Master Of His Craft | Jonathan Lloyd-Platt
Six months ago, Clerkenwell got a new champion of all things artisanal. Charlene Lam met up with Jonathan Lloyd-Platt, the boss at Craft Central
It was February when Jonathan Lloyd-Platt became Craft Central’s new chief executive. Since then, he’s been commuting every day to Craft Central HQ in St John’s Square on his hybrid electric bicycle from his home in north London. The fact that he does so in a handmade suit, rather than in T-shirt and Lycra, is perhaps an indication of why he was right for the job.
He has known the area for a long time, having passed through it often in the Eighties when going between the East End studio and Soho shop of fashion accessories brand Ally Capellino, which he co-founded with his then-partner, Alison Lloyd. “Clerkenwell was much sleepier back then,” he recalls.
Although Lloyd-Platt trained at a bespoke tailors in Leeds, he has a deep appreciation for all forms of craft. He hadn’t worked with Craft Central before taking on the CEO role but he was already dealing with craftsmen as managing director of An English Hand, an online shop for handmade men’s accessories. He even makes some of the ties on offer. “They use unusual fabrics like antique batik from Bhutan and handwoven silks,” he says.
He’s hands on at Craft Central, too. This May, during Clerkenwell Design Week, he took his turn in the building’s window, doing lino cuts, as part of the “Makers in Residence” live demonstrations project. When it’s an ordinary day, he spends his time meeting the artists who rent out and work in the charity’s 74 studios, in both the St John’s Square building and the sister one on Clerkenwell Green. He also works many evenings and weekends, connecting with the craft community at private views and shows across London and the UK.
Lloyd-Platt says he took on the job because he believes it’s “a challenging but exciting time for craft in general”. Although, to him, the recent craze for all things crafted is clearly so much more than just a passing trend, he does acknowledge its role. “I’m interested in the whole handmade revival,” he says. “People are recognising the intrinsic value of the well-crafted object – the amount of effort put into it, the sheer workmanship of it. Small is beautiful, and small industries can be successful.”
To help Craft Central’s designer-maker tenants earn a viable income from what they do, the charity offers business training. “The main challenge for them is to be self-sufficient. Though they’re great at making and designing, they tend not to be so good at marketing and selling. I can advise them with that,” he enthuses, citing his 15 years of experience in retail product development for brands like Kelly Hoppen and Marie-Chantal.
The eventual plan, he says, is also to achieve self-sufficiency for Craft Central itself. Supported by grants, the rental income from the studios and earnings from the craft shows and events it puts on, the charity is currently exploring additional revenue streams, under Lloyd-Platt’s leadership.
“There’s great opportunity in contemporary applied arts at the moment,” he says, referring to higher-end objects, made from textiles, ceramics, glass and metal, shown and sold at shows like the recent Collect 2012 at the Saatchi Gallery. “Craft is historically seen as a poor relation to fine art and somewhat amateurish, and that has something to do with how craftspeople present their work. Portraying craft in the right way is vital.”
To this end, his plans for Craft Central extend to opening a new gallery space “as good as any West End gallery”. He envisages it as a destination for all fans of craftsmanship, with not just exhibition spaces but also a café, meeting places for designer-makers and clients, and a shop where collectors can browse and buy.
Would it still be in Clerkenwell? “We can’t do what we do anywhere else,” he says, matter of factly. “The area is a design hub with a rich craft heritage, Hatton Garden’s jewellery trade is steps away, and the recently opened Goldsmiths’ Centre is just around the corner.”
But what makes Clerkenwell fashionable and dynamic is also the greatest threat to Craft Central, with rising property prices a particular concern. “Craft Central’s future will depend on community support,” he says. “We really value the neighbourhood’s recognition of the need to keep artisans working in the area.”
Charlene Lam runs Creative Clerkenwell, which helps local designers, showrooms and businesses put on events and workshops (www.creativeclerkenwell.com). For more on Craft Central, visit www.craftcentral.org.uk