Shaped by Culture

18 december 2013 / design / words adele chong

Inspired by colorful journeys through India and Japan, Royal Selangor’s recent collections showcase the Malaysian brand’s  penchant for innovation.

At the Royal Selangor headquarters and museum in Kuala Lumpur, visitors pause briefly to admire a wall devoted to the long-serving employees of the world’s most illustrious pewter-maker. Running roughly the length of the building, its surface is bedecked with hundreds of shiny pewter plates bearing the unique shape of each staffer’s hand. Varying slightly in size and detail, the plates, viewed as a whole, tell of the Malaysian brand’s ongoing emphasis on the individual talents that have contributed to its success as a family-run business founded in 1885.


Etched with a delicate maple leaf motif, the Shuraku sake set has become popular with collectors.


What ultimately sets the brand apart, along with its distinct sense of heritage, is this penchant for celebrating idiosyncrasies in the form of its hand-wrought designs. It was in this spirit that the company’s entire in-house design team embarked on two intensive creative study tours earlier this year. Led by Royal Selangor’s executive director Yong Yoon Li, employees journeyed to India and Japan in search of inspiration. “We just felt that these countries had a lot [to offer in terms of] history, heritage and culture,” says Yong. The tours, he maintains, were not only initiated to fire up the collective imagination of the designers, craftsmen and managers responsible for bringing Royal Selangor collections to life, they were also envisioned as a form of palate-cleansing with respect to the brand’s ever-evolving design direction. “There was a need for a clean canvas,” says Yong.


The Wave collection references Seigaiha, which literally translates as Blue Ocean Wave in Japanese.


Bearing this in mind, the team bore witness to the architectural splendors of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and paid participatory visits to some of the most revered marble and jewelry workshops in India. In Japan, the ambitious itinerary encompassed trips to Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, and included pilgrimages to renowned lacquer-ware and kimono factories in addition to alluring world heritage sites such as Hieizan Enryakuji, an ancient monastery located in Kyoto’s mountains, and Tenryuji, an 800-year-old Zen temple.



Plates and coasters influenced by decorative Indian motifs.


Wave, a range comprising a bud vase, name-card holder, trinket box and paperweight, emerged as the first collection to be informed by the design team’s aesthetic experience of Japan. Incorporating seigaiha, a traditional Japanese motif regularly featured on important buildings such as temples, the range draws poetically on its hypnotic pattern of overlapping concentric circles, a symbol of longevity and peace. At once pared down and etched with meaning, Wave comes as the apt precursor to Shuraku, a minimalist sake set that pays homage to autumn by way of a delicate maple leaf pattern daubed in the style of an early 11th century. “There was a deliberate effort to avoid literal interpretations of the themes,” says Yong.


Trays from the Surya collection pay homage to floral and geometric patterns commonly found in Indian architecture.


Though comparatively more ornate, the brand’s Indian-inspired collections exhibit a similarly elegant restraint. Directly referencing the intricate ornamental

openwork or latticework executed on stone, wood or metal in Indian architecture, Jali merges wood and pewter elements by playing up extraordinary patterns normally found on banal surfaces such as doors, windows or screens throughout India; whether iterated in a bowl, tray or coaster, the effect is visually compelling. The design of Surya, a trio of varyingly hued circular trays, also dwells on traditional motifs: tactile, hand-finished surfaces call to mind tiles with floral and geometric patterns. Like the latticework alluded to by Jali, they lay claim to the kind of aesthetic wonder embedded in even the most everyday instances of Indian life.

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