In celebration of London Cocktail Week, The Conran Shop sits down with British glassware designer Richard Brendon to learn a little more about his approach to design and his collaboration with world-renowned wine connoisseur Jancis Robinson.
What would make your ideal cocktail and where would you be drinking it?
I’m partial to whisky-based cocktails and a Double Old Fashioned is my default order. In an ideal world I’d be enjoying this by the fireside in a log cabin in Telluride, high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, with the snowy-forested peaks beautifully framed through the window.
Let’s start from the beginning – how did you enter the world of design?
I’ve always been fascinated by design, so it was a natural step for me to study product design at university. While I was studying I worked at a pub on Portobello Road, and every Saturday morning I would see the road burst into life as antique dealers from all over the country descended on the market. My curiosity was piqued by the huge variety of unusual objects that filled their stalls – I started to notice that, time and time again, I would see piles of incredible antique saucers buried amongst their wares. I got to know a number of the dealers and learned that, due to teacups being subject to more wear and tear, they tend to be the things that break, leaving behind their counterpart saucer.
Some of the saucers I came across were 250 years old and in incredible condition, demonstrating what was possible when Bone China was first created in Stoke-on-Trent. I wanted to make these orphan saucers relevant and valuable again, so I came up with the idea of producing mirrored cups to sit on the antique saucers, allowing the pattern to be reflected in the cup, uniting them as a perfect pair. After a trip to Stoke-on-Trent, and several prototypes later, I exhibited this idea at my graduate design exhibition and to my surprise, was soon supplying some of the most prestigious retailers in the world.
We’re delighted to be stocking your most recent collection, tell us a little bit about those pieces...
I have wanted to create a wine glass collection ever since I moved into glassware production in 2015, but I knew that with a few key players dominating the market I’d need to collaborate with a true expert in the field in order to create something spectacular. In conversation with numerous people in the wine world one name kept coming up: Jancis Robinson; a wine critic universally loved and respected for her clear, no-nonsense expertise that helps make the world of wine accessible to all.
Jancis has never endorsed or created a product before, so everything was against me when I first approached her about the potential of working together; in fact, she said no following my first email! I was certain that she was the right person to work with though, so persevered and eventually won her round! In our first meeting, Jancis told me that she strongly believes that you should only need one glass for every wine, if it’s the perfect glass. She was adamant that the rim should be as fine as possible to minimise the amount of glass that comes between the wine and the palate, that the stem should be long enough for a large hand, but short enough to fit in a domestic dishwasher, and that a standard pour should come to the widest point in the bowl to allow the wine to evenly distribute its all-important aromas. I had already learned so much and was able to start drawing.
These precise requirements gave our glass blowers the biggest challenge of their careers, as they initially struggled to get the weight of the glass as light as required, because they had never produced a collection this fine before. It took several rounds of prototypes to deliver a final product that met every single one of our requirements perfectly. We reviewed every prototype together and Jancis spent time with each one, coming back to me with minor tweaks and edits to the design, ready for the next round. Eventually, we created a form which complimented every wine Jancis tried in it.
This ‘one glass for every wine’ proposition is based on direct feedback Jancis has received from some of the world’s best producers of Champagne and other sparkling wines - as well as those making Sherry, Port and other fortified wines – that their products should be appreciated for having the same depth and complexity as table wines. The resulting collection consists of everything you need to enjoy wine at it’s very best: a wine glass, water glass, young wine decanter, old wine decanter and water carafe. The Young Wine Decanter has a wide surface area for opening up dense, tighter woven younger cuvées, while the Old Wine Decanter has a narrow aperture and stopper to limit the air exposure of fragile older wines.
What makes working with glass so rewarding?
The glass manufacturing process is such an elegant and beautiful one. It’s much more straightforward to create new shapes with the material, allowing freedom to be creative and inventive with the form. Also, there’s nothing better than enjoying a drink from a glass you’ve created at the end of it!
Where do you look to for inspiration?
My aesthetic is quite modern and contemporary, but I like to look to the past for examples of antique designs and heritage craft processes that have stood the test of time. I recently went on holiday accompanied by the book The Golden Age of English Glass: 1650-1775 – it’s a tome, but learning about the history of glassmaking in England has been really fascinating.