Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… shotguns

When a famous name in firearms enters the world of high design

Swellboy on… shotguns

Image: Brijesh Patel

October 12 2011
Nick Foulkes

The other day I was having supper with my armaments manufacturer friend; which sounds rather more James Bond than it really was – although of course, given that he is a scion of the famous firearms dynasty, Franco Beretta is forever associated with 007.

Anyway, Franco was in town for a big arms fair that apparently takes place in the east of London. I can’t help thinking that these arms dealers are missing a bit of trick – after all, fashion weeks are huge, so why not arms weeks? You could have Sam Cam sitting in the front row as the WMDs, landmines, ICBMs and what have you are wheeled past, much in the way that they used to in the old Soviet Union, which I hear that Mr Putin is about bring back. And for a bit of paparazzi fodder, you could always have a couple of supermodels hanging around – I imagine that a shot of Alexa Chung in some skimpy (or, in tabloidese, “cheeky”) body armour would be guaranteed to make the front pages. However, for reasons best known to itself, the arms industry likes to hold its get-togethers as far away from the West End as possible, which is a shame as I would have liked to test-drive a tank or something.

Anyway, should I ever have the misfortune to be shot by anything, I hope that it is with a Beretta; Franco is such a nice man that I would feel better knowing I was putting a bit of business his way.

Of course Franco’s real business is not in what I believe are euphemistically known as “law enforcement products”, but desirable sporting firearms. I would say that Beretta is about as near as a shotgun gets to a Rolex in terms of reliability and so on. Now, thanks to his glamorous, art-loving wife Umberta, he is about to enter the world of high design. Apparently Umberta was so struck by Marc Newson’s work that she pestered her husband to do something with him and at first the idea was to create a pair of binoculars, but now he has gone all out with a shotgun designed by Marc Newson.

Newson is the polymath of the modern age who refuses to be categorised. I like to think of him as a watch designer – after all, a watch is one of the first things he created – but he has done everything from act as creative director of Qantas to make a chaise longue that sold at Christie’s for $1.5m and he has been the accorded the ultimate cultural-commercial accolade of the creative individual in the early 21st century: representation by Larry Gagosian.

By contrast, in general the design of the sporting shotgun has changed little in a hundred years or so and it will be fascinating to see what Newson makes of what is still, in many ways, an Edwardian object; I imagine it being a little like taking a pre-first world war De Dion and turning it into a snarling 21st-century F1 car.

I can’t wait to see it and for what it is worth I think it a genuinely innovative and creative idea.

Of course, one of the great issues with shotguns is safety. Guns need to be locked up, and with Marc Newson designing double barrels you can hardly put such a hallowed object into a grey metal sarcophagus – most gun safes exhibit all the design content of a civil service filing cabinet from around the time of Anthony Eden’s premiership; actually they are not quite that nice, make that hearing-aid greige from the time of Ted Heath’s premiership – anyway, you get the picture.

Accordingly I have put Franco in touch with Dominik von Ribbentrop, owner of luxury safe brand Stockinger. I wrote about Stockinger a few years ago in How To Spend It and since then, I have seen Dominik cleverly leverage the whole Vorsprung Durch Technik aspect of anything made in Germany and apply it to his safes. Italians have style, the French understand luxury and the British know tradition, but when it comes to safety you want to know that those stereotypical German values of engineering integrity, solidity and, yes predictability, have been employed in the manufacture of your safe.

An Australian designer, creating an Italian shotgun to be kept in German safe… what’s not to like? All I need to do is await my first royalty cheque.