Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

The design guru’s week began on a Boris bike and ends in an Aston Martin

Stephen Bayley

Image: Brijesh Patel

May 16 2011
Stephen Bayley

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I am still trying to process the weekend’s curious news that Marks & Spencer has appointed Marcel Wanders as a design consultant. Wanders is Dutch, but that’s not the (whole) problem. His countrymen made a big historic reputation as stern and relentless practitioners of joylessly severe, but beautifully fastidious, typography. Or modern architecture of such calculated seriousness that it made a reading of the management accounts in the Béguinage at Breda seem, by way of contrast, like a night on Paul Allen’s boat.

Perhaps in polar reaction, the Dutch recently abandoned straight edges and high intelligence in industrial and furniture design. Indeed, the descendants of Rietveld and Mondrian were the first to embrace formal frivolity and make a virtue of aesthetic fuss, a might too enthusiastically in my view. And in this assault on good sense, Marcel Wanders was in the van. I think he was probably driving. You want a crocheted plastic lampshade in a difficult shade of red? He is your man. A chair leg with silly fake turning? Step this way.

Wanders’ appointment is the more odd because it is not two months since Marks & Spencer announced that Terence Conran’s design businesses were to be charged with the huge task of making the heirs of St Michael a credible supplier of furniture and dry goods. I think I know what happened: a slow-eyed, but persistent, brand consultant whispered something about the Wallpaper generation and how M&S was ignoring an influential community of consumers frustrated by the over-supply in British shops of lazy, suburban tat.

The problem here is that the effortfully hip Wallpaper is itself a sort of antique collector in Converse hi-tops. Time, I think, urgently to re-state some important design principles. I interviewed the great Dieter Rams in 1980. He told me, as he has told me many times before and since: “We will in future have less furniture to produce, simply because enough of it exists… The use of wood will continue to decline… plastics will continue to rise in price… we will have no other choice… but to return to simplicity and to purity.” I love that.

A week of How To Spend It diary that began on a Boris bike ends tonight in an Aston Martin Rapide. In half an hour I am being chauffeured to the launch of the Aston Martin Cygnet, the company’s first small car. Truth is, it’s not really an Aston at all, but a gussied-up Toyota iQ which has been adopted into the range so as to reduce the corporate average fuel consumption. This statistic it will provide, but at what cost to years of patiently accumulated semantics? But never mind, there will be a clueless brand consultant to explain away all the waste of shame. If one thing describes our contemporary condition, it is not a crocheted plastic lampshade, but the idea that nothing is ever quite as it seems. Survival or revival? Edition or re-edition? I will muse on this while I return to the simplicity and purity of sumptuous cream leather.

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