{ Danish Modern x Modern Denim }

This piece was originally written for the launch of the Carl Hansen & Søn x Hiut Denim launch and features on carlhansen.com.

What happens when ‘Grand Masters’ of denim meet the master craftsmanship of Carl Hansen & Søn? Discover a new collaboration: an exciting meeting of minds and the reimagining of iconic Danish Modern in the world-famous fabric by Welsh manufacturers Hiut Denim.

Known as ‘The Grand Masters’ thanks to their decades of jeans-making experience (some with over 40 years) the Hiut Denim makers are indeed masters of their craft, sharing the same attention to detail and respect for the intricacies of their methods as Carl Hansen & Søn’s expert furniture craftsmen. 

“Hiut Denim’s motto of ‘Do one thing well,’ mirrors the philosophy at the root of the Carl Hansen & Søn DNA,” explains CEO Knud Erik Hansen. “Our family company has specialised in furniture craftsmanship for over 100 years. We are passionately devoted to what we do and seek out collaborators who share our work ethic and design credo – but who can also bring new aesthetics, ideas and skill sets to our process.”

 Carl Hansen & Søn seeks to collaborate with companies who can bring a new perspective to its iconic collections and reimagine timeless pieces with a contemporary outlook. The Carl Hansen & Søn designers were, and are, forward-thinking for their time – often pushing the boundaries of traditional furniture design and craftsmanship. It stands to reason then that the perfect match for a new collaboration would be the ‘father of Danish Modern’ Kaare Klint. Klint was one of furniture design’s reformers; a functionalist who valued purpose and form above all else, and a keen observer of human needs. His iconic Propeller Stool (1930) and Safari Chair and Footstool (1933) are examples of his ‘human furniture’ – created based on the meticulous study of the human body and its interactions. These two pieces are the focus of the Hiut Denim collaboration – showing their versatility and ability to fit into modern life over eighty years after they were first designed, upholstered for a contemporary audience in one of the world’s most recognisable and beloved fabrics. 

Aside from pride and excellence in the finest furniture craftsmanship, the Carl Hansen & Søn philosophy centres on the storytelling behind each piece of furniture. The simple statement ‘Every piece comes with a story’ is the core of the brand’s DNA, with the stories of designers, craftsmen and the future of its furniture intricately woven into everything the company does. The Hiut Denim Company motto ‘Every pair tells a story’ is serendipitous in its connection to Carl Hansen & Søn’s own values and reflects a similar approach to the unique attachment people have with both their furniture and their denim, each personalised with a patina of their own lives and stories. 

Hiut Denim has its own, personal story. The company’s ‘Grand Masters’ had previously worked in one denim factory in the small town of Cardigan in West Wales, producing thousands of pairs of jeans a week. The factory closed in 2002 and with it, the team’s jobs were lost. David and Clare Hieatt discovered the story of the denim masters and, realising that the precious skill and knowhow remained, sought to re-establish denim manufacturing in Cardigan and breathe new life into the town. Hiut Denim was born. It is this personal, family-oriented story, as well as the dedication to a unique craftsmanship, that sit at the heart both brands and make this an unexpected yet perfectly-matched collaboration. 

When it comes to the techniques and materials used for each craft, once again Hiut Denim share the passion and enthusiasm for the highest quality and respect for tradition that Carl Hansen & Søn represents. The two companies share a desire to produce as sustainably as possible: Kaare Klint’s furniture is produced using wood from sustainable forests, while Hiut Denim uses only raw denim, removing the washing process and thereby reducing environmental impact.

The denim used for the new Propeller Stool and Safari Chair and Footstool is the finest selvedge denim made on vintage looms, hand-cut and sewed, ready for upholstering. Using the same denim, the Hiut Grand Masters make around 100 pairs of their famous jeans a week. The disciplines may be diverse, but the approach is the same:

“We believe in putting the best materials in the hands of the most highly skilled craftspeople to create the best possible product,” says David Hieatt. “What’s been particularly fulfilling about this collaboration is that we all speak the same language. Carl Hansen & Søn’s products, like Hiut Denim’s, are rooted in tradition, longevity, craftsmanship – and, of course, people’s stories. Now, through Kaare Klint’s classics, we are writing a new chapter for new audiences and sharing a new perspective.”

Clad in the finest Hiut denim, the two Kaare Klint pieces are shown in a new light, reflecting contemporary trends while respecting the roots and tradition of Carl Hansen & Søn manufacturing and the forward-thinking outlook of Mr Klint. 

“We hope that Kaare Klint would have enjoyed seeing his designs dressed in what has become the world’s most universally beloved, and perhaps most democratic, fabric,” says Clare Hieatt. “It’s an honour for us to work with such iconic designs, which have so beautifully stood the test of time.”

