Culture, Craftsmanship & Curiosity | An evening with Tristram Hunt at DCCH

On Tuesday 3rd October, the North Dome of the imposing Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour was transformed into a stunning dining hall where 140 of Walpole’s member Creative Directors and CEOs, Brands of Tomorrow and Crafted alumni, joined speaker Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, for an evening of fine dining, wines from Chapel Down’s award-winning Kent-based vineyards, and insightful discussions into ‘Culture, Craftsmanship and Curiosity’ – where the creative ethos behind all luxury brands was celebrated.

The event also played host to a delegation of German luxury CEOs from Walpole’s sister organisation Meisterkreis, including its founder and president, Clemens Pflanz. The delegation enjoyed a pre-event drinks reception and welcome from Walpole chairman and Harrods MD Michael Ward at Savoir Beds’ showroom in the DCCH South Dome, with Walpole CEOs including MD of Savoir Beds, Alistair Hughes, joining the delegation.

Please click here to read more about the Meisterkreis delegation’s visit to London, including a panel discussion on Anglo-German luxury trends at Harrods.

Following an introductory welcome from Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank and Clemens Pflanz, Dr Tristram Hunt, the new Director of the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert, addressed assembled guests, with a fascinating insight into the V&A, the objects housed within – many of which are created by Walpole member brands – and the work the V&A is doing to further arts and design education in the UK.

Please read on for an overview of Tristram’s speech.

Collections and public monuments are the true teachers of a free people,” wrote one of Prince Albert’s advisers, the German architect Gottfried Semper.

Many Walpole brands appear in the V&A – not least the Wedgwood Collection [which is on long-term loan to the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent] and it is this power of craft and human element of skill that unites us; we see your work as crafts people, and your work as luxury brands across our 2.3 million pieces in the V&A.

The great icons of the V&A – the Rotunda Chandelier is made from 1,300 magnificent freeblown bulbs and is a great feat of engineering – combining cutting edge and traditional techniques; blending seamless modernity and ancient craftsmanship.

This sector is our calling card to the world; brand aura is a huge soft power. If you think of the importance of brand and brand identity always refer back to Josiah Wedgwood who – fed up of people ripping him off – put his brand stamp on the back of his crockery. This is what I now refer to as the ‘turnover club’, when you can’t resist turning your plate upside down to see who created it.

The V&A is also a hub for teaching design and arts education to the next generation. Our purpose is to promote enterprise, creation and design, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. There has been a 42% drop in GCSEs in art and design technology in the state school system – stripped out due to a funding crisis in education. The V&A feel it is our responsibility to champion these causes: design and creativity matters; stimulated minds create citizens and human capital to create business growth.

We are partnering with local secondary schools and businesses in Blackburn and Coventry to teach practical, specialist skills; Coventry is the heart of the car industry and Blackburn has textiles.

We are ensuing as many of the V&A’s 2.3 million objects go round the country; there is a real crisis in arts funding. If you’re living in certain areas, your ability to access culture is seriously hindered and the V&A is doing much to reverse this. We should be a book whose leaves are always open with a responsibility to open it up to the country – and we therefore lend more objects to more museums than any other. This time next year we will open the Museum of Scottish Design in Dundee.

We recognise the importance of regional creativity and the importance of place: “Made in Staffordshire” is so much more powerful than “Made in China”, plus you are more nimble creating in Stafford than in the Far East, with the ability to retain real brand authenticity. There’s so many examples of luxury brands investing in regional skills and apprenticeships: Burberry, Boodles, Mulberry, Wedgwood. London should be an energiser and supporter of regional homegrown artisans; it is so important to get young people to see manufacturing and workshops as a viable career path.

We are opening up our museum to change; and I am delighted the luxury industry is doing the exact same thing.

For more information on Walpole’s programme of events, please contact Olivia Lowdell.