Christopher Jenner, fresh from the Milan Salone and the launch of his contemporary ceramic tableware collection Yixing, tells us of his passion for creating beauty
Words by Emily Martin
There have been numerous images posted on Instagram in recent months by the Christopher Jenner studio, ahead of its new ceramic collection Yixing being launched at the Milan Salone.
Presented at the April fair as part of The Tea House installation, the studio’s reddish-brown pieces are each crafted by skilled artisans using ancient Chinese techniques to showcase a contemporary edge on a ceramics process that has changed little since the 9th century.
The collection launches at an opportune moment for studio founder and designer Christopher Jenner. ‘I didn’t know anything about ceramics,’ says Jenner, known for not shying away from a challenge; he’s well documented for founding his business during ‘difficult times’, some seven years ago. And followers on social media of his work will have seen snaps of Jenner’s latest design journey, showing prototypes and working with craftspeople in China.
The Christopher Jenner-designed eurostar ticket hall at St Pancras. The designer was creative director of eurostar (2013-2015)
‘My investment is [going] into the design facilities, the crafts people, like going to China,’ he says. ‘For me the important things are working with people, having a relationship, understanding a technique and making a beautiful item.’ It forms as part of what Jenner, a former recipient of the FX Awards Breakthrough Talent of the Year, describes as ‘post-studio thinking’.
Previously, a product or project was designed for commercial success, which in turn would bring in money to be invested in his growing studio. But while making commercially successful work is important, it’s no longer the driving factor for Jenner. ‘It’s now about taking and allocating time into an experience of understanding a material or understanding a narrative, or craft technique, et cetera’, he explains. ‘At this stage, my investments are focused on these experiments as opposed to having more of everything.’
The Tea House, at this year’s Milan Salone
And after completing his first commission, for a concept space in London’s Liberty’s store, Jenner has rapidly built a reputation for delivering beautifully designed spaces and products, while also developing a hallmark for brand communication. He boasts a client list that includes Kusmi Tea, Drummonds and Eurostar, for which he undertook company research to a staggering depth in order to convey a brand through design as part of his past role as Eurostar’s creative director.
When documenting his portfolio of work since 2010, Jenner, it seems, has tried his hand at everything from high-end retail design to products. Experience and perhaps fearlessness (or certainly well-hidden fear) are his two key personal traits that are leading to Jenner’s ever-growing success. This is not to forget his charisma and incredible warmth: when you meet Jenner the experience itself is like a shot of coffee to the system, while encountering a great story.
‘I spent probably the first nine years of my life moving between [playing] a bushman, a Native American and a Zulu warrior,’ he declares of his childhood memories of growing up in South Africa. And, perhaps, somewhat surprisingly, he describes himself as being a ‘complete loner’ until going to high school at 13. ‘I just spent years playing by myself and having the time of my life. It was all a big adventure.’
Some of Christopher Jenner’s latest work, in silver, for Elkington & Co.
A big adventure is what Jenner continued with. After graduating from university in the mid-Nineties he travelled the world. His first stop was Paris, where he fell in love with Parisian couture and luxury. After travelling throughout Europe he settled in London (after completing what he calls his ‘cultural grounding’), where he had family members living. ‘For me Europe is the most fantastic place: the level of sophistication, the respect for human rights and this shared ambition to make things as good as they can be. A sense of community is my overriding impression that I have of Europe’.
For an internationally focused person, with a love of European culture, the thought of an economic separation has naturally raised some uncertainty for the businessman, while with possibly some opportunities for the designer: ‘This Brexit story got me thinking about relocating to Europe; is it a better place for the business? But also it throws up a whole new set of experiences, which you then absorb into your life and work.
And I think that becomes part of your expression.’ And while open to or seeking out new experiences, Jenner continues to express his current ones through beautifully crafted work.
Whether in interior design – such as for Kusmi Tea in New York (see FX May) – or producing a series of silver products for Elkington & Co., Jenner says it’s about finding beauty, wherever he is. ‘It’s all about beauty. There is no rationale in anything I do other than the idea of creating beauty. That is the complete bottom line,’ says Jenner. ‘I’ve been through a lot of rigorous inspection on this point, for myself: why am I creating more stuff in the world? The only justification I can offer is the notion of beauty.Beauty is completely subjective and beauty changes all the time. It’s put in front of you and you’re like “wow”, but then you take it away and move on to the next thing. It’s an addictive quality, trying to fulfil this need of creating beautiful things.’