Inspired by... blog

6 posts from September 2014

24 September 2014

Meet the Makers: Terror and Wonder in the British Library Shop

Next week sees the opening of our latest exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ and once again the Shop area has been transformed. This time, we are entering the study of an old English country house where, by the flickering candlelight, we can see our host opening a leather-bound volume and inviting us to take a seat.

British Library Shop

We spoke to two of the people responsible for supplying the props that transformed this area: Guy Arzi and Cog O’ Two.

Guy Arzi is a designer who uses reclaimed architectural salvage to create modern decorative and functional objects. His repurposed candelabra are perfectly suited for the gothic shop, as they are a modern reinterpretation of a classic icon of gothic melodrama.

Terror and Wonder Shop2

How did you get started in design, and why architectural salvage?

I am a fine art graduate, but I have also studied Architectural Conservation, and I worked as a Conservator for St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a conservator looking after the interiors of some beautiful old buildings you get to look closely at objects and architectural features and you get to understand the materials and the craftsmanship involved in making them.

It seems to me that we don’t make things as we used to, by which I mean the quality and longevity of everything we produce isn’t as good as it used to be. So I feel the need to recreate some of the old craftsmanship, and salvage it from distraction or decay - or maybe I simply can’t resist old objects!

But while working at Westminster Abbey I really started to appreciate carvings and the general wit in old art so it came naturally to me to use reclaimed architectural salvage in my art.

Terror and Wonder Shop3

Is there a particular age or style you like to use in your work?

I like mixing styles a little; it is like how our street architecture is full of buildings from different times. When you mix styles you realize how much these styles are a repetition of themselves but with a little twist. And the streets of London can often be a good source of material that I can rework into new pieces.


You’ve worked at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’ve created work for the British Library and The National Maritime Museum, do you enjoy working with museums and galleries?

Yes, I’m a museum junky! I love so many museums across London for so many different reasons - The Wallace Collection, British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, John Soane Museum, Hunterian Museum, I can go on and on. My all-time favourite museum is the Victoria and Albert; I would love to make a massive work for the V&A.

British Library Shop


Cog O’ Two is a real family business. Jon and Micheala and their sons Liam and Nathan produce laser-cut steampunk-inspired props. For Gothic, their aesthetic worked beautifully, being at once antique and modern, ambiguously aged and curiously contemporary. The hanging keys and clock hands help create the ambiance of the gothic study, and the ominous birdcages add a touch of drama.

We asked Jon how Cog O ‘Two came about.

I’ve always been into making things even as a child and probably inspired by my dad who was a keen model engineer and model boat enthusiast. As part of a fancy dress party for my 40th I was persuaded to buy a decent set of Star Wars Stormtrooper Armour and afterwards join The UKG. The UKG ( UK Garrison ) is the UK arm of global costuming group The 501st. Their sole aim is to raise money for nominated charities and have fun whilst doing it – in 2013 the UKG raised over £66,000. The whole family ended up getting involved, Michaela as Ghost Rider with Nathan as Wicket and Liam also as The Ghost Rider, participating at many events all over the UK in a variety of costumes we had made. From there we made a number of props for friends, and since then we’ve just grown.



And did you have experience with laser cutting and etching before this business, or did you learn to make these pieces?

Neither of us had any experience other than my attending FabLab Manchester and using their machines, which was a really good foundation in lasers and 3D printing. FabLab was a wealth of knowledge with their staff and volunteers and a plethora of people that popped in to use the machines. So other than learning the basics at FabLab we’re pretty much self-taught.

And it is a real family business, isn’t it?

Liam, our eldest, is 19 years old and he actually created the first cogs we made into sets and sold. Since then he’s designed a number of our products and generally looks after all the cutting and maintenance of the machines. Nathan is our youngest son and is 13 years old, and he helps out with some drawing, selling on the stall when we do events and doing odd jobs around the workshop.

Why steampunk? Was this something you were already interested in, or did it develop through the business?

