Has Reiko Kaneko lost her sense of humour?

The British-Japanese designer tells Annie Deakin why she is targeting a more serious market
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The Independent Online

Remember the oversized animal baubles? And the plastic soldiers holding a boiled egg ransom? They are the typically witty and surreal creations of British-Japanese designer Reiko Kaneko. Cheeky and mischievous are Kaneko's trademark - or so we thought. The award-winning designer has surprised fans by introducing a more sedate, sophisticated line of ceramics called Arctic comprising drinking vessels made of English fine bone china.

Kaneko is on a mission to prove she is more than a gifty designer and has her sights set on fine dining and bespoke commissions. Born in the UK but having spent much of her childhood in Japan, Kaneko unconsciously introduces a Japanese spirit to the traditional, British craft of bone china ceramics. This St.Martins graduate, who is a member of the mydeco design boutique, is revealing herself to be a designer with gravitas.

‘It is a conscious decision to have two separates strands to my collections. Some are humorous, others are now finer in style,’ explains Kaneko. ‘I have the more applied design on existing ceramic wares like the usual giftware teacups. Then, there is the Japanese-inspired fine dining ware that I am developing at the moment.’ In fact, it is not the toy soldier egg cup or (purposefully) lipstick-stained mugs – of which she is renowned for - that she takes most pride in. It is her Arctic collection, a more serious collection including contemporary sake cups. ‘Initially I was veering away from using ceramics for hot drinks and looking for other ways of using ceramics for ice-cold drinks. They are the subtle Japanese-inspired forms of cups for green tea or cold drinks.’

That is not to say that Kaneko has lost her love of creating everyday objects to make you smile. Earlier this month, she launched the Egg Breakfast Train at Top Drawer having shown samples at Maison Objet in January. Bringing joy to breakfast tables, the train features three fine bone china carriages (eggcup, toast rack and salt and pepper cellar) with functioning birch wooden wheels. ‘It’s nice to make eggcups because it’s something you grow up with. I still have eggcups from when I was small. It has been a popular piece. Both SCP and Selfridges will be selling them for Christmas.’ Her newest designs are her twiggy snowmen, bone china ornamental snowmen with real wooden twigs as arms. ‘I like the idea of bringing nature inside and at the end of the day, ceramics is really just earth and soil.’

Still showing the cheeky wit for which she is famous are Kaneko’s new sports-themed Jumpy mugs for next year’s big games. Using the physical shape of the mug as a playground, the handles become part of the game to jump through or over. Hurdlers, BMX cyclists and pole-vaulters fly through the handles instead of hoops. ‘This is for those who think it's funny to have a pole vaulting man struggling to vault over the mug handle whilst you sit back and have your tea.’ Kaneko says, ‘It is already one of the favourites from the series.’

'I have a lot of fun working with these products but I do want to get into the fine dining area and work with top restaurants on bespoke-ware,' explains Kaneko. 'I'm doing a lot of commissions for a top restaurant at the moment. It is confidential but it is a household name, definitely one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. '

Has Kaneko lost her sense of humour? No and in truth, she is the last one laughing as her designs come full circle. Years ago, she sent Sir Paul Smith a sample of the plastic soldier eggcup (her graduation piece). ‘He asked to meet me and helpfully gave me manufacturing contacts,' she says. 'He didn’t want to sell them as at £10, they’re too ‘gifty’ for his market; it’s more of the Urban Outfitters market. But now, he is selling my handmade ceramics.’ With strong support - from Sir Paul Smith among others - Kaneko is able to create serious dining ware while maintaining her witty designs on the side. 'The Arctic collection is most indicative of where I want to go with my designs. It’s a little longer lasting than the applied ceramics giftware.’

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.