{ What's the story? }

Once upon a time, there was a woman who desired a new pair of shoes. She knew the pair she wanted (she’d coveted them from a particular brand for years) and she went to the store to find them. Inside, surrounded by the magical world of the brand and among carefully curated products, she saw them. A sales assistant helped her find her size and fit, all the while explaining the inspiration behind them, their place as a signature style for the company and even a couple of anecdotes about famous fans of the very same pair. Delighted with her choice, the woman watched in eager anticipation as her shoes were wrapped and boxed so she could take them home. She excitedly called a friend on her return to share new shoe news and the friend, upon hearing the tales of the many wonders in store, decided to pay a visit the very next day…

Of course, this story is now more a legend of history than common experience. Not necessarily the in-store purchase, but the end-to-end offline influence on the purchase. The woman today would have been targeted by the shoe brand on every social channel, or perhaps seen it as a display banner as she caught up with the Oscars gossip on Marie Claire online. Once clicked, even fleetingly, those shoes would follow her around the web, sitting prettily just in eye line. Retailers have got exceptionally good at selling to you when you least expect it. You don’t have to be primed for a day in Westfield to be open to new purchases – you could be reading the paper on your iPad, or scrolling through your friend’s Facebook updates, and before you know it you’re two clicks from the shoes. Or a saucepan. Or a car.

Deloitte, in its Consumer Review on 'The Growing Power of Consumers' explains how digital disrupted the traditional path to purchase and the shift in power from the brand, to the consumer:

"Instead of a funnel-shaped selection process, consumer journeys are now subject to interruptions, diversions and delays. Moreover, when considering a purchase, consumers prefer to ‘pull’ information, rather than have businesses ‘push’ it to them. For example, consumers are now actively looking for inspiration by exploring other consumers’ social media profiles rather than expecting brands to inspire them through traditional advertising."  

The opportunities offered by the last decade’s digital disruption have seen brands, and especially the luxury brands that I work most frequently with, shoring up resources to be ever-present in the customer’s digital universe. What may have once been considered pushy marketing or over-zealous product hawking, especially in the lofty world of luxury, has now given way to teams of digital advertising and CRM experts getting you onto their site, and that new pair of shoes into your cart.

All this is brilliant for the online retail teams and their supporting satellites. Company's digital flagships have seeing exponential growth in their digital sales, often so far ahead of store sales that even bricks and mortar flagships on New Bond Street are a distant second place. There is no longer a stigma in buying (or indeed selling) luxury products online, and customers are spending more and more without ever seeing a product in real life. But the trade-off for being so good at selling so quickly online is that a brand's story or purpose can be lost, overlooked in favour of robust conversion rates and impressive numbers in Google Analytics. After years of a go-hard-go-fast approach to pushing online retail, brands have fallen into the shadow of the products they sell. All very well when one pair of shoes goes viral and sells out, not so helpful when a brand is trying to stand out in a marketplace overcrowded with similar propositions and product categories.

A decade ago, the 'quick buy' approach offered by a digital store was considered the end goal, dangling the new and shiny carrot of instant gratification in front of a new generation of consumers. Yet now, with Millennials holding the consumer power and demanding different experiences from the web (and from life) the conversations have turned to authenticity and the reasons to buy beyond the product. They, and the next generation of consumers, grew up digitally and so aren't impressed by the mere fact that they can buy online: it is expected. Instead, they are demanding more from the brands that present themselves in their digital universe. 

Luckily, many brands (and their agencies) have started to remember that they have stories to tell and are finding innovative ways to immerse customers in their world, rather than just selling them things. Without a fleet of store staff trained to tell the right stories at the right time, brands need ways to create more meaningful, engaging moments online. The likes of Facebook and Google responded in kind, introducing advertising formats such as Canvas and 360 ads to encourage customers to engage with the brand behind the product. But while we can now all step inside a London Fashion Week show or take a virtual tour of a new store in Tokyo, the sweet spot is finding authentic ways to use all this new technology to tell a brand's core stories and share its philosophy. But before that, to even to know what the story is at all. After years of 'buy me now' digital strategies and the temptation of innovation (sometimes adding value to the consumer experience, more often than not used for PR gimmicks), the most common marketing challenge facing both new and established brands is the existential crisis of communications: what do we stand for? What are we trying to achieve? What is our WHY?

After leading the charge as digital content pioneers for the best part of a decade, Burberry realised that the core brand story had been lost in its race for innovation and shoppable catwalks. Their solution was to redress the balance with a beautiful film in late 2016 about its founder, Thomas Burberry, with a Hollywood cast and feature-film-worthy budget to do it. Supported with, of course, a 360 marketing campaign that included its in-store experience and out of home advertising, the film was seen by the industry and by the customer as a brilliant piece of genuine brand storytelling, with only indirect commercial intent. I’m usually cynical about the over-promotion of brands who can afford to saturate the advertising space with blanket coverage, but it warmed my heart to see a brand go back to its roots and champion its heritage over the shiny magpie 'just buy this' approach.

Very few brands have Burberry's budget or resources in their quest for good brand storytelling. But it is not about producing a feature film or immersive 360 ad. It’s about a new approach (or, actually, a back-to-basics approach) to marketing that is not confined by reach or conversion but rather by asking – what’s the story? Sure, a Facebook canvas ad or targeted Instagram Stories campaign are the ways to get it in front of your audience, but they are the tools, not the story. The glossiest of films is not a 'purpose' in itself. We're all tired of there conversations around 'content' but that's because everything is content. But what is relevant? What is authentic? Why are you producing that photoshoot or video? The best advice is this: slow down and stop creating advertising for advertising's sake. Instead, remember why you do what you do rather than what you sell. 

British brand Jigsaw did this in a wonderful way with their recent 'Britishness is not 100% British' campaign. Born out of their internal team's thoughts on Brexit and the narrowing perceptions of immigration, Jigsaw wanted to reinforce that they were proudly British and champions of British style, but wanted to explore what being British meant to them, and to their customers. Although it was reported that there was some negative backlash against the campaign and there was an assumption that Jigsaw might lose some customers, it was also seen as a refreshingly strong statement of brand purpose and philosophy in a sea of vapid communications from fashion competitors. 

If you define a strong brand purpose then you can be proud of who you are. Your stories will be authentic and will allow customers to fall in love and be drawn to you, rather than being chased as a transaction. It is important, especially for luxury retailers, to leave room in robust commercial calendars for inspiration and intrigue. To invite customers into your brand universe online in the same way you tempt them into stores. Once you have the story, you can then find the most meaningful ways to reach your customers. It's not always about appearing everywhere (and for most, it's just not possible) but rather about appearing in the most genuine, relevant places for your audience. Whether you’re a new brand trying to find your voice or an established one who’s gone a bit off-track, try going back to the why. There are so many tools to help you amplify, a veritable technology candy store – but you need to know your story first.

{ Rethinking production }

This piece was originally written for Lombard Odier as part of their 'Rethinking Everything' editorial. Find out more on the Lombard Odier website.

As orders are placed at the touch of a button, and consumer demand for new “stuff” continues to increase, retailers are having to rethink their business and manufacturing models to keep up.

 The ‘see it, buy it, have it’ mentality has become the mantra of most modern retailers. Such is the  demand for newness and instant gratification among consumers today than even the already speedy fashion industry is under pressure to rethink its seasonal shows with a ‘see now buy now’ offer. So imagine introducing a company that goes directly against this norm. One that holds no inventory, and where a product only exists once ordered. This is the business model of New York-based OTHR, a brand specialising in 3-D printed objects.

While until recently 3-D printing has been negatively associated with faddy show-off objects, OTHR’s philosophy is as far from creating extra landfil as its possible to get. With a mission to work with the best designers, to create beautiful, desirable objects for the home, co-founder Joe Doucet explains, ‘We’re attempting to create the first well-designed consumer objects of the fourth industrial revolution.’

OTHR may be trying to avoid being a current trend, but there is no doubt that 3-D printing is a hot topic. In the last twelve months especially, conversation has moved from intrigue to actual and factual developments, both in technological and investment terms. It was announced in September that General Electric (GE) have agreed to buy two 3-D printing companies for a combined cost of $1.4billion. According to the statement released, 3-D printing creates more durable products and massively increases potential for new designs. So will it be a game-changer? And how is OTHR joining the revolution?

Three years ago, Doucet became fascinated by 3-D printing and the potential of the technology. To experiment, he ordered a 3-D printed metal fork that cost $250. It wasn’t good, in design or execution, but in the ensuing years the technology has increased to the point where beautiful, hi-res objects can be produced in steel, precious metals and porcelain, for a viable market price.

“We expect the pace of technological development within 3-D printing to increase exponentially, which in term will increase our ability to experiment with design and offer products at more accessible price points.”

Doucet and fellow co-founders Dean DiSimone and Evan Clabots, also see the process of collaboration and design redefined for a new digital industrial age.

“The dawn of the fourth industrial revolution has evolved the way we collaborate. Some of the designers we work with we have never met. Bambu Studio in Alcoy, Spain, for example. Throughout the design process we communicated via Skype and sent prototypes back and forth using only digital files. Not a single box was shipped. The technology expedites the exchange of ideas and collapses geographical boundaries.”

Saving on the air miles maybe, but 3-D printing hasn’t so far had a brilliant reputation for sustainability. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of a brand’s social responsibility, and it is increasingly important to prove clean credentials. But Doucet believes OTHR can be leaders in rethinking this status quo too. ‘We have no factories, no warehouses, and our production process eliminates excessive waste. Our physical footprint as well our environmental impact is significantly reduced purely by our business philosophy and the reality of this technology.’

While IKEA boss Steve Howard recently spoke of society’s inching towards “peak stuff”, most consumers are yet to get the memo. OTHR pride themselves on their awareness, especially when it comes to the culture of disposability. Unlike many of the early 3-D printed products, OTHR pieces are carefully considered, created for quality and designed to last. ‘We are very conscious of which objects do and do not deserve to exist. We are not limited by what is considered to be a best-seller, and our zero-inventory model allows our designers the freedom to experiment, and allows us to be more critical of the products we offer.’

