WORDS SIMON BROOKE / PHOTOGRAPHY PHILIP SINDEN
Key to the UK’s financial fitness, our creative industries are a hothouse for compelling new talents. Meet four of today’s finest
As politicians, business people and analysts debate how best to stimulate growth in our economy, revive the fortunes of British manufacturing and produce exports that the world will actually want to buy, the part played by our creative industries is becoming increasingly important.
There were an estimated 182,100 businesses working in the creative sector last year, according to government figures, and their exports totalled nearly £20bn. Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport recently told the Royal Television Society: ‘The digital and creative industries present an opportunity for this country that is greater than for any country in the world.’ Many working in
these industries are already grasping that opportunity with both hands.
Alexia Hentsch, menswear designer
It was the quest for that wardrobe essential, the well-cut white shirt, that drove Alexia Hentsch to set up Hentsch Man. Now three years old, the label she runs with her business partner and childhood friend Max von Hurter is characterised by the natural fabrics, relaxed, down-to-earth styling and subtle wit that appeals to so many men these days.
As if to underline that this is not about fashion with a capital F, the men sporting her clothes on the website are not professional models – they’re interesting guys whose style Alexia admires. ‘I always wanted to do my own thing and I’ve long been interested in creating a brand,’ says the 30-year-old Swiss-Brazilian, who settled in London 10 years ago. ‘The emphasis is very much on tailoring, but with a little fun thrown in.’ Classic corduroy trousers, for instance, are available in brilliant red, while an elegant double-breasted jacket is cropped around the hips.
Increasingly, women’s wear designers, such as Roland Mouret, have started to produce men’s ranges and vice versa. Hentsch knows precisely why she enjoys creating men’s clothing. ‘It takes me out of the equation,’ she says. ‘I can be more objective about designing clothes without getting drawn too much into what I’d like to wear myself.’ Next spring/summer will see a focus on classic crew necks, navy stripes and jerseys.
As well as retailing through concessions in stores, Hentsch Man has enjoyed success with a number of pop-up shops, but its online presence is its main outlet. Hentsch and von Hurter’s initial investment came from their own bank accounts plus family and friends. With plans for more stores and a wider range, they accept that they’ll have to take the corporate investment option for round two. But somehow you feel those buttoned-down finance types won’t affect the relaxed, quirky Hentsch Man style. hentschman.com
Xavier Rousset, sommelier
Having graduated as the youngest master sommelier in the world at just 23 and worked at the Hotel du Vin and the Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Xavier Rousset knows a thing or two about wine. The fact that he describes his latest venture, 28-50, just off Fleet Street, as a ‘wine workshop and kitchen’, tells you something about the 32-year-old’s approach. Food is important, of course, but it’s there to complement what goes into the glass, rather than vice versa. Rousset believes that, although we are much better educated and informed about wine than we ever used to be, there is still a thirst (pardon the pun) for greater knowledge. ‘We want to take people on a journey with wine and show them something new,’ he explains.
At 28-50, the wine list is cannily edited to push customers’ boundaries and is presented alongside a menu created by Rousset’s business partner, Agnar Sverrisson, that offers classic French cuisine with a modern slant. Foie gras, for instance, comes accompanied by peach chutney, while coq au vin is served with fresh tagliatelle.
A mini glass – just 75ml – is priced at around £3 and gives 28-50 customers the opportunity to explore new wines before they decide to invest in a bottle. Fine wines are now also available by the glass, thanks to a machine that prevents them from going off. A second branch of 28-50 – named after the range of latitudes of the world’s best vineyards – is due to open in the West End next year.
Rousset is a supporter of the campaign by French wine producers to win back popularity from the new-world labels. ‘European wines are definitely making a comeback. We’ll see fewer of those heavy, oaky new-world varieties now,’ he says. ‘The wines of the Rhone Valley and those of the Languedoc, in particular, are the ones to watch.’ 28-50.co.uk
Jemma Daniels, silversmith
As the search for individual, bespoke pieces rather than mass-produced items continues, and with thoughtful consumers in these recessionary times looking to spend their money on something with that extra-special element, British silversmithing is enjoying something of a golden age, so to speak.
Jemma Daniels, 27, who has won awards from Goldsmiths’ Crafts and Design Council, among others, and whose designs are available at Fortnum & Mason, is at the forefront of a new generation of craftspeople. ‘My work is influenced by ceramics – I want it to be functional and tactile,’ she says of her pieces, which are known for their elegant shapes and soft, fluid lines. They range from water jugs, bowls and vases to rings and necklaces.
‘There’s a vibrant community of silversmiths working in Britain today as more people become interested in silver pieces,’ she says. ‘The V&A Museum has a contemporary collection and the National Museum Wales is now creating one of its own too.’
Many customers will commission Daniels not only for silverware but also jewellery such as wedding rings. ‘They are interested in having something that’s unique to them and want to take part in the creative process,’ she explains. ‘They often like to visit my workshop so they can see where their piece is being made. Men, especially, like to know what has gone into the making of a ring.’
As well as taking a hands-on approach to hammering, moulding and all the other creative processes involved in realising her designs, Daniels also understands the need to be an astute businesswoman. ‘I’m always going to see potential clients – you’ve got to market yourself in this business. And you have to be your own accountant and bookkeeper,’ she says. ‘It’s hard work, but very rewarding.’ jemmadaniels.com
Justin Stokes, film-maker
Where does a commercial end and a film begin? The distinction has become more blurred of late as even the most mundane brand has attempted to create something that offers its target market less of a hard sell and more a subtle evocation of its products’ values in story, imagery and sound.
One of those who has been at the cutting edge of this transformation is film-maker Justin Stokes. The 27-year-old has recently directed films for companies as varied as Skoda and Swiss Airlines. ‘I started with photography but soon realised that still images were not what I wanted to do,’ he says. As well as working as a researcher on TV programmes such as Watchdog, he became a camera operator and film editor, working on projects for Sony and Nokia among others. ‘Having experience of other aspects of the business has been very useful.’
Other clients include Grand Marnier and Range Rover, and Stokes’s sweeping, elegantly cinematic style lends a sense of drama and excitement to filmed ads for these well-known names. Range Rover’s has been playing on TV across the US, while the Skoda film was aired in the UK on Channel 5. ‘In the original Grand Marnier script, there were a lot of shots of the product, but they let me use fewer of these and do other things in the final edit,’ says Stokes.
His film debut, Method Actor, was part of the official selection in the 2011 Palm Springs International ShortFest film festival and has been screened at art-house cinemas around the world. Its success demonstrates how the explosion of online video has changed the game for film-makers. Instead of having to rent a cinema and drag an audience along to it, talented individuals can now produce professional-looking movies for a fraction of their traditional costs and, in days, these movies can reach a mass audience online.
Unlike many up-and-coming directors, Stokes feels no desperate rush to break into the world of big movies and big budgets. ‘I’m not quite ready to handle it,’ he says. ‘In the meantime, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.’ crusty-thought.tv
PHILIP SINDEN: philipsinden.com