Breaking tradition: Wedgwood VP Sjeord Leeflang tells us about the brand's transformation
Established in 1759, Wedgwood is the vanguard of British tableware – from elegant cups and saucers to prettily patterned plates – but the brand’s story is far from old fashioned. Wedgwood VP Sjeord Leeflang tells Tempus why the brand is undergoing a transformation to make plate settings cool and contemporary.
Few brands embrace their quintessential ‘Britishness’ in a more thorough manner than Wedgwood.
Founded in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood in the Staffordshire village of Burslem, the company has been handcrafting some of the finest British china dinnerware, tea ware and Jasperware for more than 260 years, becoming the tableware brand of choice for some of the world’s most powerful public figures, including the British Royal Family.
In fact, the brand’s historic Queen’s Ware china is so named thanks to the patronage of Queen Charlotte, and original pieces can fetch tens of thousands at auction.
Wedgwood’s collections remain just as gorgeous today, exuding traditional craftsmanship that harks back to the finely tuned aesthetics of 18th-century English dinnerware, and pays homage to the brand’s founder, himself a master designer.
But, while ‘Britishness’ can often be mischaracterised as overly inward-looking or conservative in nature, there is an element of daring that bases itself in visionary new thoughts, ideas and designs – much like those seen in the industrial revolution of the late 1800s or the sweeping social shifts and fashions of the 1960s.
This is the inspiration behind the brand’s recent transformation. And while it will always cater to those looking for vintage high-class tableware, Wedgwood’s daring new visual direction celebrates the vibrant eccentricity and colourful, youthful nature of the 21st-century brand.
“For a brand that is of Britain but not only British, it’s important that we continue to evolve and stay relevant,” says Sjeord Leeflang, Wedgwood’s vice president (business and offering).
“I strongly believe that the essence of Wedgwood remains in the craftsmanship behind the brand, which in some cases remains the same as back in the 1700s.
“The other essential element is that we are a brand that has also developed over time while staying true to itself,” he adds. “We have continued to stay close to the essence of being British: colourful, eclectic, inviting, social – and still a classic."
A SMASHING NEW IMAGE
Early last year the brand turned to Anomaly Amsterdam, a marketing agency based in the Netherlands, to help overhaul its somewhat staid image.
Instead of emphasising its ultratraditional collections, Wedgwood began to embrace something considerably more contemporary, defined by high-contrast colours and eye-popping designs.
“Our team has done a fantastic job rejuvenating the brand, the daringness is a bold new direction, it attracts eclectic, curious and imaginative people from around the world and encourages feedback and interaction.
“Wedgwood is a mindset and a way of life; we want people to engage with the brand and our products in ways that enables them to be creative and encourages self-expression,” says Leeflang.
“For me, to be able to continue to build the brand, we need to be talked about, we need to trigger conversations and invite people into the world of Wedgwood to explore further.”
This new angle has also afforded Wedgwood an adequate arena in which to build on one of the key touchstones of its business model: collaborations.
Since its formation, Wedgwood has seen partnerships as a vital part of its brand, and recent years have been no different.
“Collaborations are an important and key focus for the brand and allow us to continue growing and speak to new audiences; for example our collection in partnership with Vera Wang was a key moment in the bridal category,” says Leeflang.
“As Wedgwood continues to evolve so too do the people we work closely with, we want to continue to push the boundaries with our products but also to ensure that each collaboration represents the colourful, expressive and eclectic lifestyle of Wedgwood.”
Famous names putting their own mark on the brand’s look include Jasper Conran, Vera Wang and Kit Kemp, as well as Japanese artist Hitomi Hosono.
“We were thrilled to welcome new tastemakers who embody the youthful attitude, expressive personality and eclectic aesthetic of Wedgwood,” he says. “We are currently working on some really exciting collaborations, with some due to be launched this year. Our latest campaign introduces the Art of Entertaining and demonstrates the rules of ‘How to Wedgwood’; indulge, create, be yourself and most importantly, entertain.”