For Lee Broom, experimenting with new material is both the greatest joy and challenge of being a designer. So when the 250-year-old British ceramics manufacturer Wedgwood approached him to create a collection of limited-edition vases, he jumped at it. “I always try to use new materials, for myself and for my team, as that’s what excites us as designers” says Lee, “When designing I like to take old designs and reinterpret them, presenting them in a new light. Which is why I chose the Jasperware, which Josiah Wedgwood invented in the 18th century, because it is so well known. When you think of Wedgwood, you think of Jasperware.”
The Wedgwood Limited Edition by Lee Broom range, which launches exclusively at Harrods this April as part of the Art Partners celebration, is released in editions of 15.“I was excited about delving into the Wedgwood archive, finding out more about its history. I spent two solid days there and only scratched the surface,” says Lee, “Going onto the factory floor and spending time with the guys who work there, some of them for 40 years, was really thrilling too. They still use an engine turning machine to create the Jasperware that dates back to the 1700s, because they still haven’t found a machine that is able to achieve the same precision.” For his own interpretations on the designs, Lee took several classic Wedgwood silhouettes from different periods and pared back the ornamentation. “From a visual point of view, I was most attracted to the black and white stripes of the Panther vase because it is so timeless. I stripped out all the ornamentation but kept the silhouette. Then I cut bits out and incorporated shapes from other Wedgwood vases.” Alongside the Panther, Lee took elements of the Acorn Vase, The Mythological Beast vase and the 1202 Vase to feed into his designs.
Somewhat ironically, what proved most challenging for the Wedgwood craftsmen was the lack of complex embellishment. “A lot of the ornamentation, it turned out, was there to cover things that needed to be covered. So when it is stripped out, things have to be even more precise. Such as where the lid sits on a vase, the stripes have to align exactly which is very difficult to do by hand.” However, perfectionists by nature, the Wedgwood design team seized upon the technical challenge, hand crafting the pieces using the traditional techniques of throwing, engine turning and ornamentation in the Wedgwood factory in Stoke-on-Trent.
Using the Panther vase as a starting point, Lee then incorporated playful post-modern elements. “Jasperware has this dry, biscuit finish, almost a rough texture. So I juxtaposed it with glossy neon spheres as the stems and polished metal elements, like finials, to really make it pop.” Created in the 18th century, the Panther vase is so named because, originally, the handles were formed as panthers rising from the shoulders. But Lee again stripped out the panther forms and replaced them with lighter, utterly simple, geometric handles.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Lee Broom design studio and to celebrate, he is launching another, independent limited edition collection at Salone Del Mobile (4-9 April) in Milan. Entitled Time Machine, this immersive installation will be set inside a derelict vault in the Milano Centrale train station, never before open to the public. In the centre, and providing the only illumination in the vast vault, will be a modernist interpretation of a fairground carousel, which says Lee “will revolve to signify the lifecycle of the brand.”
Arranged upon this will be an edit of the furniture, lighting and accessory designs produced by Lee over the 10 years, all reproduced in pure white in editions of 10. They include his Bright On Bistro (2008), Carpetry Console (2009), Crystal Bulb (2012) and Drunken Side Table (2015). But the centrepiece is an entirely new design, a monolithic grandfather clock hand-crafted from Carrara marble with polished brass detailing. “Excuse the pun but it felt like a timely thing to do, signifying the passage of time,” says Lee of the clock, “We are known for marble and polished brass, but the silhouette is something entirely new, a sneak peek into what is to come.”
The Wedgwood Lee Broom collection is priced from Dhs34,464 (£7500) and is available exclusively at Harrods, London. Harrods.com