Tag Archives: culture

A New Spin on Traditional Design

25 Jun

North of Shanghai’s Nanjing West shopping street filled with Western stores and Chinese knock offs lies a store which is truly original. Spin Ceramics was founded by Jeremy Kuo, a Japanese restaurateur in Shanghai who became so frustrated with the lack of quality design available in the city that – after a brief stint importing expensive ceramics from Japan – he decided to make his own.

Spin Ceramics, Shanghai

Head designer Gary Wang leads a team of young craftsmen to create the handmade pieces. The overall style has a Japanese influence, pared back, simple and organic but the real delight in the designs are the playful touches and imperfections. Squished vases, curled cup lips and drips of colour across the stark white porcelain. A very different aesthetic to the highly ornamental design so prevalent in China.

Spin Ceramics, Shanghai

What makes this store really special is the prices. For design in Shanghai which is so unique the low price tags will bowl you over. Chopstick holders and tea cups can go for 20RMB (divide by 10 for rough UK currency) large bowls and serving plates around 150-200RMB. When you compare this to prices in John Lewis you’ll soon find yourself buying up the whole store.

Last Dictator Standing

7 Mar

Comedy often serves a dual purpose in South Africa – not only entertaining, but tackling issues that are otherwise hard to swallow. This can lead to controversy. The last Nando’s ad took a pot-shot at Robert Mugabe, showing Bob sitting down to an empty Christmas dinner table and reminiscing about good times with his old mates – recently departed dictators.


South Africans loved it and chalked it up as ‘another cheeky Nando’s ad.’ But the international response was quite different – it was seen as disrespectful, controversy for controversy’s sake and was quickly pulled in Zimbabwe as Mugabe supporters threatened Nando’s staff. So why did South Africa enjoy what others found tasteless? Has the violent past rendered it insensitive to the horrors of war? Or is there something more to it?

On the surface, the Nando’s commercial contrasts the innocence and joy of Christmas with the atrocities that the dictators stood for. Morbid, yes. But, South Africans have long used humour to face the darkness that still lies beneath the rainbow nation. In a country where many people are apolitical, politically uninformed and avoid reading the news because ‘it makes me depressed’, the kings of comedy don’t only entertain, they create a news format that tells the truth in a bite size, palatable format. Something you can stomach despite the content. Being able to laugh at racial, political and societal issues helps South Africans deal with them.

South Africans rely on their comedians to reframe the frightening, the obscure and the challenges of daily life in way that makes them easier to handle – allowing these jesters of culture the space to be offensive, insensitive and rude in a way that’s not tolerated in other situations. Like broccoli and cheese sauce, they prefer reality served with a good helping of comedy.

Luxury Story

6 Mar

We love stories, and nothing gets us more interested in a brand than a compelling one. Cartier’s recent epic advert L’Odyssée, clocking in at just over three-and-a-half minutes and two years in the making, shows the brand as more than just a dream come true, but as a maker of dreams. Take a look for yourself. 


Cartier joins the likes of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld as a fully-fledged creator of content. The vignette is rich and sweeping, and just as sparkling to look at as the jeweller’s normal fare, but what story does this actually tell us about the brand?

Cartier takes us around the world, from its Paris home to the Far East and back again, touching on the brand’s rich international heritage. One part explorer, one part magician, the iconic character of the panther is the embodiment of the Cartier woman as “elegant, free-spirited and independent.” It meanders through a fantasy world that is a bit The Secret Garden meets The Golden Compass meets Hugo and Tin Tin. Like these fantasies, L’Odyssée delivers on adventure, but without really going anywhere. We first encounter the panther encased in crystal, from which it breaks free, bursting through a glass ceiling, but rather than exploring the world anew, the panther prowls through the glory of its own past, only to end up encased again, this time in a jewellery box. 

While the sprawling scope of the advert allows Cartier to include many elements of the brand’s heritage, it also comes across as a bit imperial. There’s an element of the conqueror in the grandiosity of the vistas, the positioning of the panther on top of mountains, buildings (and even  aeroplanes) and in the brooding, though beautiful, original score. We’re quite certain this will play in emerging markets like China and India where the muscle of luxury juggernauts like Louis Vuitton still equal big status. We’re less certain about markets like France and the UK where luxury cues tend to be more subtle and nuanced. It could easily be seen as luxury conquest. The panther is still a predator, after all. And in a market like the US where luxury stories are often told with a boot-strapping sense of arrival through effort, this feels a bit too old-money to connect.

We might expect a campaign on this scale to set the benchmark for the category, but actually we’re not so sure it resonates in today’s society. For all its majesty, L’Odyssée seems stuck in Cartier’s past. Tie-ins with social media like the iPhone and Instagram have Tiffany’s delivering on ‘now’ much more effectively and becoming a must have luxury brand for today’s young while Cartier seems to be re-enforcing what we know about it, namely that it’s only for the long-moneyed uber-rich. We can see a future with Tiffany’s while the scarlet box seems closed on Cartier.

