Shopping & Design: Starck future for new designers

Everything from the gorgeously impractical to the prosaically functional is on show in London this week.
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The Independent Culture
The annual hunt for the Hockneys, Starcks and Dysons of the future starts in earnest next week. The occasion is the New Designers exhibition at London's Business Design Centre. While enthusiasts have already been scouring their local degree shows in search of unrecognised star potential, even the most dedicated talent spotter is handicapped by the sheer quantity and geographical dispersal of Britain's art schools. At "The Future of Design" the preliminary work has already been done, and a galaxy of lustrous and original talent has been collected together under one roof.

On display will be work in a vast array of disciplines by some 4,000 graduate designers taken from more than 100 colleges and universities. The first week (8-11 July) kicks off with makers of furniture, ceramics, jewellery, glass, silversmithing, metalwork, industrial, product and interior design, applied arts and model making. The second week (15-18 July) is the turn of textile design, fashion, accessories, graphic design, illustration, packaging, advertising, photography and multimedia. This is the 14th New Designers, and the biggest yet.

The whole bonanza is a chance not just to become au fait with what is current at art schools - the sleek, the wacky and the ingenious - but also to buy at bargain prices original and one-off pieces which just might turn out to be by a future meteor of the design world. You will not have the field entirely to yourself: scouts from the big manufacturers around Europe will also be studying the form, eager to snap up potential best- sellers for themselves and offering plum jobs abroad; this therefore may be your last chance to encounter the graduates' creations before they appear in (unaffordable) specialist shops or on the High Street. Students will be present to talk about and explain the rationale behind their work.

One of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition is its diversity: everything from gorgeous, if impractical, porcelain garments by Dawn Wilding of Guildhall University, to the bright-hued Heath- Robinson-like medicine dispenser dreamed up by Samantha Hancox of De Montfort University. There is a pleasing level of inventiveness and experimentation, both in materials and the use to which they are put. Thus fanciful footwear sports carved wooden heels, while jewellery is frequently made from non- precious materials such as plastic - Chris Lockyer's luminous rings - although theatrical interpretations of traditional precious materials also abound, and cutlery still tends to be metal-made. While most furniture is tastefully wooden or metallic, designs for children are bold and funky, though one can't help but wonder how comfortable Yukiko Saga's hedgehog children's stool - of wood and rubber "prickles" - really is.

The commercial world is bent on showing support for and solidarity with the designers of tomorrow, so much so that some of its biggest hitters (BT, Dyson, Marks & Spencer and Hallmark, among others) have acted as sponsors for the occasion. There is also an impressive list of companies - Bombay Sapphire, Wedgwood, Reebok and Paperchase are just a few of them - who have put their money where their next great white hope may be and signed up to the New Designers Awards Scheme, which helps graduate designers set themselves up in business.

In case there remains any doubt of the avenues open to the graduates thronging New Designers 1999, there is a special section entitled "One Year On" containing wares completed in the past year by 50 graduates who have set up on their own since last year's show. All are impressively professional - demonstrating a far greater understanding of what is commercially viable than the as yet untested undergraduates.

The discerning may also discover trends that emanate from particular art schools. A visitor who knows little of the various individual colleges will soon begin to gather which specialise in what discipline: Edinburgh, for example, has a sensational jewellery department; Parnham College is for furniture makers.

One of the joys of individual designers (at least before they reach the megastar stage) is that they can be commissioned to make tailor-made items for you: unlike a shop you do not have to plump simply for what is available. Not that there is any compulsion to buy; you canwander at your leisure, soaking up new trends and ideas. And if, by the end, you are still in the mood for novelty, there is at least one (post-) graduate show still to come: the second part of the Royal College of Art exhibition including Architecture and Interiors, Industrial Design and Furniture, Textiles, and Graphics (3 & 4 July, 10-6, at the Royal College of Art, London SW7; 0171 590 4444).

1999 New Designers is at the Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1 0QH (0171 359 3535); ticket hotline 0121 767 4787; Part One 8-11 July, Part Two 15-18 July; Thursday 11am-8pm; Fri and Sat 11am-6pm; Sunday 11am-4pm. Entrance pounds 8. (Visit their website atwww. newdesigners.com for further details.)

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