Archive for the ‘2012’ Category


I’m a great believer in nurture and the concept of “practice makes perfect.” With a lot of people who excel at something, you can more often than not trace their expertise back to their childhood. If you do something all your life it becomes second nature, and you can’t always pick it up later. Famously, Andre Agassi learnt his trade at 3 years old and David Beckham learnt his signature skill of being able to “land a football on a sixpence” by spending  hours and not going inside till he had kicked a ball through a tyre hung from a tree 10 times consecutively.


I know from families like mine, that kids growing up with creativity around them more often than not become creative almost by default. Matthew Syed’s book Bounce, The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice says more than I can say here.


I therefore have a problem with people who go to college at 18 in the expectation of becoming creative. It is extremely difficult to come at it from a standing start. Being creative is in you in some way by adulthood or it’s not. You can choose to turn it off, but it won’t be easy to develop without nurture early on.


I was brought up in a tremendously creative household. It was a working class family in Morecambe, Lancashire that wanted to do things. My granddad made all my toys, fishing rods and so on and my mum and gran always had two sewing machines whirring. They even dyed their own fabrics.


Gerardine and I have four kids and they are all very creative. They were brought up surrounded by magazines and books, attended fashion and materials shows when we ran Red or Dead and frequented vintage, design shops. And after we sold Red or Dead came to visit housing developments and regeneration schemes around the world with us. We never had time to teach them, but they were immersed in design and creativity.


You can go out and learn things, but you have a better chance if you start that learning early in your life. Our son Jack left college after 18 months, for example, because he felt he was gaining nothing. He just wanted to go out and do it and was ready for that.


This is why primary and junior schools are very important. They give children a chance to indulge their passions early on. It can be too late at 18. I do though, have a problem with the lack of creativity in state schools – when we sent our younger two kids to private school they were much happier with their creative schooling. 


There has been an increased demand for creative education over recent years. In my generation parents wouldn’t have seen it such a good idea, working in a bank or for Marks & Spencer being seen as better options. That perception has changed, particularly among middle class parents who see design as a viable alternative and one with “bragging rights.”


In our business we need designers who are fleet of foot and can work across disciplines. For example, our daughter Tilly studied urban design, works with us at Hemingway Design and is equally at home designing G-Plan furniture and on uniforms for McDonalds.


If you’ve got a creative mind you can be flexible, but colleges don’t generally allow for that. Design for us is a state of mind rather than a particular course of study.











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There are a few tonnes of hot air being let off on the subject of the severe housing crisis that we are in. However, a little science would go a long way. What is needed is a thorough appraisal of where we can build and what existing properties can be brought back to life or re imagined as residential properties. London needs mapping in terms of:

The densities of micro areas of the city compared to the access to open space, leisure, education, health and transport to create a accurate picture of what extra population these areas can take to ensure that they remain liveable and not overburdened and under resourced. Only then can we accurately look at where to extend, build on, infill, re-build and assign change of use.

Secondly we need to know how many empty spaces there are above shops, how many empty offices, retail spaces, industrial buildings could provide places for intrepid homesteaders to colonise. Once we know the extent of this opportunity we need legislation that allows change of use without the current prevarication.

Thirdly and perhaps more controversially we need to look at where we should be extending what is considered as London. Particularly east along the Thames there are well connected areas towards Dartford and Purfleet that apart from the excellent transport links, on the whole, don’t feel like they belong to the vibrancy of London and its suburbs. A sea of pylons, scrap metal yards and foul looking faceless housing estates and offices don’t make for happy desirable places. We have a history of building new suburban excellence, from Hampstead Garden Suburb to all the hubs along the Metropolitan line. We can do that again.

Once we have this scientifically researched picture of where the hundreds of thousands of homes that we need can and should be located then we need to do the harder bit. Fund it . The most obvious way has to be to look at the billions that are held in local authority pension funds, pension funds that are often invested in equities overseas and often in equities that do not benefit Londoners. If some more of these billions were invested in council housing, and by gosh is council housing and shared ownership needed right now, then we would be putting money into all our futures and ameliorating the current difficulties that the pension fund generation have put young generations in. Give councils and housing associations access to funds and help them unlock their own assets, and they will build as fast as you like because their goal is also more homes. They will not starve the market like commercial house builders have been known to do. Surely its worth losing a couple of percentage points in terms of pension fund yields to ensure that one of the most important contributors to peoples well being, housing, is invested in?