As well as the UKG, some of our friends within that group were also into Steampunk and we were invited up to Whitby Goth weekend in April 2010. This is probably the second biggest event where Steampunks meet, as there are many crossovers with the Goth scene, and our passion for it grew from there. Our business actually grew through our love of Steampunk, as we’d already made bits for friends in the Steampunk community. Michaela saw an opportunity to take that one step further and provide components that weren’t readily available in a material that was light weight and cheap enough that any Steampunk could afford. Already having the laser at this point made quite good business sense and the machine could be put to good use.

British Library Shop

As well as selling to other Steampunks, who else do you work for?

We’ve created props for The National Maritime Museum, The National Space Centre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Harvey Nichols, Various TV and Theatre companies, and many high street retailers.

And if money and size was not an issue, what would you most love to make?

A full size Nautilus Submarine from 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea!

Thanks to Guy and Jon for answering our questions. Full length versions of these interviews can be seen on the ExhibeoVM website.

You can also see our full range of Gothic products on the British Library Shop website.

23 September 2014

Meeting design businesses at Top Drawer

One of my colleagues, Christina Murphy, recently went to check out retail event Top Drawer at Olympia. Top Drawer showcases over 800 suppliers in the gifts, lifestyle and fashion sectors.

She met some of the businesses that have used the British Library, including our Innovating for Growth programme, and to also find new ones who might be interested in taking part. Our programme offers free, bespoke support for growing London businesses to develop innovative products and services.

Here are her highlights from the show:

Thabto close up

Thabto (which stands for ‘two heads are better than one’) make quality, quirky and original lifestyle items for those who seek something different. It was set up in 2008 by British designers Steven Smith & James Wosiek. Today, from their base in Notting Hill, London, their young creative team produce a range of award winning items that can be found in design stores around the world.

Founder James Wosiek took part in the Library’s I4G programme’s April 2013 cohort, and says, “I4G could not have come at a better time. The advice we have received and the exercises we've carried out/yet to carry out will give us the foundation to grow faster and with a more managed approach had we not have done the course!”

Victoria Eggs fa2r

Victoria Eggs designs and manufactures premium quality, brightly inspired, home ware and gifts, all handmade in Britain. Its strapline is “proudly saluting all that makes Britain British.” Founded by its namesake in March 2011, her premium quality homeware, gifts and greetings cards that are all made in Britain.

Owner Victoria Eggs took part in the April 2014 cohort of Innovating for Growth. The programme gave her access to branding and marketing experts, which helped her to refine her brand, design and build a new website. Victoria says, “It's allowed me to take a step back and really look at the business and what's working and what isn't.”

Rose Hill Designs

Rose Hill Designs is a creative independent illustration based company, with a British Pop Art trademark for greeting cards, stationery, artworks and commissions. Rose has worked with ZSL London Zoo, Ted Baker, Harrods and Rockett St George.

She used the Business & IP Centre databases and resources to research her markets and develop her business plan. She has taken advantage of many of the free or low-cost workshops and events that the Centre runs, including the Spring Festival, Inspiring Entrepreneurs and Speed Mentoring.

12 September 2014

Follow the British Library on Instagram

Hello readers, I have some good news for you. I'll be looking after the British Library Instagram account for a while; I'll be posting pictures of our flagship St Pancras building, amazing collections, exhibitions, events and the people that use us. If you post a picture of us, tag it with #britishlibrary and I'll 'regram' some of the best.

08 September 2014

Blurred gender codes: is menswear the new womenswear?

Written by our guest blogger Geraldine Wharry, known for her Future Trend consultancy based in London and inspiration sharing platform Trend Atelier, with clients ranging from WGSN to Samsung. She hosts 'Fashion Forecasting: Trend hunting and gathering', a trend seminar at our Business & IP Centre. You can read some of her previous posts on ‘a beginner’s guide to fashion trend forecasting’ and ‘comics-inspired fashion’.

