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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of her eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments