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{31/03/2012}   British Design: Nick Kamen’s boxer shorts, Mini and Concorde

The British Design exhibition at the V&A is delightfully full of “Oooo, I remember them/that” things. It also made me feel unexpectedly proud to be British, there’s a lot of cool stuff, including things you wouldn’t have thought of as classic British design, for example there is a set of traffic lights on display.

There is a dark room full of computer/video games, sadly not interactive. I don’t recall first hand the really basic ones where figures consisted of a few square blocks, but to see the development is astounding.

I don’t usually pay attention to audio exhibits but I did watch and listen to a few music videos. For example, I hadn’t known that Derek Jarman directed the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin video. I watched all five of the ground breaking advertisements. I was shocked to see THE Levi 501s advert with a young, fit Nick Kamen stripping off in the laundrette to wash his jeans was both still exciting *snigger* and that it was first shown in 1985! Hearing the “I heard it through the Grapevine” soundtrack took me right back, though I’m pretty sure I only appreciated that advert years later, I just don’t remember being ten when I saw that advert, surely I was older? Along with the other adverts (including the Guiness one with the surfers and horses in the waves and the Hovis boy on bicycle on), I appreciated how innovative and memorable they were (too many now to distinguish in a way). Here’s a You Tube link to the Levi ad:

I found an original, possibly the first, Habitat catalogue fascinating. I forget how ground breaking Conran was with Habitat and making people want to be stylish and more creative in their homes. On display are some pieces from his early collections that I would proudly display today.

There is also a pristine mini and, my dream car, an E-type Jaguar. I desperately wanted to get inside the Jaguar in particular. What cool people we Brits were to design these things. Then there’s Concorde. The friend I was with was hugely excited about this and watched repeats of video footage of it taking off and landing. It seems so sad that it no longer flies.

I was particularly interested to see a lot Damien Hurst’s fittings for Pharmacy restaurant. I read about that restaurant recently. It was THE place to go in the 1990s, but sadly it was not financially viable, in part due to the amount of famous friends of the owners who never had to pay to eat there. I suspect their drinks were also freebies, and those were heady times. I loved the aspirin table stool seats and the very quirky, detailed wallpaper. Even as recently as the 1990s, uber design still seemed like a novelty. Nowadays, a lot of places are modern and different so it’s unusual I go somewhere with a real wow factor. Mind you, Pharmacy would still be amazing and different if it were recreated today.

I loved that exhibition and it was really cool to go somewhere that exhibited things you were either familiar with (traffic lights, road signs, crockery) or had never really appreciated were great works of British design but which on reflection really are things you associate with Britain (mini, Concorde, Amstrad keyboard and some of David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust costumes!). Go, it’s part nostalgia, part pride and all interesting!

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