Anti-imperialism aside however, this does feel like a daring move for the brand.  In a branding world that is increasingly about the experience, the stunning mini-movie with accompanying behind-the-scenes content had us spending more time with Cartier than we ever have before. This could be a great way for Cartier to leverage its long history as a purveyor of international style and assert itself as the luxury brand for the really really rich and, to be honest, if someone did send us one of those sparkly panther things we probably wouldn’t say no (although we might cash it in on eBay).

Kooky Monster

5 Mar

New Girl poster (channel4com)

Channel Four’s latest US import, New Girl, stars Zooey Deschanel  as a cute, silly eccentric.  You know the type – beautiful, daft, women-children who can barely cope with their lives. Deschanel’s Jess is struggling to cope after a break-up. She is entirely helpless – trying and failing to flirt, only capable of watching Dirty Dancing on loop, and apparently unable to talk without  the aid of silly voices and little ditties all about herself. The show’s advert has her lying in a packaging crate looking confused in a prom dress – as if she really were “new,” a freshly hatched chick with no clue.

But this silly creature is nothing new. The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ is as old as cinema – epitomised by Audrey Hepburn’s naïve, quirky Holly Golightly. She is the ingénue who exists entirely to bring spark and adventure to the life of the young male protagonist. These darlings are always doe-eyed innocents, impulsive and rudderless, with a pocketful of idiosyncrasies. Some of them even wear vintage clothes. They’re more like children or sweet animals than fully-grown women.

Oh Comely (birdsinhats.blogspot.com)

Magazines such as  ‘Oh Comely’ take this kook even further. It is packed full of ephemeral faery-women, all floaty and delicate, with their colours washed out. It is all naïve handwritten fonts and pencil sketches. The tangle-haired models look terribly arty , but utterly unchallenging.

It makes us ask – is this sexism for sensitive boys? Is this a fresh kind of chauvinism for clever, complex men who’d never sign up to the patriarchy, but don’t mind a smudge of the patronising? Does this portrayal allow indie boys to stay cushioned by their progressive beliefs, whilst admitting that the beautiful but unthreatening kook is their dream girl?

The women portrayed this way never seem actually weird in an interesting or tough way – they have character quirks, but no real character. With few hopes or desires of their own, they add very little to the scenes they’re in. This breed of cute rapidly becomes grating. Surely it’s high time to kill the kook?

Three Little Pigs

1 Mar

There are riots, twitter hashtags, visualisations, infographics and intrigue of injustice. There are people from around the world coming together, sharing and debating over one hot topic. Sound familiar? Yep, you guessed it – it’s the affair of the three little pigs.

If you haven’t seen the Guardian’s new ad, you should.

It’s dark, bold and modern. It’s sleek and sinister. It’s very Charlie Brooker (and that’s not just because of the pigs). Even though we’re already readers, it makes us want to get more involved. We want to read the news that way, be a part of the movement created from different points of view, know that the source of our information is genuine, unbiased, a platform that’s at the cutting edge, that brings thinkers together and relentlessly reveals the curious truth behind stories that seem simple at first.

Without a doubt we’re big fans – it’s a brave move – but has The Guardian gone too far? This is a big risk, challenging the role of journalism and journalists, and challenging what a newspaper should be. It throws down an almighty gauntlet to everyone else. But, as a risk, it’s the best we’ve seen in a long time.

The Guardian has unapologetically staked its territory as the bastion of ‘open journalism’, eloquently summed up in Rusbridger’s accompanying copy. It’s not necessarily something that only the Guardian can claim to do – surely Twitter, or even the internet itself, could be described as a form of ‘open journalism’ –  but in the newspaper world it’s a space that the Guardian can own. It’s the first time a publication has created such a just commentary of what modern journalism is – and it gives them a stance, a voice, a manifesto that feels fresh compared to all the others.

It’s also clearly speaking to a certain kind of person, which in our opinion is the best kind of advertising. Picking up so many current cultural cues – the riots, recessionary times, the murmur of social media and power of the people – the ad talks to someone who cares about what’s going in the world, who’s active – politically or otherwise – who takes part in global conversations with a curiosity for knowledge and truth. If you’re not that type of person, you’ll probably hate it. But there are plenty of those kind of people who just don’t have a relationship with the old style media brands, and might now get engaged.

So, take it or leave it, we love it. What do you think?

Wild Tea

1 Mar

Absolut Wild Tea (absolut.com)

We do a lot of analysis of packaging, design, and of course, culture – it’s great when we see the three seamlessly coming together in a great idea.

Sweden is cool, China is fascinating – so why not combine the two into something fascinatingly cool.  Absolut, as part of their continual mission to challenge the taste experience of vodka drinkers, has created ABSOLUT Wild Tea.

Like an apothecary’s dream, the new blend brings together the dark and mysterious richness of black tea with the delicacy of Nordic white elderflower. 

From a semiotic angle, the packaging balances the power and vibrancy of “oolong– black dragon” tea against the harmony, purity and certainty of a Swedish pasture.  The instantly recognised icon of the Absolut bottle is infused with new cultural possibility.

In an era of super globalism, cultural merging is commonly deployed commercially, but it is arguably most powerful when a brand takes up the role of arbiter in process – the convenient conduit allowing you to experience new worlds.

