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To Speak of Light as Soft: Meet Elena Samms

Exclusively premiered at The Conran Shop, Elena Samms’ debut collection results from a blossoming relationship dating back to the 2019 New Designers show, where Samms was shortlisted for The Conran Shop’s coveted Design Award. Following the launch, we sat down with Samms to discuss their exciting first two years in the industry.

1. Elena, you were on our 2019 New Designers shortlist; congratulations again! What have you been up to since then?

Thank you so much! It was an absolute honour to be included on your shortlist and to meet the lovely Conran Shop team. After New Designers, I spent a few weeks with designer Billy Lloyd in his Kennington studio. I feel lucky enough to say I've built a firm friendship with him now, often subjecting him to my ceramic casualties and kiln mishaps. Before the pandemic hit, I had a brief but exciting time with the Crafts Council, working at the incredible art fair, Collect. Alongside all of this, I met artist Natasha Daintry. She generously invited me to meet into her studio and, after what felt like an instant captivation with her and her work, I began assisting her part-time, and now take up a space in her South London studio. I continue to soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can from her.

2. How do you think that being a part of New Designers has affected your career?

New Designers was truly my first step into the industry after University. It was a pivotal point in my career, meeting designers, artists and buyers. It gave me a platform to show off all of the hard graft I had put into my degree collection to an audience I would have never been exposed to before.

3. Have you been keeping an eye on New Designers since; what were your impressions of the shortlisted candidates this year, and did any particular entries catch your eye?

I have! Darcy Eloise Hill's Potters Chair is a design after my own heart. Combining my two obsessions, chairs and ceramics, how could you go wrong? Her attentive eye, fuelled by her pottery experience, allows for a quality of making that truly encapsulates a 'design through making' practice.

4. As a new designer, have you noticed any emerging design trends in the last two years that excite you?

In the past two years, I've seen artists and designers create awe-inspiring, thought-provoking work that addresses our current political climate, specifically highlighting racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. This is potentially nothing new, but feels fiercely important to highlight in recent years, following the killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. Rayvenn Shaleigha D'Clark's 'note bene' (2020) sits at the forefront of my mind.

5. The Conran Shop is thrilled to premiere your 'To Speak of Light as Soft' collection; can you please tell us a bit more about it and how it came to be.

Of course! It began in my final year of University when I started reading around the phenomenology of architecture and instantly became fascinated with the examination of the minutiae, with a particular focus on how we experience light and the language we use to describe it. We often describe light as 'soft,' a word used to describe a physical, touch-based experience. But to use it in the context of light fascinated me, and so began my journey of trying to encapsulate this notion via ceramics. Creating a sort of soft milieu through the medium of Parian clay. 

6. Which is your favourite piece in the collection?

Picking my favourite piece truly is the hardest thing, purely because I love them most when they're stood together in their numbers. The collaboration between the shapes is what I find most exciting, the eye can't help but bounce between the forms.

7. How do you feel that the pandemic has affected your craft, if at all?

The pandemic forced a pause on us all which was, undeniably, jilting and disorientating at first, but now has really highlighted my priorities. Although some work within the industry came to a pause, I was lucky enough to be able to hide myself away in the studio and just make, practise and refine skills that I hadn't touched since university. I remembered what I love most, which is getting my hands into a bag of clay and simply making.

All photos taken by Iso Attrill at Natasha Daintry's London studio

8. Are there any ceramics by other makers at The Conran Shop that catch your eye?

Daniel Schofield's Mag Table collection is an absolute feat of ceramic engineering, standing at 50cm tall, they make a statement as I've never seen before.

9. Lastly, what are your career hopes for the next few years?

I'm so excited to see what the future holds past the launch of my collection with The Conran Shop. I'm particularly looking forward to developing my making skills and personal signature, learning from my heroes, Natasha Daintry and Billy Lloyd. As far as making, my next project will be in lighting, I think it's about time I put a bulb behind these Parian pieces and see what happens.

Explore and shop Elena Samms’ new collection here and be sure to follow them on Instagram.