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.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
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
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
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

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

    Middleware Support Analyst

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Senior Java Developer/Designer

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

    Domino Developer and Administrator

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?