Hipster Survivalism

29 Feb

There is a sort of hipster survivalism that is fascinating the young and dissatisfied. Discussions about essential belongings and the role of outdoor clothing in fashion indicates an emerging identity about being always ready to move and survive in the simplest way.

Archival Clothing (store.archivalclothing.com)


In fashion the functional is everywhere. From Archival Clothing’s obsession with all that is outdoors – detailing their own adventures on their blog – to Ozwald Boateng’s empire-ready catwalk colonialists for Spring/Summer 2012. There is a sense in all this that cultural value and use value are sliding together. Perhaps in recessionary times it is important to feel that you’re buying something useful and not just valuable.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Among the blogging elite there is an unending interest in being prepared for the worst. Typified by the Burning House blog and the Everyday Carry site’s posts, here people compare what they’d save from a fire and the things they take with them everywhere. And, where EDC is concerned, this goes much further than keys money notebook – you have to see it to believe it.

Best Made Company (bestmadeco.com)

One favourite example of this snowballing trend is the beautiful axes made by Best Made Company – hand crafted in Brooklyn. Who needs an axe in Brooklyn? Answer: Hipsters do. To adorn their mantelpieces certainly, but also for when peak oil finally comes around and we all have to head for Central Park to reclaim the land for the people Detroit-style.

Although with this growing fondness for knives and axes amongst all the young guns, there is a slightly frightening risk of a hipster version of a real life American Psycho scenario. Imagine the iconicity of an axe murder with a killer haircut. We’re a bit bored of blaming every cultural shift on the recession these days so we’d like to point to a few other potential influences on this pessimistic shift towards apocalypse preparedness.

Obviously there are scary things outside of the economic crisis, we’ve already mentioned peak oil, and fears regarding the environment are not going anywhere. But these fears are also making people seek authentic relationship with nature – so the image of the survivalist/boy scout in constant readiness is somewhat optimistic as well as pessimistic.

Everyday Carry (everyday-carry.com)

Undoubtedly there is a gender issue here as well. This is a trend that is predominantly affecting menswear. And our inkling would be that most of the posters on EDC are men too! There has been talk of gender crises for some time, and Hipster men perhaps feel their masculinity most restricted by the values associated with their social group. Cutting down a tree or killing a deer (as long as it’s done sustainably) is much more acceptable than objectifying a woman. Though this blog is itching to formulate its treatise on Indy boy sexism in a later post.

We certainly like to daydream about a world in which we’re whittling wood instead of typing. I for one have become fascinated by the idea of owning a clasp knife – though mainly because I once saw a yellow one. And there is nothing quite like cycling around London at speed to feel like you’re both self–reliant and putting your life at risk. We suspect that this aspiration for a life lived like Bear Grylls but with a better haircut will be around for a bit longer. Until H&M bring out their own range of tents axes and canoes this trend will be influencing design and fashion for some time to come.

Between the Covers – Vogue

27 Feb

As part of our never-ending quest for inspiration we regularly read magazines to see where culture is moving. 

In a new type of blog post, we will choose a magazine each month and share interesting cultural expressions and changes we are noticing.

This month, we looked at Vogue (all images from March Vogue UK)

Rio Graffiti

23 Feb

After exploring the graffiti in Barcelona, we saw signs of true Latin blood in the awesome graffiti in the suburb of Leblon in Rio.

What’s interesting about Rio’s graffiti is how well thought out beautifully executed and humorous it is.

Rio Graffiti

The naturally beautiful and exuberant environment of the city provides artists with rich inspiration. In the graphics you can see the lush green forests, bright sunshine and warmth of colour. The creative finish on much of the graffiti is so high it looks like it was originally designed that way. Certainly the proud residents are not trying to wash it off.

Rio Graffiti

Have the No Logo Generation sold out?

22 Feb

In the midst of a grunge revival we’re seeing the cultural icons of 30-somethings used as selling tools.

But surely this is a generation who are uncomfortable about being marketed to?   This is the generation who lapped up Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’, saw themselves reflected in ‘Reality Bites’ and ‘Fight Club,’ got worked up about ‘McJobs’ and vented to Nirvana. The common thread was that commercialism is simply not cool.

But they seem to have left this vitriol in the 90s, and accepted their childhood icons being recast as ad men. At Christmas they had their heartstrings plucked by the gentle John Lewis cover of their revered Smiths, and they laugh along with BA Baracus reminding them to “get some nuts!” And it appears that nothing is sacred – even the holier than holy Yoda has come out of retirement to sell for Vodafone, and has found himself competing head-on with Kermit and Miss Piggy, who are batting for Orange.

Vodafone Advert (vodafone.co.uk)


As we’ve discussed before, personal memories are precious things - and brands should take caution before messing with them too much. In this nostalgia avalanche, will the children of the 70s want to reclaim their own cultural history and resent anyone who co-opts it, especially for profit? Have we reached a saturation point and begun to annoy this “anti-brand” generation? Brands should beware a Star Wars fan scorned.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 531 other followers