Cook has designs on selling Britain
Thursday 12 March 1998
Wraparound sunglasses for Nike, an underwater camera, an orange bubbly vinyl cover for a Pet Shop Boys CD, a Swatch telephone shaped like an inner sole and Wallace and Gromit are just a few of the things that will greet visiting dignitaries meeting the Foreign Secretary.
The collection was chosen by the Design Council to highlight the fact that British designers with an international profile can put back the fun into functional.
But it is more than a beauty contest. "Foreign ambassadors may be amused and encouraged to use the mobile phones, cameras and sunglasses," Mr Cook believes.
The display will stand for at least a year, and the exhibition will only be changed once because not many statesmen visit twice.
The first step in a Foreign Office initiative to brand Britain abroad, Robin Cook hopes that it will " get across the message on the quality of British design".
Carefully avoiding any reference to "Cool Britannia", the Foreign Secretary explained that he was following a tradition set by Palmerston, who was "ruthless about promoting British trade".
The Fisher Price camera for children instantly prints out the image taken onto fax paper patterned with the background of a hundred dollar bill, or a TV screen framing it, or a speak bubble. Its microchip is made in Scotland, the rest is made in the Far East, the client is American and you can't buy it in Britain. But Mr Cook isn't fussed.
" Sure, I'd rather that historically we had explored the strength of British design. But there are still 25,000 people across Britain employed in design. The design industry is a big industry. And yes, who wouldn't want to see more made in Britain? But sometimes it is appropriate to manufacture elsewhere."
Two buildings - Alsop and Stormer's 'Le Grande Bleue' regional HQ for the council in Marseilles and Norman Foster's Reichstag in Berlin - are included in the showcase. The Government is as interested in the design of buildings as in products.
So what would the Foreign Secretary like most?
"Should we ever serve canned drinks, I shall crush the cans afterwards" he said, demonstrating the bottle green Attila can crusher - and proving that his 18th century table was too flimsy for this robust activity.
Design, page 17
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