An increasing number of designers are redefining masculinity with creative and radical talent.
Discarding traditional gender distinctions, this year menswear rids itself of preconceived representations and appropriates female fashion codes, paving the way for a contemporary man that confidently embraces his softer side as a sign of strength, not weakness. A seamless relationship between menswear and womenswear sees trend cycles, aesthetics and silhouettes blending into one. Not to be mistaken for notions of androgyny, this is seen as men confidently in touch with their feminine side and vice-versa.


Top: JW Andersen Spring Summer 2015 – Left: Loewe Spring Summer 15 campaign – Right: Iselin Steiro shot by David Sims for Vogue Paris October 2010

This fluid state of affairs fits perfectly with the pervading sense that it has become a challenging sport to define clearly what a single look is inspired by. This point of view resonates with Angelo Vaccarelo’s article for the Business of Fashion, stating “In today’s hyper-saturated, ultra-fragmented landscape, talking about trends is, frankly, pointless […] everything is happening at once”. Indeed we are experiencing a hybrid fashion cycle where tailoring and evening wear are imbued with athletic sports references, classic casuals are redefined with technical fabrications and sneakers have become an Haute-Couture staple. And in due form, gender distinctions are being put into question with silhouettes working perfectly for both men’s and women’s bodies.

Call it the “Cut & Paste” era of dragging and dropping images and re-curating fashion messages. As a direct result of the globalisation of fashion via the internet, we have reached a level of sameness, particularly in womenswear, whether it be on the streets, in fashion editorials and shop floors from New York to Bangkok, Paris and London. Suzi Menkes pointed this out regarding street fashion and individual style stating “there is no longer a time gap between when a small segment of fashion-conscious people pick up a trend and when it is all over the sidewalks” . Bloggers and street photographers can be credited for expanding the audience and the debate around style in a way that has changed the face of fashion, and that has been truly wonderful to witness. But has this been at the cost of untamed self-expression?

This is where menswear is playing a crucial role in injecting innovation, surprise and awe on the streets, in editorials and on the catwalks. From sophisticated sartorial looks at Pitti Uomo photographed by Tommy Ton for GQ, to traditionally testosterone filled markets such as extreme sports and urban streetwear, masculine silhouettes are updated with feminine codes: floral embellishments, handbags and off the shoulder silhouettes to name a few. Celebrities such as Kanye West and Taeyang from Korea proudly sport leather skirts and jeweled masks, coloured hair and must I dare, makeup.


Left: Taeyang for 1st Look Magazine - Right: Astrid Andersen Spring Summer 2015 – Bottom: Kanye West wearing Givenchy Getty Images

Looking back, the idea that men could embrace their feminine side is not new. In the late 18th century we saw the emergence of the “Dandy” - defining a man particularly concerned with his physical appearance. Fast-forward to the seventies and David Bowie brought to us the perfect embodiment of androgynous beauty. In the eighties, Jean Paul Gaultier adorned men with skirts. Then in 1994 the term “metrosexual” was created by Mark Simpson. This is a perfect example of why fashion can be so confusing and why I am often asked “How do you forecast trends and what do you define as new?” Nothing is new, everything is a part of a cycle. The key is in the timing of your forecast and analysis.

So in terms of timing, the blurring of gender codes in Men’s fashion has reached its tipping point. What was once considered eccentric is now a mainstream reality and above all commercial success endorsed by the high street and the luxury markets. Two decades after the birth of the ‘metrosexual’, it is the norm for men to care about and spend money on their personal appearance. So much so I think women could take notes. In the UK alone, men are now outspending women on items such as shoes. So although historically fashion was the domain of women, its culture has moved over into menswear in a big way. As a result, fashion labels have expanded their menswear assortments, with giants such as Hermès, Lanvin, Gucci and Prada introducing men’s-only flagships. Other Luxury labels focus on impactful Menswear campaigns targeting a highly sophisticated clientele as seen with Balenciaga’s recent ads.


