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Putting beauty
into everyday life

Meet a man who’s absolutely passionate about beauty. He can’t help himself, really. He’s an eighth generation descendant of a family whose company has focused on skill and craftsmanship for more than two centuries.

I’m to interview the scion of English family that can trace its roots back more than 200 years. He is so going to be stuffy, I think, resigning myself to a boring few hours.

“I believe we’ve come a full circle.
We now see Noritake (the century-old Japanese ceramics manufacturer) making Western-style tableware.

And English brands are going cross-cultural by catering to not only Western lifestyles,” says Wedgwood, then adding, “But then, what is English style?...

...We adopt influences from all over the world – English style is so eccentric!”

Then I meet 38-year-old Thomas Rowland Wedgwood and discover, boy, was I wrong.


 

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With his stories from around the world, gracious manners and passion for many things, Wedgwood is the sort of dinner guest people fight to sit next to.

Of course, it helps that his family produce the kind of tableware Queen Elizabeth likely uses for her afternoon tea in Buckingham Palace! I mean, the man must be privy to fascinating royal gossip, right? But, true English gentleman that he is, Wedgwood would only say that he had dinner with Prince Charles recently.

He is quintessentially English, after all, but with an engagingly international outlook – much like his family’s famous brand of tableware, nowadays.

The company’s retail outlet at the newly opened The Gardens shopping centre in Mid Valley City, KL, for instance, will have a contemporary design that reflects the brand’s fresh direction.

He goes on to share one of his passions, the belief that beauty should be in everybody’s lives: “Always at the heart of Wedgwood, though, is a highly skilled artistry. To me, Wedgwood is a way of combining art and functionality, and putting beauty into something practical in our lives – the utensils with which we eat and drink.

“Art and beauty enhance our lives, and this is a classic element in Wedgwood till today.”

 

Through a meal properly set, we take the time to go slow’ in a world in which people don’t take enough time to communicate face to face anymore.

The two-century-old Wedgwood company stays relevant today by always innovating – for instance, by developing a partnership with fashion designer Vera Wang. This is Wang’s Gold Lace design. – Photos courtesy of Wedgwood.

 
Wedgwood is a direct descendent of Josiah Wedgwood, who started the company in 1759 and revolutionised the pottery industry (see Father of English pottery, opposite, bottom).

He is the eldest of four children and serves as the brand’s ambassador in Japan. He divides his time between London and Tokyo, where he lives with his Japanese wife Yumiko and daughter Maili Grace, seven.

He makes it clear that his family business is not just about producing cups and plates but about promoting the fundamental values of sharing a table together – another passionate belief he holds, it seems.

“I have to encourage my daughter to sit down and talk. After her initial impatience wears off, she settles down and starts talking about school, about her day."

It’s traditional, but this is the sort of tradition I want to bring back. Among the best of my life’s experiences is not just the places I’ve travelled to but the conversations I’ve had with people everywhere.

Wedgwood has always been about instilling a sense of permanence. Imagine if you get served the best champagne but in a paper cup! Our emotions play a part in our enjoyment of food and conversation. Through a meal properly set, we take the time to go slow.

 

"Everything Wedgwood makes is for permanence... the idea of owning things of high quality is that they will last longer as opposed to so many things in the disposable world we live in". THOMAS ROWLAND WEDGWOOD

We live in such a disposable world today. Although we have new gadgets to communicate with, I feel we are losing an important quality in our lives, which is sitting down and talking face to face to connect,” says Wedgwood.

When we met in Kuala Lumpur during his recent visit to promote a new collection.

I’m absolutely excited about this: We’re taking back the ownership of blue. You know, Wedgwood was founded on the spirit of innovation balanced with tradition.

 
“Why, I remember family dinners running up to five hours!" My parents were only ever strict with our dining table rules.

“I’ve come to see that taking time at the dining table is fundamental to everything in our lives. By learning to talk properly, to listen and to show respect, we can’t go wrong.” His passion is showing again as he talks of these values that seem to be in his very blood.

“Yes, we do have a privileged background, but that brings with it a responsibility in carrying on the values and principles established by my ancestors,” he says solemnly.

“I used to go, ‘Oh, you’ve heard of us?’ when people in faraway places recognised my family name! It hit me then that I have a tremendous responsibility. But I also get to meet people all over the world to make personal connections that Wedgwood is not just about plates but a family brand built on good craftsmanship.”

While his genes probably recognise good craftsmanship, they haven’t given him his forebears’ pottery-making skills. His father and grandfather were master potters, a title bestowed only after an arduous seven-year apprenticeship, but Wedgwood doesn’t aspire to that rarefied level.

“You would realise why when you see my pottery skills – pieces can land on the ceiling,” he says with a laugh.

He might not actually make pieces for the family business but he is certainly involved in designing them. His love for the sea led to the creation of a new collection of tableware inspired by the Aegean Sea and Greek mythology. The collection’s striking blue colour is in honour of the original “Jasper” blue that Josiah created for his signature pieces.

“I guess he never dreamed he would have eight descendents after him and that the brand would expand globally!” Thomas Rowland Wedgwood

 
 
"(Become) Too traditional, you become old-fashioned and irrelevant. But (become) too modern, you wipe out heritage.”

Part of walking that fine line between hanging on to its roots and evolving involves transforming Wedgwood from a tableware company to a luxurious lifestyle brand with jewellery, teas, linens and homeware collections. With the emphasis on “luxury”, of course.

“We’re starting a Wedgwood museum tour in the UK soon,” he says. “And, finally, we will have 5,000 pieces of pottery and all the letters and documentation of Josiah’s life under one roof.

“Everything Wedgwood makes is for permanence. The idea of owning things of high quality is that they will last longer as opposed to so many things in the disposable world we live in.”

Archaic values in a modern world, but Wedgwood is obviously proud of them, and of the family history. The company will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2009 and the family is preparing a big bash, says the eight generation of the family.

Acknowledgment of information source: Title: Putting beauty into everyday life. Article by TheStar.com.my. Sunday September 30, 2007
 

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