When I wrote a long article for Luncheon magazine on internationally famed potter Lucie Rie, I had no idea of the fascinating journey of art and culture that would unfold — nor how Snowdon’s photographs could weave the strands of the story together.
Miyake described his first connection with Lucie Rie’s work as being “moved by beauty”. It had started with a ceramics book found randomly in a London bookstore and had led to a visit to the potter in the workshop at her modest London home.
I felt at this point that I must learn more about the artist who, by the time she died in 1995 aged 93, was considered the 20th-century master of her craft. Even with little knowledge of ceramics, I could feel the tension between her massive stoneware and delicate porcelain. I felt the urge to touch the narrow neck and swelling belly of a vase and to trace with my fingers a solid stoneware bowl that looked as though it had been squeezed like putty into an oval shape.
I understood better what Miyake and Jonathan Anderson might have in common after reading Mark Holborn’s introductory essay to Irving Penn regards the work of Issey Miyake (Jonathan Cape 1999). The most artistic expression of Miyake’s work is in his decade-long collaboration with the fashion photographer Irving Penn. It created a powerful artistic partnership that turned the Japanese designer’s work in forms and textures into something far deeper; a tribal beauty expressed as futuristic fashion. The figures and their clothing seemed to have separate identities, moving in parallel geometric lines. These images were about the body moving both with and against cloth. “Miyake’s designs were conspicuous for their absence of eroticism,” Holborn writes. “There is no voluptuousness in his work, but rather delight in the purity of form. Delight seemed to have displaced the desire.”
Couldn’t those same words be applied to Lucie Rie and her work? I remembered a review in The Guardian by Edmund de Waal, himself a passionate potter, about a biography of Lucie Rie. It was called Modernist Potter by Emmanuel Cooper and de Waal described Lucie Rie as “slight, immaculate in white” and as someone who could be “dauntingly rude”. “Lucie Rie’s pots reveal an instinct for powerful concision, for the paring back of forms, textures, functions — to the essential,” wrote de Waal. “Her life reveals someone who was able to get to the point.”
I asked Jonathan if he thought his designs had been influenced by Lucie Rie’s work or by other pieces in his personal British ceramics collection, for example Bernard Leach, Hans Cooper and Jennifer Lee. “I think two projects were about Lucie Rie,” the designer said, recalling his work for the Spanish leather company Loewe, where he has been Creative Director since 2013.
I asked Robin what it was about the pottery that might so inspire these two fashion designers who, despite being from such different generations and backgrounds, both focused on Lucie Rie’s ceramics. He continued:
So Lucie Rie binds together two quintessentially different designers. One Irish, the other Japanese, the designers have never met, in spite of Jonathan’s efforts to make contact. Yet Jonathan remains in thrall to master Miyake.