Technological advancements and industrial revolutions aside, OTHR want to create products that are ultimately desirable and that delight their customers. Anyone chosen to create an OTHR product is tasked to design something that embodies three values: Useful, Aesthetic and Unique. The founders decided early on that all objects should have a purpose, not be just pure decoration, and they must also have a ‘high degree of artistic merit’ and be unique in the sense that it is not merely a variation on something that has come before. High stakes for any designer, and OTHR has been lucky to be able to select from the top tier of global talent.

“All our launch designers were from a carefully selected group of leading names; icons, friends and collaborators. But we are also dedicated to launching newcomers with exceptional talent and promise. We have the luxury of taking risks without the burden of inventory. The design ideas come from everywhere: many designers have had something in their back pocket for a while, but never had the ability to execute, others are proposed by us when we see an opportunity to utilise 3-D printing to the fullest.”

OTHR officially launched in the US this summer, and now ships internationally too. From here it is full steam (or printing) ahead into the revolution and beyond. While new designers are constantly being commissioned, objects are only going to get (literally) bigger and better, with larger products on the horizon as the scope of 3-D printing technology expands. The OTHR founders have a simple, if lofty ambition: ‘We want to be the most important and relevant design brand from America since the mid-century movement.’ OTHR is already rethinking production on a pioneering level, next is surely an overhaul of the wider manufacturing and retail industries as technological advancements continue to offer opportunities for smaller companies to disrupt the industrial world order.  

{ The wonder of wondering }

As J.R Tolkien once said: not all those who wander are lost. But what about those who wonder? I think we may have lost the ability. No sooner than someone raises a question, puts a thought to the floor, or ponders out loud, then six other want-to-know-it-alls have whipped out a phone, Googled, and found the answer on Wikipedia.  

I have a confession. I am one of those people. I answer my own wonderings before I've even finished the thought. What happened to Peter Townsend after he was forbidden to marry Princess Margaret? I thought to myself, during an episode of The Crown. I was still scrolling through the British aristocracy of the twentieth century and poring over the Queen's family tree until the credits rolled. I probably missed a crucial scene in my keenness to discover the answer. "I wonder where the word penguin comes from?" Was another example raised over dinner. Two or three others present looked frantically for their phones, while the general conversation turned to the roots of modern language. A very interesting conversation was then promptly halted by...well, me, triumphantly declaring the answer like I was a contestant on University Challenge.  

Where did this modern fear of not knowing the definitive come from? Do we worry we'll be shown up, owing to the ease of accessing this information? Fear we should just know more these days? After all, were you to have the same 'pondering' dinner conversations pre-smart phone, or even pre-internet, and you would have been dragging an encyclopedia off a dusty shelf or booting up Encarta to find the answers. No-one had that kind of determination. We just had to make it up, unless someone in front of us happened to know the facts, in which case they were treated like a regular Sherlock. No one worried about having all the answers. Wondering was a nice warm blanket. 

Also, wondering, like wandering, leads down paths you might not have found otherwise. Those seemingly silly or obscure questions lead to random thoughts and conversation, rather than the 'I know I know!' Hands-up please-miss-I-know-the-answer desperation of Being Right. There are no points or prizes for getting to the answer before anyone has a chance to hazard a guess. It's a bit like arriving to a party, drinking all the booze, popping all the balloons and leaving. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) the intellectual party pooper, closing down conversations wherever we go.  

Technology has allowed us to be more connected to knowledge, and that is no bad thing. It's a relatively new phenomenon, but I still marvel at how used to access we've all become. Look! I can see a map of all current hurricanes! Yes! I do know how hurricanes are named! Of course! I can pinpoint the New York MoMA in five seconds! I know! I can go inside and look around on Google Earth!  

There is criticism that our proximity to information has created a generation of pseudo-intellectuals, that know everything, and nothing. Commentators lament the death of old school homework, where one had to turn to the elders, or learn how to use an index for the seventeen encyclopedia editions we all had in our bedrooms, or even, shock, visit a library, to locate the answers we needed. But I believe that this is just a new way of learning. Access to knowledge is a brilliant thing, something that is still really only relevant to those of us fortunate to live and learn in a wealthy society. Many British children have iPads at school and at home, and there has been much said about how it is fostering a lazy generation. But is it really? Yes these children have to work less hard to locate answers, but what a world they have to explore. I think it's amazing that my friend's toddler can look at live videos of animals in the African safari parks, or teenagers can immerse themselves in the worlds of their favourite bands, go behind the scenes, see their personal photos, hear new recordings, while my generation had to make do with Smash Hits magazine and the Spice Girls Annual.  

