buying the antique saucers,” Brendon shares with us. “I learned all about it and in the process fell in love with Stoke-on-Trent. I had been up there and around all of the potteries. I realized the industry went from half a million people to maybe 10,000 today. That’s since the 1980s. The industry was obliterated.” Brendon decided that his brand was going to be about regeneration, working with the town’s skillful craftspeople, and pairing their heritage with thoughtful, contemporary design.
After success in ceramics, Brendon expanded to glassware and cut crystal. “Over the next few years we will move into other materials, as well,” he says. “This problem exists around the world: we are losing skillful craftspeople at an alarming rate. We will lose the ability to make great products, but we can’t be in a world with only the mediocre.”
One of this most recent collections—a collaboration with the world’s most influential wine critic, Jancis Robinson—seeks to reimagine the way people consume wine. “People have been asking me to design wine glasses for quite a long time,” he explains. “I’ve always had the right manufacturers and wanted to do it, but a wine glass isn’t like a whisky glass. It has to be functionally perfect and support the liquid. I knew I had to find a wine expert to partner with.” Everyone recommended Robinson.
“When I met with her she actually said, ‘I believe you only need one wine glass for every single type of wine—so long as it is the right type of glass.’ She’s spoken to all of the best wine producers around the world for the last 40 years and they all want the same thing: their wine to get the best out of the glass it’s in. She ran me through what a wine glass needs to do—from the widest point of the bowl for maximum surface area to tapering so that aromas gather. The rim thickness needs to be as fine as possible. You don’t want to know that there’s a glass there.” From these technical specifications, Brendon began to design—but he didn’t end with one glass. A water glass, and two decanters (one for young wine and one for more mature) complete the collection.
Brendon does not ignore aesthetic splendor, despite dedicating so much time to technical developments and concern for these industries as a whole. So much of his work feels familiar, but there’s always something worth admiring on a deeper design level. “It’s from looking to the past and looking to beautiful inspiration I’ve found elsewhere—and working it down, refining it into something simpler and clean,” he says of his process. Holding a crystal tumbler feels substantial. Closely inspecting a plate reveals its premium, handmade attributes.
“Some of what we do in ceramics can be fully automated and some machines could do it better,” he says—and then reasons, “In these cases, we should use them: we should try to bring cost down and increase productivity because that’s how these industries will stay alive in Stoke-on-Trent. They will not stay alive by making things that are too expensive that nobody can buy them.” He emphasizes that he will never replace human work and craft. He intends (as was the case in the early 20th century to the early ’70s) to inject new machines from which skilled craftspeople in England can benefit.
“It’s entirely possible that we can preserve this heritage through good design but also through innovation and technology,” he concludes. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but there are other good people doing good things in Stoke. Collectively, we all need to pull in the same direction.” At the end of the day, Brendon and colleagues must produce beautiful items that people will covet, collect and pass down. And, in fact, this is what he’s succeeding at undeniably.
Images courtesy of Richard Brendon