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Ilsa Parry

CING Lecture @ BoConcept

Ilsa Parry: Design trends in a tough climate

Reviewed by Simon Belt February 2011

In late 2009, Liverpool based designer Ilsa Parry made her mark on the nation by competing in BBC 2's Design for Life competition. When she won with her innovative Flo design, Ilsa spent six months at top French designer Philippe Starck’s design studio in Paris.


Ilsa has been lecturing as course leader for the BTEC national diploma for 3 dimensional design at Liverpool Community College since late 2007, so it seemed natural for her to be delivering the February Creative Industries Networking Group (CING) lecture.


CING is a professional interest networking group, established in June 2008 and organised by Benny Hui and Phil Northall through the Meetup social network site. I didn't get to my first CING meeting until January 2011, but was immediately impressed by the very relaxed feel and tone of the sessions - often missing from most other business networks I've attended.


Creative Industries Networking GroupThis CING lecture was sponsored by BoConcept, who made their store available as a lecture / discussion venue and provided a buffet and drinks reception with a free goodie bag for the first 50 attendees. The management and floor staff of Manchester's BoConcept store on Great Ancoats Street complemented CING's laid back professionalism.


I've been following CING's progress since a colleague recommended I join to help extend Manchester Salon's connections with the creative industries in Manchester and across the North West. I first met Benny Hui a few months prior to my first CING meeting through the La Soiree Concert Series he organises to help promote his Your Event Musicians initiative. I was so impressed with the first performance in this series of concerts that I immediately set about getting a regular group outing from the Manchester Salon to them.


The atmosphere and vibe at this lecture was very relaxed, but I didn't anticipate just how natural Ilsa would be at presenting to an audience of her peers. Admittedly, she'd been lecturing in design for two years before her big break on the show, and had continued lecturing since so she should be no stranger to it, but clearly design is a genuine passion of hers.


Ilsa started her lecture by outlining the different phases and aspects of her career, including her REthinkthings company, and her view of the need to keep the different sides of her professional persona discrete and formalised through different business identities. It was when she moved into trying to identify contemporary trends in design, and forecasting where they are heading that her lecture had any real interest for me though. Her identification of social responsibility and ecological functionality as key aspects of what's fashionable in design and purchasing trends was most illuminating.


Lecture on design trendsQuite unexpectedly, given the very relaxed character of the presentation, Ilsa put her finger on a key aspect of contemporary design that was worthy of further investigation and discussion - the relationship and tension between design for aesthetic reasons and design for functional reasons. Further, Ilsa flagged up that there was something of a reaction against the prevailing eco-friendly mood of the last decade with a desire by a few designers to assert their role as leaders rather than followers of trends. Given that Ilsa and most of the audience were Thatcher's children and schooled by New Labour eco-babblers, I found this section of the lecture a potential goldmine of critical enquiry.


The remainder of the lecture returned to an acceptance of many of the terms and concepts that Ilsa flagged that a few designers were looking to kick against, and so the moment of inspired insight seemed to pass. At least Ilsa isolated an important trend in the celebration of 'the local' in design, or perhaps more accurately in the story telling behind 'the local' in contemporary design - which is actually highly centralised and very rapidly replicated across the planet in ways which yesterday's cosmopolitan designers could only dream of. Slow fashion may attempt to offer consumers freedom from guilt, but aren't the fashionistas of Slow just peddling anti-consumerist guilt, and mere followers of fashion rather than the creators and architects of bold visions?


BoConcept's International Cup DesignWhat surprised me the most from the question and answer section, was the lack of a desire to kick against the prevailing view or reject what has been passed off in the name of design recently. I know the character of CING networking is delightfully laid back, and that the hosts created a serene mood for the evening, but surely there should have been more of a critical edge given Ilsa is a living example of someone who has strived to be innovative?


I'm not quite sure from Ilsa's lecture, or from ideas coming from the audience how strong a mood there is to reject the political trends of localism, social inclusion, re-use of waste materials and conformity. Maybe the plethora of similar styled products, conformity in design and eco-babble have a little more life in it before a reaction to it becomes more pronounced. I feel a re-run of League of Gentlemen coming on.


Manchester's BoConcept, was not only a delightfully open and relaxed space as a venue, but with its continental flavour (Denmark's most global retail furniture chain), it offered a spirit of internationalism that kicked against the enduring theme of localism. It may be a more elegant and upmarket version of the familiar Ikea brand, but elegant and upmarket it is, and all the better for that, without inducing the guilt many anti-consumerists would have us feel.


As a parting gesture, BoConcept held a draw for a boxed set of their 'Truly international cup design' range. These are six very stylish cups, exceptional cup designs as their marketing material goes, and are the outcome of their 'Design a Cool Cup' competition that were chosen from 13,554 entries worldwide. The winners in the 2010/11 collection stretch from Columbia and the USA to Poland and the Czech Republic. The refreshing aspect of these cups is that they were designed for their own purpose without the need to conform to a political agenda of recycling and are described by the designers with phrases like "Drops of violet from very dark to very light, fading. In this case violet brings a feeling of warmth. Joy of life - moment of delight".


I think the subject of Art and Design freeing itself from the miserablist politics of social inclusion or recycling, like BoConcept's international cup range does, is something the Manchester Salon should tackle in a forthcoming public discussion.

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