But perhaps, while our love affair with the internet is still relatively in its infancy, we're all still in the rose-tinted, can't-get-enough-of-you stage. We're just a bit keen. We just need to back off a bit. Play it cool. Stop jumping on the answers like we're on QI. Carrie Bradshaw 'couldn't help but wonder' so much that she made a living out of it. We're trying to avoid wondering so hard that we're getting whiplash from pulling out our phones so fast. I've had to keep my phone at a distance of at least 10 feet when I'm watching TV, otherwise I find myself mindlessly googling the missing pieces of a storyline or plot before I've had a chance to watch and decide for myself. And we've established a firm no phones at the table rule at House of Humphries, as Musical Dad and I are as bad as each other in trying to out-know-it-all anyone who dares to ponder.  

Whilst we may think that our proximity to all the facts and explanations in the world is good for our brains, and yes, it may indeed broaden our understanding of the world around us, we should remember the words of Socrates, who had this decidedly pre-technology reminder: "to wonder is the beginning of wisdom." So instead of Googling more about the life of Socrates, I shall sit here and ponder, and see where it takes me.* 

*Does asking Siri count? 

{ Once upon a time }

I was a child raised on stories. But it wasn't just about learning to read, it was about learning to imagine. For children, and indeed adults, stories are the path to imagination, to dreaming, to creating characters and worlds and opportunities beyond our real life boundaries.  

When I was young I used to write stories, the root perhaps of my grown-up profession as a writer. I always knew I didn't have a great affinity with drawing, but I tried nonetheless, to add colour and shape to my tales. Of course, the source of inspiration for each of my own creations was always an established book I'd read, and fallen in love with. I lived each story as if part of its world, feeling the joy and the sadness of the characters, wanting desperately to be part of their adventures.   

The joy of a beautiful childhood story is the legacy it leaves. In my case a vivid universe of intermingled memories made not from films or TV shows but from books: the Indian In The Cupboard wounding Boone with an arrow, the corridors of Misselthwaite Manor in the Secret Garden, the palace of the Snow Queen, the ominous Groke in The Moomins. Reading the Jolly Postman to my younger sister (once upon a bicycle, so they say, a Jolly Postman came one day...) and still now being able to recall the look on Mr Brown's face when Paddington bear offers him a marmalade sandwich.   

Looking back, imaginative storytelling was slightly lost in the books I read as a teenager, with the most popular authors being those who reflected the real lives, thoughts and concerns of teens like us. For me it was Judy Blume and her angst-ridden novellas like Forever, and the brilliant Jacqueline Wilson (a quick search to remind me of her early hits took me down memory lane with the Bed and Breakfast Kid, Double Act and The Illustrated Mum) who managed to turn hard-hitting issues into heart-warming life lessons.  

While I think of my teen-reading years fondly (Hollywell Stables, The Babysitters Club and sneaky 'grown up' books by Virginia Andrews also made an appearance) the common theme across them all was interpretations of reality. Much like a written soap opera, each had the disasters of life and love, some with happier endings than others. Imagination in the CS Lewis sense, where lions spoke and the White Witch reigns, was consigned to the bookshelf.  

This was all flipped on its head with the introduction of Harry Potter. Surprisingly for one so easily immersed in magic and mystery, I never got on with the books, but I still praise JK Rowling for opening the minds of so many children (and adults) to the power of a great story and the strength of imagination. At the same time, Lord of the Rings hit cinema screens and sent many back to the books that they tried so hard to avoid at school, journeying through Middle Earth with the joy of discovery in their eyes.  

Clearly I am not the only one affected by the stories of my childhood. You only have to look at the addition of Mog the Cat to the Christmas advertising rosta in 2015 (courtesy of Sainsburys) to understand how many grown-ups out there were nostalgic for the writing and illustrations of Judith Kerr, the face of Mog so thoughtful, the words of Debbie so wise ("I think she'd rather have an egg"). Paddington went big budget and adopted Ben Whishaw's voice, but many complained that even Hollywood couldn't do justice to Michael Bond's original work. Most excitingly of all, The Adventures of Moominland exhibition arrived at the Southbank Centre in London, ostensibly part of their 'family' exhibition series but I predict to be full of grown men and women exploring, or what at times feel like climbing inside, the imagination of Tove Jansson, perhaps in order to inspire their own creativity, to imagine a world so far from reality yet so close to one's heart.  

 Magaret Atwood said: 'In the end, we all become stories'. However true that is, and however each of our stories goes, we should all be thankful to the beauty of true storytelling, the words and pictures that bring someone's imagination to life, and in turn shapes our minds and our souls. Sometimes the world is a funny place, and for a few moments we need to escape, to climb out the back of the wardrobe with Peter and Lucy, fall down the rabbit hole like Alice and explore ruins with the Famous Five. Never grow up or out of your imagination – it is the key to another world. 

"One summer morning at sunrise a long time ago. I met a little girl with a book under her arm. I asked her why she was out so early and she answered that there were too many books and far too little time. And there she was absolutely right.” - Tove Jansson. 

