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    Dedicated space within the exhibition for guests to design their own Wallpaper* cover (Photographer: Andrea Garuti)

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    Konstantin Grcic’s intriguing caped crusader in a cage in the Brioni palazzo’s central courtyard (Photographer: Andrea Garuti)

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    Custom Covers interface

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    Custom Covers interface

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    Custom Covers interface

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    Meirion’s selected covers so far

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    Meirion’s selected covers so far

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    Meirion’s selected covers so far

Wallpaper Handmade 2011

Posted by Will Hudson,

Without doubt one of the highlights of this year’s Milan Furniture Fair was Wallpaper’s hugely successful Handmade exhibition. It doesn’t stop there though as their Custom Covers are back making the August issue a truly collectable, bespoke and handmade product in it’s own right. Through the wonders of state-of-the-art digital printing and military-precision planning an application allows anyone to design, and receive, their very own, handmade cover. We caught up with Art Director Meirion Pritchard to find out more…

Hi Meirion, first up please can you tell us more about the Handmade exhibition and issue and where the idea came from…

As a magazine we are always trying to come up with exciting new ideas for our readers and also to keep ourselves challenged and entertained. The Handmade concept, I think came out of one of our Editorial meetings, I believe it was Jonathan Bell our Architecture and Motoring editor who first suggested it. Tony Chambers our Editor-in-chief saw the potential in the idea, and so the various Wallpaper* teams started thinking up ideas and collaborators that they’d love to see working together. It was hugely ambitious project and involved so much extra work on top of doing the usual day to day work that goes into producing a monthly magazine. It would either be brilliant or a huge let down, luckily all the hard work paid off!

For the Handmade project, our most ambitious editorial and brand-building initiative to date, Wallpaper* brought together and commissioned some of the world’s finest craftsmen, designers, producers and manufacturers, most of whom had not worked together before. The collection was first exhibited (and eaten) during Salone del Mobile (the Milan Furniture Fair), the world’s most important design fair, a unique industry showcase and talking shop. Wallpaper* took over the headquarters of Brioni, the legendary Italian bespoke suit maker, to host the exhibition, installing a unique architectural pavilion in the courtyard and an architect-designed coffee bar on the top floor. The launch party was the most talked-about event of the week and guests came away praising the exhibition as the highlight of the fair, evidence of real focus and vision and an acute understanding of the trends in contemporary design and beyond.

What were the biggest things you learnt from last year and what changed this year?

This year the exhibition was bigger and was on for longer, it was held in the same space as last year at the Brioni Headquarters on Via Gesu. So we had a better understanding of how the space worked and the timings involved in transforming four floors of showroom space into a cohesive exhibition. Last year we literally worked around the clock, the team had about three hours sleep every night. There was so much to do to make sure everything was shown in the best way. The main change this year was that the Interiors team went out earlier to start unpacking the larger items that had already been delivered, we also were able to organise most of the photography of the objects for this issue whilst we had them in Milan by setting up a studio at Brioni. It was still a large undertaking but we managed to go and attend other events and shows this time. The team had just returned from India, so the morning after the Private View the Art team flew back to London (No volcano ash and 24 hour bus journey’s this time!) to prepare the India issue for press.

Another exciting part of the exhibition is the handmade covers that your readers can create. How does the process work, from design through to print?

The custom covers was a huge success last year, we were designing it without really knowing if it would in fact work as planned, it was quite scary at times. Luckily the testing etc proved successful and everybody got their copies! This year it’s easier to get involved. There was no need to pre-register, readers, subscribers or anyone who wants to make a cover can either enter their subscriber number, or buy a one off copy. The app is built by Kin using Flash, the user designs their cover using a mixture of basic elements, shape, patterns, images, editable text, and so on. We have experimented with an animated aspect that enhances the digital life of the cover, and these can be seen in the gallery. A still version is then sent to printers FE Burmans, and printed beautifully on their HP Indigo. The covers then get shipped to Southern Print who print and bind the newsstand magazine. The newsstand and custom covers all get bound at the same time. We have contingency plans in case a cover gets damaged, so that it gets flagged up, reprinted and bound again. The covers then get delivered to readers around the globe…

Quite a brave decision by an art director to give the front cover away, why do you do it?

It’s nice to have a break, ha! We experiment with a lot of different techniques to enhance the editorial content and the Custom Covers is another example of that. The team and I thought about different techniques that would be appropriate, such as stickers, or dot the dot, even some special inks that you can paint with. But we decided to push things even further, create a system that allowed people to actually design a unique cover, and get it printed and bound to the magazine in a way that a normal issue would be. The key was to create an environment that allowed an engaging online experience and also an equally enjoyable tactile experience in print. My role is to create the design system (with Kin) and see how people can play with it and push it. Last year’s version was more of a curated experience, and still people managed to produce a wide variety of results. This year the system is slightly more open in some respects and closed in others, so it will be interesting to see what the outcome is.

Judging from your readers contributions, what are some of the best you’ve seen this year and are you confident your job is safe?

Alas, the cover is only one part of my job, so until we find a way to – or want to – open up the whole magazine and brand to readers then I think I’m ok for now. It’s not a competition, but as you asked so here are a couple that grabbed my attention, some use the system in a way that is quite clever, others are just a bit crazy, but good…

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Posted by Will Hudson

Will founded It’s Nice That in 2007 and is now director of the company. Once one of the main contributors to the site he has stepped back from writing as the business has expanded. He is a regular guest on the Studio Audience podcast.