Our Tastemakers edit returns with the man of the moment, Yinka Ilori, who has recently transformed our Chelsea and Marylebone windows with his electrifying Forest of Eyes, in collaboration with LG OLED for London Craft Week. To commemorate the occasion, we had the honour of discussing with Mr Ilori all things career, creativity, and Conran Shop.
The London-based multidisciplinary artist specialises in design, architecture, and sculpture, fusing his British and Nigerian heritage to define contemporary design in a humorous, provocative, and fun way. He began his practice in 2011 by up-cycling vintage furniture, and now runs a blossoming studio of colour-obsessed architects and designers. As part of his Tastemakers feature, Yinka not only answered ten of our most burning questions, but also selected his top ten products from The Conran Shop, which you can shop below. From elephant-themed cushions and decorative accessories, inspiring reads for all ages, exclusive textiles and a retro-inspired boombox to Vitra icons by the likes of the Eameses and George Nelson, it is clear to see that his inspiration knows no bounds.
1. Welcome to The Conran Shop, Yinka! You probably need no introduction, but might you still tell our customers about you and your studio?
I started Yinka Ilori Studio in 2011 after graduating from London Metropolitan University. At the early stages of my career, I explored storytelling using design, particularly through up-cycling furniture. Since then, my practice has grown to encompass everything from furniture and products to set design and large-scale outdoor installations, which is united by a sense of play, narrative and a joyful use of colour and pattern, and has been inspired by my Nigerian heritage and my parents' love of telling stories.
2. We’re elated to celebrate London Craft Week 2022 with you and LG; can you please explain the collaboration and window installation in more detail?
I’m elated too! LG and The Conran Shop are both brands that I think are at the forefront of what they do. Like most designers, I’ve been following The Conran Shop ever since I was a student, so it’s a real privilege to have my own homeware collection available in-store. I also have an LG TV at home because the quality of their screens is really incredible.
I was approached for this project by LG, who were launching their latest TV in collaboration with The Conran Shop, and they wanted me to create a window display using their OLED evo TVs. I was briefed to interpret the theme 'Light Up Your World' to develop something really unique and engaging within which The Conan Shop’s new Outdoor 22 edit could also be showcased. As colour and pattern play a really big role in my work, we thought it would be really fitting for me to create a digital artwork that could be displayed on the new TVs, which are crystal clear in terms of the film and colour quality.
3. You titled the installation ‘Forest of Eyes’; why eyes in particular?
When I began to think about the installation and particularly the theme 'Light Up Your World,' human eyes were immediately something I was drawn towards. Our eyes are essential for human connection and can convey so much. You commonly hear the phrase “her eyes lit up” when someone is excited or happy. So I began to think about this in terms of how we communicate our joy through our eyes and how, from a mechanical perspective, our pupils dilate when we encounter something that excites us.
During lockdown, so many of us had to try and smile with our eyes because it was impossible to tell someone’s expression through a mask. This also led me to start looking at iconography and the history of eyes in different cultures. We researched what different eye colours mean in different cultures, and the motif and installation grew out of this. The installation itself combines lots of these different elements and also tries to depict pupil dilation through the animation on the LG TV screens.
4. Accompanying your mesmerising window displays is an assortment of your products, from mugs to rugs; what was the process behind their creation?
The products on display are part of the collection that I created over lockdown. During that time, most of my projects were put on hold, and we were in a moment of isolation, separated from our families and loves ones. In addition, people spent an unprecedented amount of time at home, so I wanted to create a collection that could bring people some joy at that moment, wherever they were.
The patterns themselves have been inspired by my lockdown experience and the things I would see or places I would run or cycle past. For example, I often went for a cycle to Kew Gardens or for a run along the river. The colours, textures and patterns of the collection have been inspired by the greenery and water.
5. You yourself were raised in London; how important are events such as London Craft Week to aspiring artists, designers, and dreamers?
I think events like London Craft Week are really important for a number of different reasons. Firstly, for emerging and established makers, designers and artists to showcase their work and reach a new audience - not just in London but also globally. Secondly, these are key moments where we can celebrate the incredible breadth and depth of talent found in the UK. And finally, it’s a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from what others are doing.
6. How does your British-Nigerian heritage play into your work?
My heritage plays a significant role in my work. Being a British Nigerian, I communicate a lot about my personal history, memories and experiences growing up through my work.
I was introduced to colour and pattern at a young age, and it’s left an impression ever since. I would see my parents and their friends dress up in incredible outfits made from luxurious, bright textiles. Whenever we were at a gathering, there was a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. I would also visit the markets in Nigeria, which were filled with lots of different sights and smells. These early experiences, along with my parents’ love of storytelling, are something that has really inspired me as a designer and artist.
7. Who and what are your greatest design influences?
Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Es Devlin are all designers and architects who I admire and am inspired by. Es creates the most incredible immersive experiences through her work which allows people to feel like they are a part of her work. In a lot of my large-scale installations, I try to create an experience where people can feel not just a part of the work but also the journey of the piece. I really admire the way Francis and David weave stories into their work. For his recent Serpentine Pavilion installation, Francis Kéré referenced a tree in Gando, which is a meeting place for local residents. For me, sharing personal stories with people you don’t know through your work is incredibly powerful, special and very intimate.
8. Last year, you were declared a Member of the British Empire; what does this honour mean to you and your practice?
It’s a huge honour to be recognised for my work by my country. Sometimes as a designer or artist, you can work in a silo, so being recognised in this way really helps emphasise that the work you are producing impacts both your community and your country.
9. A little Eames House Bird tells us that you have a thing about chairs; which chair at The Conran Shop is your favourite?
My favourite chair of all time is the Coconut Chair by George Nelson. It’s beautiful, elegant and incredibly sexy! I would love to get one for my home in black and white leather. I also recently bought the Conran Shop-exclusive, limited-edition Panton Chair Duo by Verner Panton for Vitra as a collectable, which I’m really excited about.
10. Finally, what does the future hold for Yinka Ilori?
Hopefully, the future holds more exciting projects in public spaces centred around the idea of joy and bringing the community together. We take each year as it comes, so we’ll have to see how things evolve in 2022 and beyond!