{ Finding your voice }

For any brand, what they say and how they say it can have a huge impact on perception, engagement and industry position. For luxury brands, there are even more nuances to tackle to ensure personality and position are clearly communicated.

There are two sides to creating beautiful communications: the content, and the tone of voice. Most, if not all luxury and prestige brands will have a wealth of storytelling to exploit: heritage, product, design, community and seasonal collections are just some of the areas. These stories will help to form the basis of all brand communications, from brochures and press releases to the sometimes mammoth task of creating and attributing content for a new website or digital campaign.

There are also places where a brand must interact with customers and compete with similar brands. Two increasingly important areas are Customer Services and multi-platform Social Media. Here, brands need to be confident and clear in situations that are often outside of their control. Brands with a strong and deliberate tone of voice are the ones that will stand out. For example: how should we speak to customers when there is no human voice involved? How do we engage with them in their own environments? How can we set the standards for our industry and ensure consistency across all platforms, when their are many metaphorical plates in the air?

All the above are examples of how I work with each of my clients. They all have different requirements and as such I work to tailored briefs. In some cases they require help editing existing content, and more often and not require bespoke copywriting for a variety of areas. For other projects I start from the very beginning, working with the internal teams to develop tone of voice guidelines and a holistic communications strategy. There are also many detective missions, where I explore the brand from top to bottom to find the stories and create content that is as rich, compelling and engaging as possible.

{ Do you speak emoji? }

It's often said that emotions are hard to convey in written form. But our lives are now run by our tech – we text, instant message and email much more than we speak face to face. So which language is best for communicating your excitement, sarcasm, confusion or exhaustion? The answer: emoji.  

The early lazy fingers' guide to communicating was the original text speak. It helped us get our thoughts across more quickly, but emotional meaning was well and truly lost:  

'Fine. C U l8r.'  
'R U mad @ me?' 
'No, y?' 
'U sound mad.'  

Etc.  

When emojis first appeared as a new communication tool my inner literary, grammar-perfect snob rolled her eyes in disgust. Stupid little pictures. Why does everyone use the aubergine one? And why is that monkey embarrassed? They were adopted early on by teenagers but as I was now a) a decade older than them and b) a writer I discarded them as a fad that 'certain people' thought were cute. You know, those people who played Candy Crush on every commute solidly for two years.  

I shared the same view as the inimitable Robin (Rebel Wilson) in How To Be Single when she warns Alice: 'If you use an emoji I will tit punch you.' I felt the same way – WHY do you need to resort to a line of smileys to tell me how your day is? Tell me what you want for dinner DO NOT TEXT ME A TACO.  

However, as you've probably guessed, in a screamingly short space of time I became fluent in emoji. I wish I'd taken to French in the same way. I can select the right emoji from the hundreds on offer in a matter of milliseconds. Friend having a shit day? Run out of wine and need to warn flatmates? Running late for work? No problem, I have the pictorial answer.  

The thing is, there is something about emojis that somehow allows a greater depth of meaning than a long explanation. As a writer with an often wistful and nostalgic approach to the written form I'm not sure what I feel about this, but it's true. Perhaps it's just reinforcing the oft-repeated 'a picture paints a thousand words' cliché. But more than that, emoji-speak is breaking language barriers more quickly, and conveying our emotions in apparently more detail than we ever could.  

One friend of mine (who gave me the inspiration for this piece) said that she knows someone who communicates with her suppliers in Korea through the medium of emoji. Shipment late? Don't speak Korean? No problem when you have a row of emojis for box -> plane -> clock and question mark. Another friend's Spanish relatives can't easily speak to her English speaking boyfriend, but they can all chat on the group What's App via the medium of emoji. 'Sometimes pretty in-depth conversations about our day and plans for our next trip' she told me, ending with a emoji crying with laughter and that hand sign for 'perfection'.   

For me, the reason I ended up drinking the emoji kool-aid was the brillant array of 'feeling faces' offered. I'm naturally a spiky communicator – what I consider witty and playful can come across as bitchy and abrupt (so I'm told). Plus, the 'I've had a shit day' can mean a myriad of things until you add a few helpful emoticons: champagne bottle, row of wine glasses, upside-down smiley = clearly hungover. Exasperated face, books, computer and clock = too much to do. Unamused face + gun = I need to leave this job. You get the point.  

This reductive communication might seem a bit more depressing if it wasn't for the fact that, well, emojis are kinda fun. They lighten a situation. If I had to write reams of text to make my point, it makes everything seem so much heavier. Instead, I can send an emoji SOS and bore my friends with the detail over a glass of wine (red wine glass + ? + thumbs up). Rather than take away from real life conversations I think emoji-speak unwittingly supports them. Having lengthy conversations via text and email can often feel like justification for not seeing them in real life, after all, it feels like you've just caught up. But quick-fire emoji gets across the point without losing the desire to see my friends and family to elaborate in person.  

And those times when you really don't want to see someone face to face to explain why you ended up drinking too many mojitos and went home with the barman? Then 'embarrassed monkey face' is all you need to say. 

