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Alasdhair Willis of Established & Sons discusses the company's success in placing British design on the world map and creating covetable collectibles that are breaking the boundaries between art and design.

Placing British design on the world map, Established & Sons are taking the industry by storm creating covetable collectibles that are breaking down boundaries.


Since Established & Sons arrived on the scene three years ago in 2004, the young UK design collective has been causing a not-so-quiet revolution in design. Blazing a trail, not only in design, but more importantly for the country's flagging manufacturing industry, in three short years the design company has put Britain firmly back on the map. Founders Alasdhair Willis, Tamara Caspersz, Sebastian Wrong and Mark Holmes originally met at art school before dispersing into their chosen fields. Willis shot to fame as editor of Wallpaper magazine and Caspersz became general manager of leading UK design showroom Viaduct, while Holmes and Wrong made their name as leading designers, as well as forming their own creative partnership prior to the project. "I was running Wallpaper for six years and I saw that we had such an immense wealth of talent. That's when it really formulated in my head" explains Willis, the company's CEO "Seeing British designers get excited when they received a call from Cappellini or Driade, I just thought 'why aren't they getting a call from someone here in the UK?' I understood the business reasons that British manufacturing is challenging, but with high end pieces, I didn't see why it couldn't happen here." Willis and the team joined forces with Angad Paul, Chief Executive of manufacturing group Caparo and Established & Sons was born. The brand has built an impressive stable of British and British based designers, from young talents such as Alexander Taylor and new addition Klauser & Carpenter, to major heavyweights Jasper Morrison, Michael Young and Zaha Hadid. However, behind the star names lies an impressive strategy. In addition to flying the flag for British design, Established & Sons has become a major figurehead in the industry's changing course, elevating it beyond mere functionality into the realm of art with its high style range of limited editions which sell for up to £60,000. At last week's London Design Week it presented 'Elevating Design' an exhibition dedicated to the current 'Design Art' phenomenon. Although, as Willis is quick to point out "This kind of merging of design and art is actually not a good thing, as it's not beneficial to the designer, so I'm trying to steer away from that whole kind of design/art mentality where pieces, such as the Zaha Hadid shelves could be seen as just sculpture. I think it's bad, as it doesn't give longevity to what we are trying to do here. Every piece that we work on has to have a basis in design – it has to have a function. If it's just pure sculpture, then I feel that there's a problem" he explains "I'm having conversations like this with auction houses, the big galleries like Larry Gagosian and such. The main players know that the separation has to be there for everyone's sake... I always maintain that our pieces are fully functional."

Today's design-art 'love-in' works reciprocally, as the company recently proved with its latest range of collaboration pieces. The first example of these visionary hybrids is the new range of WrongWoods units, created as a collaboration between designer Sebastian Wrong and artist Richard Woods "To bring two designers together is not really very extensively done. Designers prefer to work independently, whereas artists and architects are much more open to collaborations. When you add other creatives into the mix, the results become quite interesting. I believe that it is also important for the continued development and the pushing of our business and the industry to have an area of the business where we can genuinely take risks. It may miss on a commercial level, but have a real interest on a design level, and I think that is as valid as commercial success" he acknowledges.

It is these and other visionary endeavors, such as Jasper Morrison's controversial reinvention of the humble crate, which has hurled the dynamic collective into spotlight in an incredibly short time frame. At last year's Design Miami/Basel an offshoot of the world's premier modern and contemporary art fair Art Basel, the team took the Designer of the Future award, further cementing Established & Sons' place as a major player in contemporary design, as well as spawning a new breed of British design "We're not trying to emulate what other countries can do better than ourselves necessarily, we are working to our strengths" says Willis. Next month sees the opening of the first Established & Sons showroom in London's gallery district, with a Manhattan space in the pipeline, further corroboration that they are well and truly established.

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