Design: Robin's latest objects of desire

Our Foreign Secretary has a message for the rest of the world: British design is brilliant. But, says Nonie Niesewand, somebody else needs to listen - us

WHY would Robin Cook want a pair of Wannabe loafers by designer Patrick Cox in three shades of leather woven together like mosiacs, or a copy of the Pet Shop Boys' orange bubble CD cover which sold three and a half million copies five years ago hanging around in his office? To represent the global reach of cutting edge design in Britain, of course. A dozen examples have been chosen by the Design Council in the first phase of a Foreign Office-led promotion, including two big-budget buildings abroad - the Reichstag in Berlin by Norman Foster and the regional HQ for Marseilles council by Will Alsop.

"I wanted to show the world that the Foreign Office in modern Britain is better than a collection of Hansards," the Foreign Secretary said. So his antique walnut 1860s Dutch bookcase was emptied to make a showcase. Its colourful and playful contents may represent the best of cutting edge contemporary design, but they also retell the familiar tale of how the best of British design ends up being manufactured abroad.

An underwater camera by Seymour Powell shaped like a banana to maximise brightness in the depths is made for Minolta in Japan. A Fisher Price children's camera digitises the image and prints it on fax paper instantly. The cheapest digital camera of its type at $39, it is not not on sale in Britain, but assembled in the Far East for an American company, though at least the microchip is Scottish. The Clockwork radio by Trevor Bayliss is made by his company Bay-gen in South Africa. Attila, the ugly tool that crushes cans in its Schwarzenegger pincer arms, was designed by Julian Brown for an Italian company, Rexite.

So should the Foreign Secretary be showcasing objects not just designed but made in Britain too?

"It really doesn't matter where it's made," argues Tim Brown of Ideo, whose wrap-around Nike sunglasses are designed so that when your head moves while running there is no distortion. Grooves on the rubberised bridge stop sweat from running into the eyes - just a small detail but one that makes them a winner. The US sprint relay team at the last Olympics wore them.

"So what if it's a USA client, with bits made in Taiwan and Japan," Brown says. It's simply not an issue any more. Design really is a global business and we shouldn't take a national view. Promoting Britain's creativity is great. If British manufacturers want a piece of the action they will buy into it."

Designs that won't need much explanation to visiting dignitaries include Wallace and Gromit. Practically ambassadors abroad for Britain themselves, these animations by Nick Park talk to Peruvians and win Oscars. And Brit pop talks a lot more than some trade commissioners. Take the Pet Shop Boys, who have just returned from concerts in Russia where fans paid $100 a night for nightclub performances in Moscow. "All the smart people are disparaging about Cool Britannia and this hype for design," says singer Neil Tennant. "But I used to get apoplectic with rage when I got on to a plane and they showed foreigners what Britain was like in the Eighties. Those beefeaters in London, and cream teas in the Cotswolds. I prefer this new look."

Robin Cook is concerned that the branding of Britain is seen to be on the cutting edge of design with international players. He personally requested that a computer image of Norman Foster's Reichstag in Berlin (still under construction) was part of this design statement. The other building on parade is Will Alsop of Alsop and Stormer's "le Grand Bleu" as the cobalt blue regional HQ of the Marseilles council is known. Alsop says its strength derives from an orchestrated experience between calmness and excitement.

For all those on a jingoistic trip about buying British Alsop reminds us that if it wasn't for the rest of the world, and Europe in particular, British architects would have hardly built a thing in the Seventies and Eighties. He argues that if the Government wants to see the best of British design and architecture in this country it has got to do something about the "aesthetic policemen - the planning committees, Royal Fine Arts, English Heritage, all brought up with an idea of order, restraint, and good manners. Architects have proved that with technology and new materials, they can give the public extraordinary sensuality within their buildings."

The rest of the world has known for a long time that British design talent is worth investing in. The irony, as Alsop points out, is that we still haven't grasped it ourselves.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
fashionA new dress to enrage the internet...
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own