{ The power of words }

 

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." 
- Rudyard Kipling 

Let's get past the obvious, I am a writer, and therefore predisposed to an interest in language. As a graphic designer might admire the kerning on a vintage sign, or an illustrator reflect on the perfect stroke of a pencil, I can be stopped in my tracks by a beautifully composed phrase or choice of an unusual adjective. The reason I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's books over and over again is less to do with the stories at heart and more about Fitzgerald's command of language and how he playssavours and seduces the reader with it. Through his choice of words he painted an exquisite picture of love, pain, hope and despair. Such huge emotion through such little letters. 

As we shift unavoidably to a world of image-led conversations, are we losing an appreciation for the power of words? We're told that a picture paints a thousand of them, which frankly I've always felt was very unfair to the unending potential promised by carefully chosen words. They can build a future, they can set a plan in motion, they can comfort, they can break our hearts. 

Snapchat, Tinder, even Instagram – we're all telling our life stories through images. But a picture can be a smokescreen: the pseudo 'insta-reality' of the rose-tinted (or filtered) moments that we choose to share, carefully sanitised and with only a brief caption - its meaning hidden among hashtags. As my social media feeds get increasingly chockablock with personal and professional personas, I find myself most drawn to posts that break convention and share more of the story via a lengthy caption – after all a beautiful picture can be admired, but take the time and tell me the story and I'm right there with you.  

Even when we reach for words first, we're constantly forgetting their value. The advent of 'text speak' was a woeful blow to the beauty of a sentence, but even now we've (mostly) grown out of that phase, we're still quick to be quick with words – using them to protect or promote ourselves with as little of our 'self' in them as possibleWe no longer write from the heart. It seems we're more comfortable revealing a bikini selfie than exposing our true thoughts and opinions in written form. Both in business and in my personal life I see how words are treated with suspicion, an arsenal of subtleties not to be trusted or at the very least, to be used with cautionThe modern exclamation of regret is surely 'how do you recall an email?'  

 "More than kisses, letters mingle souls."  
- John Donne  

 I wonder if this modern commitment phobia to the written word is why letter-writing is becoming such a lost art formIf texting and online messaging has turned into such a mental minefield then we're way too scared to commit to paper. There is something more personal about a pen-to-paper note, a careful permanence to the physically writtenand that underlying awareness that mistakes are harder to 'apple z' 

With the original introduction of instant messaging and Tumblr, written forms of communication started to wane. When did you last receive a postcard from a friend's travels? Or send one yourself? I like to imagine the romance, excitement and intrigue of the pre-technological age, when lovers would write to one another even when separated by war, and telegrams brought tidings of reaching new shoresNow even hand-writing a birthday card can seem a Herculean effort, not to mention leave us fraught with worry about conveying exactly the right message, something rarely given a moment's thought when absolving oneself of guilt with a quick post on a Facebook wall. 

Added to which, we all have memories of when writing seemed, well,  a bit of a chore. My early memories on the subject centre around the obligatory thank you cards post-Christmas and birthday, and usually involved me trying to avoid sitting down to do them until tempted by a thick pad of fancy coloured paper and a posh pen. Now I relish any opportunity to send someone a written note, and have a stockpile of (fancy) stationery ready and waiting for the moment. I cherish the physicality of receiving a card or letter in the post, something that I can treasure and file away for future nostalgia, rather than the easily disposable text message. When we consider again the decline in written communication full stop, the physical nature of words written in ink seems to stand for a more thoughtful connection, and reinforces a permanence that can affect us deeply.  

A letter can affect the course of history. A book can change a life. A written note can make someone feel cherished. An email can make or break someone's day. All in all, I think we should all be in awe of words – after all, they are the means by which we communicate, in the 6,500 (give or take) languages of the world today. So next time you write a quick email, send a card, text the person you secretly like or tell someone a secret, remember the power that words can hold and use them wisely. But don't fear words – enjoy them. Relish them. Treat them with respect. And don't assume that a picture can explain everything. Most of time, it is only the start of the story, you have to write the rest.  

"All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down." -Friedrich Nietzsche 

{ Have a little hygge }

When I first decided on a name for my studio, it was just before the 'Hygge madness' hit in 2016. I didn't know whether to thank my good luck (boosted up the SEO rankings) or fear the weariness of reacting to the 'oh you named it after that popular Scandi word!' onslaught. But I remain pleased with my choice, which was very personal to me. Here is a brief introduction to my life with 'Hygge'. 

I am soothed by candlelight. I’ve often associated its constant and reassuring ambience with the safe haven of being at home, and my mother’s instinctive ability to create a welcoming place to be. On admiring yet more additions to the collection on a recent visit, I was told that it was originally my father, on a visit to Copenhagen over 30 years ago, who brought back tealights from a shop called Magasin long before we'd all start stocking up at Ikea. He'd been invited to dinner at the home of local friends and the little, unassuming tealights had added a luminous backdrop to the evening and he thought my mother would like them in her house too. 

