Wedgwood: A Modern Makeover

wedgwood

Wedgwood’s new, younger audience, don’t want grand sets of crockery for special occasion use.

Wedgwood’s new CEO, Danish heavyweight Ulrik Garde Due has been tasked with turning the ship around.

The misfortunes faced by Wedgwood, founded in 1759, could be about to change. In its early years it was recognised for its style-setting aesthetic but latterly more for being on the twee side of design.

New CEO Ulrik Garde Due, a Dane appointed by Wedgwood’s Finnish owners — Fiskars bought the company, along with the Waterford and Royal Doulton brands three years ago — to turn the ship around. Due has good pedigree, having become something of an expert in brand rescue, having previously worked at Burberry, Celine, Georg Jensen and Temperley. There is, he admits, much to do.

“To be honest when I was approached about the job I was surprised that Wedgwood even still existed,” he says. “And that kind of reaction is what we’ve been seeing with consumers out there. But Wedgwood is an unpolished jewel. It’s waiting to be revived.”

Its revival is already underway; not least by responding to major shifts in the way younger consumers live and think. These consumers are more probably urban than country; living in apartments rather than in large homes; more likely to dine out than eating at home; and less interested in owning grand sets of crockery for special occasion use, and certainly not for display. “You have to understand that younger consumers are buying fine china differently now to how they were even just 10 years ago,” says Due. “They’re into cocooning. They still want to buy good-quality things for their home. But these need to be less ornamental and more functional and, above all, relevant.”

Wedgwood has made moves in this direction. It has, for example, launched a collaborative, limited-edition range of strikingly post-modern, Memphis Group-style vases with the interior designer Lee Broom: an attempt to re-boot the idea of Wedgwood’s collectibility. It has launched a new line, called Wonderlust, whose eclectic style — think florals meets Rococo meets Chinoiserie — reflects the habit of today’s fine china users to mix and match random pieces rather than use complete sets. It has revisited and updated old production techniques with jasperware, a material Wedgwood once had global renown for, in order to create much more contemporary, deconstructed Burlington plant pots that, due to the methods employed, each have a unique marbling effect. As a further indication of finding a more contemporary touch, Wedgwood has left these pots textured and unpolished, something it would not have done before.

Perhaps most tellingly for the brand’s push towards a higher profile, it has opened a pop-up tea conservatory, part tea shop, part Wedgwood shop, in London’s Peter Jones store, a concept that later this year will go on tour across the US, Japan and Asia. Wedgwood has even curated its own tea blends, sold in a baby-blue-coloured packaging that Wedgwood hopes to make as relatable to the brand as, for example, Hermès’ orange or Tiffany’s turquoise blue.

“Looking again at the idea of ‘afternoon tea’ is a modern and very English way of making Wedgwood relevant again,” argues Due, who says the company is now busy trawling the company’s extensive archives for patterns to update for new lines launching towards the end of this year. “I think we have to work within the archives. Younger consumers are much more educated about quality now, thanks to the internet they have that knowledge at their fingertips, so the emphasis has to be on the best make, rather than the cheap and cheerful. That leaves the question of taste. I’m not sure their taste is that different to that of previous generations but they want timelessness and modernity in the same piece.”

The interest certainly seems to be there: when Wedgwood recently set up its tea conservatory concept at London’s Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, it had some 10,000 visitors a day over the five-day event. “It seemed that a lot of people had fond memories of the Wedgwood name, from having pieces in their family, memories that they want to re-live, to buy into. That suggests that we just need to tackle that perception of Wedgwood as being a little dated. We need to freshen it up,” says Due.

Coming to be seen as the quintessential example of Englishness could prove to be the best proof of Wedgwood’s turnaround. “Think about luxury English lifestyle brands now and I’m not sure who owns that position. Twenty-five years ago it might have been a brand such as Laura Ashley, but not anymore. I’m not sure Asprey has quite done it either. That’s clearly an opportunity for us.”

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