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Designer Talks: Robin Levien

At 15 years old, Robin Levien became hooked on ceramics when his art teacher first introduced him to working with clay and a kiln. Obtaining a degree in ceramics at the Central School in London, followed by a Masters in Ceramics at the Royal College of Art also in London, Robin graduated in 1976 with over 10 years of ceramics making under his belt. Twenty-three years later, he opened up his own studio in London.

Do you have a greatest career moment? If so, what was it?

Being made a Royal Designer for Industry in 1995. It is the highest accolade a designer can receive in the UK, as you are elected by your peers.

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What was your most challenging career moment?

Setting up Studio Levien in 1999 - even after over 20 years of experience as a designer, it was still very scary.

What do you consider to be your design expertise?

A deep understanding of clay and what you can do with it, plus a highly-developed sense of form.

How do you know when to stick it out and when to let go of an idea?

When my client and my colleagues in the studio all wrinkle their noses.

Is it difficult to strike a balance between your creativity and the objective for commercial success?

When you come to understand that you will never score 10 out of 10, this gets easier.

Try to break a rule every day, or at least challenge one.

How would you define your personal design aesthetic?

Understated elegance laced with a touch of sensuality.

Is there one design or collection that changed everything for you? What was it? And what do you think of it today?

The Trend tableware for Rosenthal Thomas that I designed with my ex-partner David Queensberry 35 years ago. Retail sales reached 30 million dollars a year. I still use it every day.

Do you have any rules regarding design?

Try to break a rule every day, or at least challenge one.

If you could do one thing as a designer what would it be?

Employ all the talented young designers that cross my path.

If you were not a designer, is there another career path that intrigues you?

A chef. I need approbation, and chefs get that really fast.

Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design inspiration?

I had the great fortune to meet Eva Zeisel. My wife and I had supper in her Manhattan apartment. She was 98 and only had peripheral vision. She was given a sample of one of her designs to evaluate, she fondled it for at least a minute before saying, 'It's fine'. I found that highly inspirational.

Is there something you would like to reveal about yourself that no one really knows?

I am a keen birdwatcher.

What is the favorite gift you ever received and what was the occasion?

On my 40th birthday my father-in-law gave me a grey Ferguson tractor. It was registered in 1952 the year of my birth, so we are going through life together.

What do you use on your table?

Right now I am enjoying Skye from Nambé.