Chandler, Barbara, The Independent (London, England)
Founder of Design-Nation who was an imaginative and indomitable champion of British designers
Twenty-five years or so ago, British art colleges, arguably the best in Europe, if not the world, were producing skilled and original designers of furniture, ceramics, glass, lighting and textiles in increasing numbers. Surprising though it now seems, manufacturers and shops at that time were largely indifferent to such talents, and the designers who wanted to get their work out into the wider world had to go it alone. And so came about the modern phenomenon of the "designer-maker". Then, in the early Eighties, a growing bevy of eager, but widely scattered and invariably disorganised, creatives had the immeasurable luck to find themselves an imaginative, indomitable and selfless champion, Peta Levi, who was to continue to fight their corner until her death.
Born in 1938, Peta Levi had married a solicitor, Michael Sayers, at 19, and had three children within four years. As the children got older, she worked as a journalist, specialising in design and new technology, for The Times, the Financial Times and House & Garden. She became increasingly aware of a huge British river of design talent that was simply running away. First step to dam the flood was to found and organise, from 1983 to 1991, the "New Designers" exhibition which has grown now into the huge summer event held annually at the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London.
Levi's inspired idea was to provide a unified platform for new graduates in art and design to show their work to visiting talent scouts from manufacturers, shops and design agencies, along with the media and the public. In 2006, the show celebrated its 21st birthday and was opened by Gordon Brown. It had grown into what the then Chancellor called "a British institution . . . unrivalled in Europe for its scope, its scale and its ability to attract potential employers". And in July last year, a staggering 4,000 new graduates showed off their degree show ideas.
Levi came to realise, however, that providing a talent arena was simply not enough, as most new designers, however brilliant, have "nil business acumen", as she once tellingly observed. They need nurturing and tutoring in the ways of commerce and self-promotion. Accordingly, in 1991, she set up New Designers in Business, to offer manufacturing, marketing and publicity expertise. Later this was to change its name to Design-Nation, and be the operating arm of Levi's umbrella charity the Design Trust. Today (still with charitable status), Design-Nation is a group of around 150 of the most talented designers in Britain, all vetted by an independent panel of judges.
Now anyone can easily find a designer, thanks to Design-Nation's glossy handbook-cum-catalogue, and a well-designed website adding electronic edge (www.designnation.co.uk) This site has become a well- used and trusted resource for commissioning ceramics, glass, furniture, lighting, textiles, silver, metal, jewellery, fashion accessories, branding and product design. It does not charge a commission. Design-Nation also arranges bursaries to back fledgling designers at exhibitions.
Indeed, over the years, Design-Nation has helped well over 1,000 young designers to launch their products successfully. Levi also engineered a sister website, www.thedesigntrust.co.uk, …
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Publication information: Article title: Peta Levi. Contributors: Chandler, Barbara - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 6, 2008. Page number: 34. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.