If we can crack this one with Local Authority Pension funds we could find private pension funds and institutional investors flocking to invest in housing. Currently in the UK only 1% of institutional investment goes into residential. For many of our near European neighbors its 15%. In the UK we invest 3.5% of GDP in new housing in Germany its 6%.

It is shameful that we put housing so low down our priorities. Surely it’s time to realise that housing is so much more important than hedge funds.

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What is luxury?

What is luxury? This is a question I put to my four children, aged 15, 22, 25 and 26, who’d come back to our West Sussex home for the weekend. Their collective answer didn’t include the most fashionable clothes from the most exclusive labels, or exotic holidays, or the most advanced gadgets in the world.

Luxury to them is to be with their friends, in an environment where they can talk and laugh and feel that they don’t have to spend money, because they have each other and they can spend time together.

As I thought about their answer, it occurred to me that one of the most luxurious things in my home is a pizza oven in the garden. It didn’t cost a lot of money. With the help of a kit, we built it ourselves sealing it with concrete. We’re lucky we have quite a big garden with oak trees at the bottom. Every year they need pruning, so we use this to fuel the oven, which takes about an hour and a half to heat it up to temperature.

My children and their friends get great pleasure out of getting an axe out and chopping the wood, and lighting the fire. Then there’s everything else; the dough needs to be mixed and rested for around two to three hours, and we take ingredients from our own garden when we can, like the rocket in the window boxes. We’ve all learnt that when we do it that way, it tastes better. And it feels like it tastes better, because you’ve done it yourself. It’s not just the price. It’s the fulfilment.

And we’re not alone. People are enjoying doing things themselves. That’s why sales of Singer sewing machines have tripled in the last three years.

For decades, luxury was obsessed with conspicuous consumption. Fuelled by easy credit, society was seduced by the image and association of luxury. Luxury was seen as a foreign trip a while ago, but now it might only be travelling an hour to go to a British seaside resort – and a lot of those resorts have really got their act together, with high-quality restaurants and cafés, and clean beaches. It’s a sign that luxury is changing. Making a pizza in a homemade oven in the garden wouldn’t have been regarded as a luxury in the Eighties. People would’ve thought, ‘Oh God, an hour and a half? Let’s go out’. But that hour and a half of being together is re-teaching my wife Gerardine and I about what was valued in our childhoods.

I believe my children’s answer over the dinner table reflects what’s happening in society as a whole. It’s not some starry-eyed idealism; there’s a very real and very positive change going on.

Over the last five years, the label has been torn off luxury. It has been disentangled from the price tag. What matters now is what goes into the so-called luxury product, and the story behind it.

You can’t have a luxury bag just because of its print. But if that bag is made from a leather sourced from a farm that rears cattle ethically and sustainably, from a company that refuses to use fur, that conforms to animal rights, and the company is adamant on treating its workers fairly and paid a fair wage, that’s luxury.

Take Coke Cola. Since 2010, their plastic bottles have been made from a synthetic material that is around 25 per cent sugarcane. If, eventually, it’s completely sugarcane and I can throw that bottle on the compost heap when I’ve used it, that’s luxury.

Seeing as I’m writing in Audi Magazine, it’d be rude not to mention them. Audi is on an efficiency crusade, making each new car lighter than the one it replaces and producing engines that sip as little fuel as possible. Their cars are also full with technology that makes driving easier, and safer. That’s luxury, too.

It all demonstrates how new luxury is a reconnection with human values – it involves an awareness of the human element. People have learnt to rediscover what real luxury is. And showing off what you can afford isn’t one of them.

New luxury is responsible and it’s sustainable, it’s caring and considerate. It’s not just about the high-quality end product or experience, but the means to it, too. It’s also something tangible and concrete – just like the bricks that we built our pizza oven with. Try it. Luxury isn’t just a brand name; it’s what’s within it.

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Invisible Designers

You would think that being a  designer or having a job in the creative industries would be widely recognised as a career by now. But sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case. Despite the fact that the sector generates some £36 billion and accounts for not far short of 10 per cent of the UK’s workforce, it seems that to some that design does not exists as a career. Last week  I was registering on the Financial Times website to read an article about our McDonalds Uniform project that was being covered in the FT’s regular “Design Space” column. Yet when I started  to register, the registration process asked me for my profession  and guess what, “designer” or anything like designer wasn’t an option.

