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Tom Dixon and Marcel Wanders: Issue of Global Industry

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Here we are again with Design Week upon us;  an annual opportunity to utilise all design-related resources around us, learn a thing or two on what’s new to the market and embrace the multitude of invitations to mingle with like-minded industry types.

And hasn’t it been a packed, fulfilling week indeed. Thursday saw Tom Dixon and Marcel Wanders host a talk at the Portobello Dock, the quaint site in West London that they share with a cluster of small, independent stores.

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Tom enters the space with an adorable, white Maltese pooch wrapped in hand; instantly defying his rather austere appearance.  The audience is of an intimate 20; contributing to a comfortable, informal, environment.

The seminar of the morning is on the subject of Global Industry and some interesting issues are raised by the pair. One such topic that was covered was the increasing emergence of readily available and accessible opportunities to design our own products and furniture. Through the ease of design software and some of the mind-boggling advancements in design-based online technology; we are given way to the fact that today, almost anyone can jump on the bandwagon and design their own trendy pieces. The increase of such facilities is, on one hand, a nod to optimism; as are most open doors to a learning opportunity. Students studying furniture, interior or product design will relish at the ease of being able to put their recently honed skills into practice and excel in their field.

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On the other hand, as Tom stresses with hints of frustration arising in his tone; it’s all too easy these days for anyone to just go and create a good-looking “thing” by playing around on their computer screen. This, he believes, is a key contributor to the state of the retail design market today. We are swamped with an overload of products that are seemingly good value, yet of feeble quality. His words draw us back to the industrial era; a time where mass-manufacturing and sheer quantity over-ruled any desire for a careful selection of quality pieces; reliable enough to withstand the influx of trend-based, disposable “things” available to us all too frequently.

Of course, this seems all too easy for a man like Tom Dixon to say; whereby the ability (never mind desire), to fork out four figure sums on a single piece of furniture needn’t cause a stir of financial adversity.  Such claims seem relative, after all.

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Tom’s points are perhaps more an “in an ideal world” case, and (as the chunk of his career as Creative Director of Habitat aptly proves), he is indeed in touch with the majority of regular, working-class consumers of whom resorting to the high-street homeware alternatives come more out of necessity than choice. I believe Mr Dixon’s points throughout the talk are a steer towards ensuring we are aware (or perhaps reminded); should we fall into that ‘working class consumer’ category that with a home of high-street goods factory-produced in an ambiguous destination of the world, comes also the susceptibility to a short-lived life and ultimately the replacement of such goods not long down the track.

In words we’ve heard before, you get what you pay for. Not only, he stresses, does the four figure piece come with the endearing quality we expect at such a price, but also with the transparency of the production and manufacturing processes, the honesty and integrity of craftsmanship; ultimately maintaining its’ artisan essence and giving it an almost admirable rawness of quality. A step back to the pre-industrial era. A neat package of substance and value, of more than meets the eye. Should the finances allow it.

Images courtesy of Marcel Wanders and Tom Dixon

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