'a' conversation with Bompas & Parr

Posted on April 20, 2016 by Amelia Ebdon

It’s not everyday that you can use the words ‘jelly’ and ‘cufflinks’ in the same sentence, but for the last couple of weeks in the Alice Made This studio we’ve been doing just that.

When the opportunity arose for us to go and visit Bompas & Parr, the flavour-based creative agency and all around experimental powerhouse, to try out their vacuum forming machine and make jelly moulds from our geometric hardware, the big kids in all of us couldn’t resist. It’s hard not to be excited by people who take simple things and transform them into marvels – constantly looking at projects with a fresh approach and sense of mischief. To find out more about these curious characters, we spoke to Sam Bompas to learn the story behind the agency, to talk more of the wobbly stuff and to prove that unexpected combinations can often be the most effective.

Steel accessories | Steel cufflinks | Alice Made This

Copper accessories | Alice Made This

“Harry and I are old friends and have known each other for most of our lives,” Sam Bompas tells me of him and his business partner Harry Parr. “We started Bompas & Parr nearly eight years ago as something fun to do on the weekend. It’s still fun to do, but has now expanded to dominate all waking hours. It means that by now some of our staff think we are psychic – when we’re talking about our approach to design, food, architecture and the cosmos, few words need to be said to convey a huge amount of meaning. As Harry’s not super talkative, sometimes I have to translate his mysterious looks and laser eyes to the rest of the team.”

“We are quite different in our approaches. Harry is methodical, measured and practical, whereas I am more wild with a butterfly mentality where I gorge on exciting concepts and get revved up with an interesting new proposition and then bustle off to the next thing. Somehow we complement each other perfectly!”

As Alice and I wedge 2p coins in place to seal the gaps in the aging vacuum former, we may not witness the laser eyes translation first hand, but we certainly witness the magnitude of Sam’s personality. He sweeps into the organised chaos of the workshop, copper jelly moulds, wooden offcuts and a dinosaur head decorating the shelves, and brings with him an instant buzz. He finds us stacking and arranging the hardware that forms our Geometry collection to see which combinations will make for the best jelly moulds. We ask whether he’s used to brands from contrasting industries wanting to come and play with their processes.

“We love the creative rush that comes with sitting down with a botanist, micro-biologist, experimental psychologist, mycologist or magician!” he tells us. ‘This approach of propagating techniques appropriated from different disciplines now is a key approach. Originally our focus was on jelly. As we couldn’t afford the antique copper moulds we wanted to use, Harry started using the skills, techniques and technologies he’d learnt while training to be an architect to design jellies." 

Copper accessories for men | Alice Made This

Steel accessories for men | Alice Made This

“One of the things we are known for is the way we act as curators to bring different and unpredictable disciplines together to create disruptive outputs. In that sense, there’s no other industry, discipline or craft where we wouldn’t theoretically seek to find a potential partner on a particular project. Recently we’ve worked with everyone from a lighting lab to a lava scientist, botanist and a breeder of miniature horses. We’re currently collaborating with an international sports personality, keepers of illuminated manuscripts, a sex museum and a covert intelligence organisation. These relationships all go to show that creative boundaries can continually be pushed and it’s those unpredictable outcomes that really cause us and others to pay attention.”

Perhaps then, an accessories brand isn’t the most obscure team to walk through these doors. This notion that juxtaposing disciplines can work together to challenge each other is something that also forms the foundations of Alice Made This. When Alice and Ed were searching for cufflinks for their wedding, they realised that nothing fresh had been done in that space for a very long time. Alice drew on her experience of working with factories and industrial engineering methods to bring together her love of processes with her clean and refined design aesthetic. With each new collection, we approach British factories that are not normally associated with the fashion industry and use their techniques to create precise products. It is the factories that are willing to be innovative and experiment beyond the requirements of their field that we work and form lasting relationships with – whether that be an Aerospace factory, a military armoury or a Marine ropework expert. 

“The studio has evolved from simply a jelly company to become first a catering consultancy and then again a fully-fledged creative agency,” Sam continues. “Our projects range from product design to product launches and promotional events, parties and more – today we call ourselves ‘experience designers’ which seems to cover the vast range of activities we participate in.” 

“As a medium that lends itself well to design, jelly has either become the centre of our massive installations, such as creating the largest jelly in the world – 50 tons set around the Victorian ship SS Great Britain – or the focus of an other-worldly pudding, such as serving Harry’s and my face made of vanilla blancmange garnished with red currants at a feast themed around the future of food. It’s quite strange to eat your friend’s face.”

Copper accessories for men | Alice Made This

Copper accessories for men | Alice Made This

Copper accessories for men | Alice made This

When it comes to making the jellies themselves, ours prove to be more architectural and Brutalist than Sam’s face. We treat the process like mixing a cocktail – monitoring the ratio of gelatin to liquid and balancing the flavours to taste.

“Everyone’s perception of flavour is different,” Sam adds, “so the best jelly is a jelly that tantalises your own taste buds. I like jellies that are based on classic cocktails with a touch more sugar and acid since the flavour release of a gellified liquid is slower than that of a free-flowing one. In terms of pushing the boundaries of jelly flavours, we recently created a layered beetroot and angelica vodka jelly that was supreme!”

As we align our turned out jellies with the raw materials and pieces that formed their respective moulds, I’m struck again by how unlikely combinations so often come to fruition. Whether that’s industrial British factories and cufflinks, Alice Made This accessories and Bompas & Parr jelly or Harry and Sam’s personality spectrum, it’s the culmination of differences and risks that can push creativity forward and result in something wonderful.

Learn more about Bompas & Parr here


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