For more than 240 years, Royal Copenhagen has been crafting delicate porcelain dinnerware for the Danish royal family to dine on, but their iconic blue and white plates have made their way into the kitchen cupboards of most Danish households too.
“I was brought up with the dinnerware,” Royal Copenhagen Creative Director Niels Bastrup tells me over a cup of tea. “My mother received it as a gift from my grandfather when she gave birth to my sister, so it has been around my life and household for 55 years.”
“Royal Copenhagen is truly something with a strong, strong heritage but it also makes it possible for many people to enjoy moments in their hectic lives,” the brand’s Vice President, Sjoerd Leeflang, adds. “Just the cup of coffee or the dinner or the breakfast that they are having with their kids or their friends, making that into a special moment.”
Bastrup and Leeflang are in Sydney for the Australian launch of Royal Copenhagen, a dinnerware brand that is clearly much more than ‘just a brand’ to them. Both men speak about the porcelain products with the kind of reverence that’s usually reserved for, well, royalty. When they tell me the brand’s origin story, I soon understand why.
“The company was founded by the Queen and we have been linked to the royal court and to the royal family for 244 years,” Bastrup explains. “We have a close collaboration and a very secret collaboration with the court that we actually don’t talk about it,” he adds with a laugh, although it’s clear he is not joking.
Carrying on this legacy is a responsibility that Bastrup and Leeflang take very seriously. The makers behind Royal Copenhagen’s products are a big part of this legacy. Like the brand’s relationship with the royal court, the work these artisans do is top secret.
Royal Copenhagen’s headquarters are a mysterious and marvellous place that few people will ever visit. “It’s a place where everybody loves to come and sneak in,” Bastrup says. “But it’s forbidden to people from outside.”
“The company was founded by the Queen and we have been linked to the royal court and to the royal family for 244 years.”
There are no Willy Wonka-esque chocolate rivers inside the Royal Copenhagen elusive headquarters, just rooms full of skilled craftspeople carefully constructing porcelain wares. Many of these makers have spent more than 40 years honing their skills in the model shop. Sculptors carve moulds with near-surgical precision before passing them onto painters who adorn them with swirling floral patterns. The artists’ signatures are embossed on the underside of each unique product.
“There are people behind it, and that’s the beauty of it,” Leeflang explains. He reaches for a Blue Fluted cup that is sitting on the table between us and holds it up, turning it so the light bounces off its soft white ridges. “There’s only one product like this in the world,” he says. “The ones that are here have the same decoration but they look totally different,” he adds, pointing to the other cups on the table. “A different person has painted them, but actually we could put several signatures underneath — the person who made the decoration, who did the mould, etcetera, etcetera.”
The brand’s original Blue Fluted Plain pattern, or Pattern No. 1, has a cult-like following. “We see people who are tattooed with the pattern,” Bastrup says. Others have tiled their bathroom walls and repainted their cars with the floral motif. While they appreciate these dedicated followers, Bastrup and Leeflang are purists when it comes to their patterns. “We like it to stay on porcelain and be beautiful where it belongs,” Bastrup explains.
After only a few days in Australia, Bastrup and Leeflang are ready to move their offices here. “It’s very much a country where people enjoy life, enjoy nature, enjoy food,” Leeflang observes. And that’s what Royal Copenhagen is all about. “Danish design fits the Australian lifestyle,” Bastrup says, because both countries have a shared appreciation for the ‘good life’.
When I ask Bastrup and Leeflang why they chose to launch Royal Copenhagen exclusively through David Jones, they say it was the obvious choice. “I think David Jones is an institution in Australia,” Leeflang says, “and I think that’s fitting for a brand which is an institution back home.”