Top: Balenciaga campaign Autumn winter 2014 – Left: Givenchy Spring Summer 2015 Etienne Laurent/European Press photo Agency - Right: Neil Patrick Harris for Glamour

Womenswear is still a driver for innovation in terms of details and surface treatments, but menswear has become a pool for new ideas and fashion paradigms, twisting dogmas and preconceived notions of virility, body image, tailoring and casuals. These codes are being morphed into a 2014 vocabulary by a range of designers from the high-end to promising fashion graduates. The key being the contrast between virility and traditionally perceived female preferences perfectly illustrated by the hot pink military jumpsuit from Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2015 collection. With pinks and purples being massively on display in the Spring Summer 2015 catwalks, may this be a warning to the faint of heart, there is a lot coming your way.


Top: Lous Vuitton Spring Summer 2015 – Left: LCF MA graduate Xiaomeng Yang- Right: Alexandre Herchcovitch Spring Summer 2015

04 September 2014

British Library X Burning Man Festival: From King’s Cross to the Nevada desert

Burning Man Festival meets British Library 2

Hello readers. My lovely colleagues Sophie McIvor and Mahendra Mahey have just written a blog post about how the Library’s digital collections inspired an installation at the Burning Man Festival. Wow, what an unexpected and inspiring use of library collections!

You can read the full article here, but here is a quick summary. Last year the Library digitised and uploaded a million images from our 19th century book collection onto Flickr Commons. This means that you can remix, re-use and repurpose the images as you want. Take a look for yourself, it's an incredible resource.

David Normal, a California-based artist with a special interest in 19th century illustration, created four large-scale pieces for the Festival, using the images from our Flickr feed. And how did he first hear about us? Via the guitarist of the punk band ‘Flipper’. Love it!

Burning Man Festival meets British Library

Have you used our Flickr images in an interesting way?  Let us know by adding a comment below.

02 September 2014

5 ways Etsy has changed the small business landscape

This week I went to the RSA to find out more about Benedict Dellot’s research document about how Etsy and online craft marketplaces are changing the nature of business.

In case you don’t know, Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods and vintage items. Its strength is that it gives designers a cheap, quick and respectable store front for their goods, and shares them with a global audience. To give you an idea, in 2013, Etsy sellers sold nearly 1.35 billion dollars of goods and it has 36 million members in total. We’ve been in talks with the Etsy team recently about how we can work together.

So what came out of the report?  Here are the top five findings that grabbed my attention. 

1. Women are leading the way
I knew it would be high, but a whopping 90% of Etsy sellers are female. While the average self-employed person is male, middle-aged and relatively asset-rich, the typical person selling on Etsy is female, young and without significant amounts of capital to their name.

2. Low risk and low start-up costs
Starting an Etsy shop requires little financial outlay. 47% of sellers said they were able to rely on their own savings to get the business off the ground and 40% required no funding whatsoever.

3. Part-time business: the new 5-9ers
The Etsy model is very flexible; you can run your own Etsy shop and work in full-time employment (hence the new 5-9ers), or be a stay-at-home mum. Half of Etsy shop owners spend less than 10 hours a week on their Shop and more than a fifth have a full-time day job in addition to their Etsy venture. 

4. Boosting your household income
For the majority of sellers who work part-time on Etsy, their shops make a modest but meaningful contribution to their earnings. More than half have shops that add upwards of 5% to family income, which equates to £1,150 a year for the typical household.

5. It’s as much about the creative process and camaraderie as the cash
Etsy shop owners derive equal (if not greater) satisfaction from the very act of selling. A number of participants spoke of a feeling of ‘validation’ whenever they sold an item and how their shops gave them a sense of purpose that was absent in their day job.

Obviously to a large extent the shop sellers are competing with each other. However, what surprised me was that 47% said that they recommend the products of other sellers to their buyers, while 37% said they will source materials and supplies from other shops on the site. 37% say that emotional support from other sellers is important to them.

You can find out more about selling with Etsy through their Seller Handbook and Etsy School. You can also apply for opportunities to showcase your work, like their art exhibition for London Art Month. Etsy is offering British Library users an introductory offer of 20 free listings for all new Etsy shops. Enter the code: BRITISHLIBRARYFREEat