Every brand tells a story, says rising star Christopher Jenner – and his job is to communicate it to the customer
Christopher Jenner’s star has risen at a meteoric rate, and is continuing to rise. The first project of his multidisciplinary design practice Jenner Studio, based in Shepherds Bush, London, was to design the fragrance room at Liberty London. That was little over a year ago, and since then the studio’s portfolio has read like a who’s who of luxury global brands, including store design for Penhaligon’s in Singapore and Moscow and the Johnnie Walker Blue Lounge, London. More exciting projects are under way for this year.
‘It really just depends on how hard you work,’ says Jenner, explaining how he has launched into the design industry so successfully at such a tough time.
‘We spend a lot of time promoting the studio, telling people what we can do, but the most important thing is actually delivering that promise.’
Jenner’s background has always been in the creative sector. Born in South Africa, he attended the Johannesburg School of Art, where all students took part in some kind of painting, graphics and photography work, before moving on to the Cape Town School of Design and then Boston College of Design, where he studied industrial design. This led to two years of product display and launch consulting work with Swarovski, followed by the Liberty project.
His approach has always been very applied: thinking about transforming the brand into a physical form, alongside how this practically allows the consumer to connect with a commodity. ‘I would love to do the most mad-ass stuff I possibly could,’ Jenner laughs, ‘but it’s not going to sell the products. Conceptual elements are appropriate as a small aspect of a project, but in terms of designing a space in today’s market you need to justify everything you are including to the client. You can’t build a piece of furniture which doesn’t make sense in terms of selling what surrounds it.’
This ethos does not mean that Jenner’s design makes for bland or mercenary interiors, quite the opposite. His mantra is almost the ‘anti-roll out’, where extensive time is taken to ensure each store interior is interwoven with the story of that particular brand; artisan textures and finishes are essential players.
‘We come at it very strategically,’ explains Jenner. ‘We sit down with the brand and talk about their heritage, history and inspirations behind the collection they are launching to build up and capture all of that into one singular space.’ For example, when working with Diptyque, which actually started life as a textile and wallpaper house, it became essential to have striking wallpaper as a key feature of the spatial design for it.
‘I also feel that this means we cannot fail,’ asserts Jenner. ‘If the product we create is formed from parts that have been taken from the brand, it can only be a successful extension of it that continues to define it. It is not a showcase of our own style, it is unique to that client.’
Global design is always a consideration but all-important tweaks are made to keep consumers engaged, with wallpapers produced in varying colours and multiple furniture pieces made, but with a slight twist. ‘Brands are working on a global scale but also know that customers don’t want predictable spaces, they want to experience a different way of relating to products in a different store,’ Jenner says. ‘So, yes, we can use the same 600 tables but it is important to us that we supply different finishes or textures to tell a slightly different story each time.’
Every one of Jenner’s projects will include work from carefully selected craftspeople, who, the team feel, can be pushed to do something beyond the norm so that everyone involved creates an end result unique to the endeavour. A case in point was at the Singapore Penhaligon’s store, for which artisan cement tiles were sourced but specified in colours and shapes never previously made by the suppliers. At the New York Diptyque location, a UK glass blower was commissioned to make an inverted shape for a bespoke luminaire, again creating something never achieved before.
A large part of the current workload – and a slight departure for the studio – is the launch of a furniture line, due to be shown at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. It is a collection of three seating items, a lamp and one chair, with a further two ranges released throughout the year. All are aimed at interior designers and specifiers, and will be suitable for residential, hotel and leisure projects.
Work with Penhaligon’s continues with concessions in Milan and Hong Kong opening this year. The studio also has one-off projects on the books; one such scheme, the all-copper Ketel One Bar in London, completed this year and was featured in the April issue of FX.
The varied and international schedule makes for long working days for Jenner, who starts at 6am (with a double macchiato) in order to deal with emails from Asia regarding manufacturing and ends at around 10pm so that American clients and suppliers can also be dealt with. (An evening session of Bikram yoga is a must.) It is a punishing schedule, considering Jenner also spends two weeks of the month travelling, but is one that he not only clearly enjoys but is also proving highly productive.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s all going in the right direction!’ he smiles. ‘At the end of the day it’s all about hard work. What we are producing can never just be OK, it must be as special as we can make it.’
Photo credit: Michael Franke
This article was first published in fx Magazine.