Design by Chefs

alphabetty.jpgYou know that Phillpe Stark lemon squeezer, a fixture on any Yuppy wedding list from the mid eighties. Even all these years later, the Juicy Salif remains a really strange object. A high water mark of unrestrained design. It placed domesticity and design in a relationship that was both beautifully resolved and mysteriously dislocated. It used a functional logic to overthrow functionality - a surrealist tactic of Paranoid Critical method. Its shows what happens when wild design comes meets splurging dripping domesticity and remains a provocative statement about design for the home.

How many of those marriages ended without a lemon ever being squeezed? More likely the Juicy Salif was brandished like a medieval weapon: its trident legs spiked through a skull, puncturing an eyeball, blood dripping from its chromed body.

The Jucy Salifs French flair and philosophical approach is the opposite of English design pragmatism. Fearing ideas, the English retreat into a simplistic shell of style (that's flair without the good bits) and function (that's use without the complicated bits).

Don't tell James Dyson, but I don't need things to work any better. After all, I'll only lose bits, break parts and eventually give up on it. His narrow design utopia is populated by people obsessing about vacuum cleaner performance - like a car bores at the golf club only more boring. The problems in my life are not the revs/minute of my washing machine. Rather, I have a Juicy Salif shaped hole where my soul should be. This existential lack is the thing that binds us all (except perhaps for Mick Hucknall and Michael Howard). Its the thing that makes us human. And consumer design - more than art or poetry - speaks directly to our soul.

Design gives us leaps of joy and answers our unfulfilled wishes. Design functions like a medieval religious relic which also sucks up household dust.

In the 90s, lifestyle programmes also began to address that feeling within us. They showed that rooms that could be nicer, gardens prettier, food tastier. Their incredible popularity threw up semi-amateur specialists: Lawrence, Jamie, Nigella, Linda, Charlie: all doing things that we do but better, quicker and more happily.

Once TV became lifestyle saturated, it has burst out of the screen into other media. First books, then cans of paint, sofas, restaurants ... And now products for your kitchen. Jamie, Nigella and Anthony Worral Thompson currently have ranges of cookware.

At the heart of these products is an idea of personality. The personality of objects that's so important for designerly appeal is here substituted for the personality of an individual. You can feel, or at least imagine a sensation of Jamieness or an aura of Nigellerliness through them. A portrait of the artist as a shiny saucepan.

Nigellas products are beautifully packaged. Their creamy coloured boxes make you feel like you are opening your wedding presents. A crest featuring a cupcake and a flowery N hints both at status and relaxation. The products have great textures, ceramics glazed on the inside and rough on the outside, chopping boards immaculate recatangles of walnut with inset stainless steel trays. Nigellas mixing bowls have an egglike profile, a blunt spout that is great for pouring. Lined up on the draining board though they take on another characteristic. Like ceramic tits - Nigellas ample chest duplicated at various scales. And pouring fourth from these mammeries is the milk of the domestic goddess: cake mix, chocolate sauce, creamy custards.

Jamies saucepans for Tefal have a professional feel, a kind of solid clangyness and balanced weight that makes you want to shake those frying onions Jamie style. The effect is subte prensence of the personality. More obviosuly, Jamies presence is hard to ignore with his autograph glinting on every handle. The obvious endorsement undermines their professional feel. It makes you look at them slightly differently. Suddenly, the scale seems slightly too small - perhaps a function of the inteded market of Lads First Saucepan.

Anthony Worral Thompson has a range of really odd mechanical products. Styled like high end hairdriers, bulbous and chromed. Of the three, they seem the least personality related. A toasted sandwich maker? And this from the guy who is a real chef.

Many of us learnt a lot about being a consumer through Steve Davis snooker cues and Paul Daniel's magic sets. With childhoods surrounded by Roland Rat mouse traps, He Man oven gloves, Star Treck power tools, Nicholas Witchal lawnmowers, Annika Rice defibrillators, and Terry Wogan rocket launchers, it's no wonder that once we grew up we could only understand how to by things through nebulous connections to celebrities. Jamie, Nigella and Antony WTs products are grown up versions of an impulse we learnt in childhood.


First Published in Icon

Posted by sam at May 16, 2004 10:58 PM

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