Christopher Jenner thinks the word "luxury" has lost all meaning. "With globalisation and a rise in the amount of wealthy people in the world, it has become purely a commercial concept," he says.
The London-based designer prefers the word "sophistication", which for him conjures up thoughts of "consideration, care, knowledge and experience" - all ingredients necessary to take a dusty or stagnant heritage brand or craft into the world of contemporary design - and this is something Jenner has done time and again.
It's no wonder that Jenner has no wish to be "pigeonholed or typecast", something the designer knew from the onset.
Since opening his studio in 2010, Jenner has made a name for himself creating immersive interiors and retail environments - replete with revamped brand identities - crafting furniture for the home and bathroom, and designing a range of products from luggage and lighting to cutlery.
Jenner's energetic and multidisciplinary approach to design is due in no small part to his background and colourful work experience. Having studied fine art and industrial design in his native South Africa, he travelled extensively around the world between the two degrees, spending extended periods of time in Paris, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong - working in the restaurant industry in the latter.
He eventually chose to settle in London at the end of the '90s, but not before finding the time to launch a performance apparel brand with a business partner in Cape Town. The business ultimately failed, but Jenner says it was the perfect training ground.
"Anyone in business will tell you that to go bankrupt once is probably the best lesson of your life," Jenner says. His first foray into entrepreneurship taught him about budgeting and financial strategy, he says but, above all, it emboldened him never to wait for the "phone to ring".
With this mantra in mind, Jenner has never looked back. After several years in London creating installations and designing launch events for brands as varied as Swarovski and Harry Winston, he got a job creating "environments and stores" for French perfumer extraordinaire Diptyque and decided to launch his own studio. The year was 2010 and London was still in full post-recession miasma. People were moving away from big purchases and were looking for more "substance" from their favourite brands, Jenner recalls.
The key, he realised, was merging the values and heritage of the brand with the local culture so that the stores weren't identical. For Diptyque's Leadenhall market store in London for instance, Jenner infused Victorian influences, while the New York shop featured a 1930s industrial metal look and the Chicago boutique was structural and linear. "By creating connections, we weren't just honouring the culture of the place but also creating new culture in the process."
More recently, another historic perfume brand, the 1799-founded Atkinsons, approached Jenner to design the limited-edition version of their emblematic 24 Old Bond Street fragrance - it goes on sale in 1,799 exemplars around the world, including Hong Kong's Lane Crawford, later this month.
The brief was simple but challenging. The glass bottle could not be modified in shape or size so any design input had to be decorative. Jenner chose to encase it in an asymmetric metal fretwork cage - referencing Georgian furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale - that was held together with a tie-pin inspired by Georgian dandy and pioneer of the three-piece suit Beau Brummell.
"We were using two materials - glass and metal - that do not connect at all so there was a lot of 3D modelling to create the right tolerances between the two," he says. The box, too, opens in an atypical manner and was "incredibly difficult to manufacture", says Jenner, who admits that he likes to push his clients' capabilities as well as his own.
Despite the work now flowing in, Jenner and his studio continue to seek out self-started projects. "We spend 10 per cent of our turnover on concept work," he explains. At the moment, the team is making a chair with one of "the last rush-weavers in Europe who harvests the rush herself in Bedfordshire on a punt".
The team is also working with English heritage brands and inspiring them to use traditional crafts and materials in a totally new way. Elkington & Co, a British company founded in 1824 that supplied all the silverware for the Titanic, will be relaunched in 2016 under Jenner's direction as E&Co. Jenner is also creating a series of chef's knives with bases made out of bog oak wood or Carrara marble for George Wostenholm, one of Sheffield's most iconic cutlers founded in 1787.
"A lot of craft brands or craftspeople are totally stuck in a rut," Jenner says. "Doing these projects give us an opportunity to learn about their craft and gives them an opportunity to bring innovation and technology into the process and use materials in a totally new way. It's about allowing craftsmanship to breathe, exist, live and grow."
Sometimes the self-started projects have become bigger collaborations, as was the case with Britain-based luggage brand Globe-Trotter, who have been making beautiful angular suitcases by hand out of vulcanised fibreboard since 1897. A couple of years ago, Jenner approached the brand to make a concept piece; now he has designed a four-piece range of luggage called Union Star that launches this autumn in Hong Kong and China.
Featuring a laser-cut bespoke pattern inspired by the Union Jack and Globe-Trotter's North Star monogram, Union Star showcases the heritage brand's new bespoke range where customers can create their very own suitcase using varied techniques.
Two of the most exciting projects Jenner is working on at the moment are a collaboration with Liberty department store in London, and a range of new stores and packaging for 14-year-old French tea brand Kusmi. Jenner's cosmopolitan expertise is being sought for the former on two counts: to breathe new life into the fantastic early 20th century mock Tudor store in London's Great Marlborough Street and to create environments in which to launch and grow Liberty's highly delectable own range of bags, wallets, scarves, stationer and luggage. For Kusmi, Jenner is creating a flagship store in New York's World Trade Centre shopping centre and another store in Hong Kong.
It's no surprise that the designer's work has achieved global acclaim. Regardless of what project he takes on, Jenner's aim is to tell a story: "My work is always about components, each one highly designed, that can sit on its own or, with others, create a scheme or a narrative."
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa
Graduates from the Johannesburg School of the Arts (Fine Art)
Graduates from the Boston School of Design in Cape Town (Industrial Design)
Opens his own studio; designs Diptyque Paris Bleecker Street flagship in New York
Designs global expansion for Penhaligon’s London
Awarded British Breakthrough Talent of the Year at the FX International Design Awards
Appointed creative director for Eurostar trains between London and Paris/Brussels
Launches Union Star collection with Globe-Trotter; appointed to Liberty London department store