January 25, 2021
Robert Morris, CEO William Morris London
British company William Morris London has launched their first eyewear collection with William Morris Gallery, the museum and organisation dedicated to the English founder of the arts and crafts movement and creator of the famous nature inspired textile designs.
20/20 Europe talked to Robert Morris, CEO, William Morris London about the development of the collection.
Q: How has the new collaboration collection come about with William Morris Gallery and has the gallery worked with you in developing the concept?
A: This was a project that was always meant to be and is a very natural collaboration between our two organisations. Working with our packaging and product development team, we selected 12 of the gallery’s most iconic William Morris prints.
The gallery’s manager, Mhairi Muncaster, was extremely helpful and supportive throughout the development phase and it was a very positive and energising experience for us all. We shot our photoshoot campaign on location at the gallery in Walthamstow and also held our UK launch party there, so I think it’s fair to say they have been extremely involved in this development.
Q: Working with an artist’s legacy must feel like quite a responsibility as well as an honour. Please comment.
A: There is something truly magical and quite extraordinary about being given access to an art collection of this sort and yes, I did feel a sense of responsibility for creating something that could live up to the great man’s ideals and aspirations. The way some brands simply slap a famous name onto a product which bears no relationship to the individual, to me, somehow lacks integrity. With the William Morris Gallery Collection, every element of the package relates to the original design. The cases and cloths bearing the designs, the discreet printing of the patterns inside the temples and the descriptive cards explaining the origin of each design have an authenticity of which I feel William Morris himself would have approved.
William Morris, founder of the Arts & Crafts Movement
Q: What have been the most exciting points in the creative process of designing the collection, and are the resulting frames close to what you had originally envisaged?
A: Everyone involved in the development of this collection has been inspired to make it the best it could be, from the frame engineers to the packaging creators and exhibition booth designers, who visited the gallery before embarking on the project.
It’s always a pleasure to work with excellence and quality and I think the entire team has risen to the challenge of presenting a collection that has made even the most jaded of opticians respond positively - not that I am suggesting that there are jaded opticians of course! The frames themselves are premium quality and I am delighted with the way they have turned out.
There is a definite theme to the collection: we’ve aimed for delicate elegance and each of the twelve styles has a different colour metal or acetate design accent that makes it unique.
Q: Is the link with names completely coincidental? What does the William Morris Gallery branding signify today in the UK and further afield?
A: I am not sure I believe in coincidences; some things are just meant to be. The more I researched William Morris, the more I admired the man, both for his immense talents and his deeply held philosophical and political beliefs. I like to think my company reflects much of that ethos: I believe that everyone is entitled to have pleasure in their work, that beauty and practicality can co-exist and that craftsmanship is at the heart of what we aspire to.
William Morris today is still immensely relevant. H&M, the Swedish fashion group, just sold out of a big designer collection they created using William Morris prints, showing how relevant these designs are, even to very young people. The UK homewares market for William Morris bedding, textiles and wallpapers remains remarkably buoyant. I can’t think of any other designer who has been so popular for so long. Internationally the name William Morris resonates in the US, across Europe and of course in places like Australia and Canada.
Q: What is the roll out of this collection?
A: The initial collection has really only just been launched and we were fortunate to have our global introduction at Silmo; our international distributors are set up to roll the programme out in France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Russia, Holland, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and I’m sure there will be many more to follow.
We have launched in the Far East, starting with Japan and Hong Kong, where we anticipated a strong response.
The William Morris by William Morris story seems to appeal to a wide range of industry customers and we are confident consumers are going to feel the same.
\\ The collection works with the artist’s textile designs in different ways
Q: A lot of work has gone into the point of sale and the accessories. Please explain.
A: We felt that it was worth investing heavily in supporting this collection with great point of sale to make it really stand out in-store and in practices. We chose one of the most popular of Morris’ designs, ‘Strawberry Thief’ to use as the signature pattern for this first collection and every item, from the beautiful, blue sales presentation kits to the carrier bags, window displays and banners carry the design theme and the legend: ‘British Art Meets Craft’, a reference to the Arts and Crafts movement, of which Morris was a founder.
Q: A percentage of the sale of every item in the collection will be donated to the Gallery. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this money might go towards?
A: The William Morris Gallery holds the world’s largest collection of objects relating to William Morris. All income from donations and licensing programmes is invested back into preserving the collection and the organisation also supports free art classes for young people and hosts regular family events. We may well develop some specific programmes that will further the mission of this excellent institution.
Q: When will new additions to the collection be released?
A: We are already some way down the line with some follow up acetate frames in production to add to the first 12 styles which we hope to have available in the New Year. There is also a very elegant range of directional sunglasses to look forward to shortly after that. With so many world recognised prints to choose from, I’m certain there will be many more to follow.
\\ The new campaign – at the William Morris Gallery