The FT aren’t the only ones, try having a profession as a designer and ringing up to buy car insurance and listen to the silence as they try and fill their online form with your profession.

Like many of my age, I experienced a school system where the notion that a desirable career could be made out of art, design or music, simply didn’t exist. In fact if you had the questioning and inquisitive (some may say troublesome) mind that characterises good designers then you could find yourself “banished” to the art class.  Music, art, design classes at school were “Cinderella” subjects and it seems to the FT that a job in the creative industries is a “Cinderella” career.

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Manufacturing in the UK

Manufacturing in the UK will start to increasingly make more sense as the Asian home markets start to have more clout as domestic wage levels rise and stability of supply becomes even more of a worry than it is now for most British retailers who have become reliant on the Far East. However, we will not be able to capitalise fully on these opportunities about to come our way unless we encourage future generations that making things is fun, cool and satisfying and that has to starts at school and in the home. With school being cajoled by the government into moving over to the seriously flawed English Baccalaureate which devalues “making” and creativity and with many families seeing a night in watching Strictly / X Factor / Take Me Out and bleedin’ I’m a Celebrity as preferable to getting the colouring pens, Lego or Meccano we may be poorly placed.

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Over the past few years  “Arts led Regeneration “ or “Culture led Regeneration” have become “buzz concepts “ internationally. But like all positive stories about arts and culture, the concepts are being derided in some circles.

Most of the parts of cities that I find exciting were once down at heel.

In the 80s when we manufactured some of our Red or Dead stuff just of Brick Lane in East London, Gerardine and I marveled at those stunning old merchants houses that we coveted but at the time we couldn’t bring ourselves to bring our kids up in an area with such high levels of deprivation and street crime. But intrepid artists, designers and musicians were brave enough (well it was very cheap!) to establish their studios and start to work and sleep there and led the “Rise of the East“.

On our trips to New York over the past 30 years we have see the same happen to Soho, The Meat Packing District, the Lower East Side and now areas once classed as “no –go“, Harlem. All of these have been brought back to life by, dare I say it, becoming cool. And it is the cooler end of society that led the colonisation and regeneration of these parts of the city allowing them to be the successes and “must visit” places that they are today.

Perhaps the best example is the Mitte district of Berlin where East German austerity was turned into one of the world’s most joyous creative parts of a city.

On a smaller scale it is creativity that is lifting Manchester’s Northern Quarter and allowing struggling seaside towns like Margate to dream.

And you can go further. When I was 15 The Sex Pistols questioned our blinkered reverence to authority and in God Save the Queen attacked a British institution that had rarely been questioned. Almost 4 decades on, our relationship with the British Royal Family is much healthier, with the reverence and cap doffing gone but with a healthy respect for values intact and with a Royal Family that understands its place in a democratic society.  In 1976 the Queen was certainly not relevant to this 15 year old who wanted a more open society, at the 2012 London Olympics a Queen interacting with a fictional figure , James Bond , spoke volumes of a lightening up of an institution which recognises that we all don’t want to just doff our caps and say “thank you maam”

And we can be sure that once the initial authoritarian knee jerk reactions subside, the Pussy Riot (part of The Guerrilla Girls in The Art World) saga in Russia will have profound positive changes on freedom of expression and give youth in Russia a much louder voice.

If social change is about all aspects of society being happier then where better to start than art and culture?




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Read All About It!

It does seem that the main news channels focus on ‘bad news’ or the seedier side of life. The last week has been dominated by murder and child abuse stories. There can be no denying that these are stories that need telling but, what bothers me is that on the whole some stories that can potentially move mankind and positively impact on the lives of many of us do not get the wide exposure that they deserve.

The idea that British scientists have taken us one step closer to commercial production of petrol from air and water is something to shout from the rooftops. And what Milton Keynes is achieving with the induction charging of its electric buses just makes us jump for joy. If you search the internet for ‘Good News Stories’ there are various websites that address this but they don’t do it justice. Come on all the quality ‘dailies’, give us a daily section that fills us with wonder and makes us proud to be human.

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