It wouldn’t have been articulated at the time, but that candlelit dinner was my father’s first experience of hyggeOriginally a Norweigan term roughly translating as 'wellbeing', hygge is a word and a term with no single or direct translation. Its Scandinavian soul may be hard to define, but recognising and embracing hygge might just be the tonic, balance and remedy we all need, regardless of our character or culture. 

When researching hygge in a little more detail it quickly transpires that the crude translations given; ‘cosy’, ‘togetherness’, ‘warmth’, paint only a fraction of the picture. Traditionally the concept was attributed to a cultural attitude to the long Danish winters - finding ways to be at peace with the dark and the cold by bringing light and warmth in. It loosely defined a need to stay in and create an escape, but was also a conscious decision not to succumb to cabin fever. A key part of hygge is being together with family and friends and using the energy and warmth of these relationships to improve your mindset and promote positivity. Professor Judith Hansen in her work ‘The Proxemics of Danish Daily Life’ tells us that “familiarity is the key element - a state of stable predictableness associated with small-scale gatherings of people...a protective space enhanced by external elements; subdued light, candles, flowers, food, drink.”  

Clearly it is this element of hygge that influenced my parents, and the gift of tealights started to play a part in their evenings with friends. Even as a child I remember feeling a sense of imbued camaraderie when guests came to our home, hearing laughter and togetherness from my position at the top of the stairs.   

Subconsciously I think this incidental adoption of hygge shaped my own attitude to home and to ‘being’ at home - I am well known for a love of candles, and most evenings light one almost as soon as I’m through the doorI also love to welcome people into my home - so much so I practically have an open-door policy for friends who need a place to stay, a place to eat or a place to escape to. In winter I believe there is nothing better than shutting the blinds, lighting candles and eating a warm meal with friends, and in the summer staying at the table way after the coffee has gone cold, talking, debating and enjoying company.  

However, for Danes hygge is so much more than candles, food, and getting together with friends, but a self-understanding, a way to describe who they are and what they believe in.  

An understanding and adoption of hygge ideals is within grasp of most modern Brits, after all, we can all get on board with an evening of good food, wine and company, but it seems harder, yet more necessary, for us to appreciate and embody the hygge spirit in our minds. I’m told that hygge is not always to do with community, and that it can be embodied in oneself. Hansen writes that “hygge is charged with a strong orientation toward the present...a readiness to commit oneself to the experience of the moment.” 

This seems an important distinction when faced with the typical Millennial modern life. There is always something to feel you should be doing, could be doing or would be better off doing. In London there is so much noise and light - so much to be missing out on, so much to be punishing yourself for not being a part of. This is true of anywhere and especially in modern Western culture. What’s next? We ask ourselves. What should I be doing now? Aspiring to now? Who should I be today?  

“My head is a hive of words that won’t settle,” declared Virginia Woolf. I can guarantee that my friends, colleagues and anyone who graduated straight into the lurch of the recession nearly a decade ago can identify with her. To counter this, the concept of mindfulness has, in the last couple of years, become the buzzword for those of us trying to escape the hives in our own heads. We devour books that tell us how to clear our mind, how to train our thoughts, how to be present in the moment. But, for me, hygge takes the qualities of mindfulness and applies it more readily to the every day, encouraging us to look for the moments of joy, comfort and tranquility in our everyday lives and savour and cherish them, be it lighting a candle, cooking a meal, calling a friend, or putting fresh sheets on your bed to crawl into.  

I’ve been told by Danish friends, and British friends who have made Denmark their home, that spiritually (and colloquially) hygge embraces the notion of chilling out and not being too hard on yourself. I’ve experienced first hand that if you spend any time at all in Copenhagen and attempt to blitz the city with a robust itinerary you will be advised by any local confronted by your whirlwind to slow down and enjoy the moment.  

It seems then, that the major adversary of hygge seems to be an entrenched feeling of guilt. If you do slow down, sit still, do nothing then aren’t you missing out on something? What if life passes you by? Why aren’t you striving for something more? We tell ourselves that these questions are the judgments of others, but aren't we really just putting pressure on ourselves? This pressure to perform, to not rest on our proverbial laurels, is what strips the enjoyment of the simple things; of appreciating a day for just being a day, not being the day we achieve everything. 

Hygge is the antithesis to this pressure, this judgement, this guilt. For me it’s the perfect word and the perfect concept - if it’s not clearly definable then we can stop worrying about what it is and what it isn’t. In a general sense I think of it as a reassurance. Slow down, it tells us, just be. Light a candle, call a friend, enjoy a cup of tea, read your favourite book. Listen to music. Dance to the music. Tell stories. Write stories. Be who you are in this moment, not who you could be tomorrow.  

As I write this I am alone, accompanied only by the delicious smell of my favourite candle and the smooth sounds of Miles Davis. And everything in this moment is exactly ok. I may not be able to pronounce it, but I know I have hygge to thank for that.