Our brilliant tea ambassador Mark Nicholls interviews the amazing Alison Appleton on her collection, tea and her inspiration.
Mark: So here we are at the design studio of Alison Appleton in Jamaica Street, Liverpool and we've travelled all this way to spend a little bit of time with Alison to understand the creative genius that makes these beautiful tea wares that she produces. So Alison, how are you today?
Alison: I'm fine, thanks. Yes.
Mark: Excellent. So beautiful tea wares that you have here. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind some of these pieces that you produce?
Alison: Yes. Well, first of all I'm glad that you like them. When I decided to create my own brand, I wanted to create something that was useful and enjoyed by people rather than just an object that went on a shelf. So after thinking about it, what better than a teapot? And of course, fewer people use teapots now because most people predominantly use a teabag in the mug, as I did before I designed these. So I thought the pots have to be original. They have to have interesting features.
Not only did I want them to look attractive, have a place, some kind of relevance in terms of tea history, I also wanted them to be functional. So we've used very fine steel filters which allow you to brew a beautiful cup of tea, whether it's a very fine leaf or a very long leaf.
And my inspiration came from travelling around China, reading books about the history of tea. I felt compelled actually to base the first collection on the history of China and the tea trade between the Orient and Europe. My first pot is called Darcy.
It's not a coincidence. It is actually named after Mr Darcy, the character from Pride and Prejudice because at that time, British chinoiserie was all the rage in the UK.
Jane Austen would have been drinking Chinese tea. I think that's right, isn't it?
Mark: Absolutely. Yes.
Alison: And lots of the decorations in the houses, the vases would all have come from China so that was a great place to start. I love the sort of beautiful, delicate artistry of the historical Chinese pieces and that's why I chose peonies and blossom to go on this piece, because those flowers are the ones that were used most often. Peonies, cherry blossom, lotus flower.
Mark: From your tea drinking adventure through China, are there any teas or districts that you've come across that have particularly sounded or resonated with you and helped in the generation of some of these pots?
Alison: The artisans I work with are in the Fujian province. There are many famous tea growing areas in the Fujian provinces, as you know, and they mostly drink Oolong. When I first tried Oolong, I did think it tasted a bit like cabbage soup but I've grown to absolutely love it. I think it's so delicious. And now of course, I know there are so many different varieties of Oolong, from the rose coloured brew to a very pale golden champagne colour and with a huge variety of flavours. I'm just really interested and enjoy trying all these teas. Also, the Fujian province is quite inspiring in itself: lots of mountains there, mountain streams; it is a beautiful landscape.
Together, we work with a group of people who mix their own clays, develop new glazes, use a huge variety of techniques, which of course, is very labour intensive and takes great dedication. It is an extraordinary enterprise. We now have a small workshop there where we can develop these new materials. I'm very excited about the new things that we're going to bring out.
With all my pieces, you will find an unexpected twist. I think that's my trademark. I don't like straight lines, I don't like predictability. I like something a bit different.
So in terms of this one, you've got the contrasting materials. With this one, you've got the contrasting form so the lid sits at an angle in the pot. And even the mug is hand-cut on a slant.
Mark: Oh yes. Yes.
Alison: So it's very cosy and warm to hold but it has that sort of design element which makes it more interesting.
We live in an organic world: irregularity, flowing forms are all around us all the time. One of my favourite artists is Gaudi, the architect from Barcelona who... the Sagrada Familia, inside is one of most favourite interiors and it's because it's mostly pure white. It's very organic. It looks like a forest of trees going up into the ceiling, if you haven't seen it. And his work is marked by the fact that there are virtually no straight lines. Obviously, it must be very expensive to do in architectural terms but in ceramic, if you work with the right people, it can be done..
Check out the video with Alison and Mark