Club Yu Mei × Lukeke Collaboration

Words by Yu Mei
Photography by Aidan Rogers

Knust Tumblers and Knust Carafe by Lukeke Design for Club Yu Mei

For our latest collaboration, we introduce Luke Jacomb and his apprentice, Kate Mitchell, the makers of the Knust collection of bespoke glass blown vessels. Read on as they discuss Tall Poppy Syndrome, unicorns, and the labour-intensive process of glassblowing.

Among the thoughtful design details found in our Auckland Lounge, no single feature has received as much attention as the amber-coloured glass vessel, with its slightly off-kilter mouth and curiously mottled texture. The story behind this bespoke objet and its makers is as interesting as the thing itself. Commissioned from master glass artist Luke Jacomb of Lukeke Design, the vase was inspired by 1970s Danish design and the pursuit of perfection within the imperfect. Luke is stubborn (his words) and speaks in metaphors, while his apprentice, Kate, has a quiet depth to her. They share an intensity, which I discover is somewhat requisite of a craft that’s equal parts dramatic and exacting.

Kate came to the Lukeke studio six years ago, and fell down the rabbit hole of glassblowing in a happy accident. “Luke let me spend time at his studio for a project during my Fine Arts degree. I was really fascinated by glassblowing but I never thought I’d do it, it was just sort of handed to me,” she explains during a Zoom meeting from their Avondale studio, which they were in the process of relocating as my call connected. If there were any moving-day stresses, they didn’t show in Kate’s calm manner. Luke, with over 25 years of experience exhibiting and teaching the craft around the world, believes she possesses the rare mix of qualities that make a successful glassblower. “Kate has been probably the easiest person for me to teach. She’s got good retention, a disciplined way of approaching it and her motor skills are very fine. She’s tenacious.” Beyond that, the craft nowadays requires a level of commercial nous in what Luke likens to an outfit comprising half an Armani suit and half a tie-dyed t-shirt: the businessperson and the artist. He adds that “[Glassblowers] have to be everything in one person. They’re rare animals, they’re like unicorns.” If these are the qualifiers, Luke and Kate make a strong case for the existence of these mythical creatures.

Knust Tumblers and Knust Carafe by Lukeke Design for Club Yu Mei

"Quite often having that lateral thinking, you come up with good design, so this design has really been a bunch of people thinking quite intelligently about not having to do any work.”

Working in the Venetian style of Murano glassblowing, each vessel begins as a piece of solid colour that’s wound onto the blowpipe and heated in a furnace. Blown from one end, a bubble grows, forming the body of the vessel. As it takes shape, the vessel is plunged into a mould of scrunched newspaper that’s contained within a metal drum, giving a slightly imperfect shape and unique texture each time. Achieving this ostensibly nonchalant form within a molten medium is difficult and requires perfection at every step. “With glassblowing, if you execute everything perfectly, if you do everything exactly right, the object will work. I thrive on that stuff—I love the tension and the drama that’s involved in glassblowing where for twenty minutes everything has to be done so perfectly for it to work, then the tension is released and you can relax,” Luke tells me.

Knust Carafe by Lukeke Design as part of our collaboration. Knust means 'crushed' in Danish - a nod to the inspiration of the design and the process, utilising a crushed newspaper mould.

Luke and his team had to think creatively about how to replicate the vintage Scandinavian style that inspired the Club Yu Mei x Lukeke range, without knowing the techniques employed. Conceding that the original would’ve likely been cast through an intricately carved mould, the team took the opposite route, ending up with what he describes as a “really slapstick” interpretation. “We’ve gone down that number 8 wire method. It’s that kind of homemade farming ingenuity that is a very ‘New Zealand’ feature—we don’t overthink things. Quite often having that lateral thinking, you come up with good design, so this design has really been a bunch of people thinking quite intelligently about not having to do any work,” Luke explains of their makeshift ‘mould’ that had a former life as a beer keg the team drank about 10 years ago. It’s interesting to consider how the perfection required of glassblowing is challenged through this unrestrained, almost rudimentary method. Kate explains that, “for the Yu Mei collab, we were talking about the beauty in imperfection and letting the process be present in the outcome,” ultimately creating a thing of beauty that’s highly technical yet intentionally imperfect.

Over the years, Luke has managed to capture another seven unicorns, recruiting them to the Lukeke fold—a testament to the importance he places on the sharing of knowledge within his craft. “Putting all that energy into someone, you have to realise they’re one day going to go off and do their own thing, but this is good because it builds community. You can collaborate with them, lean on them and share equipment. Kiwis have this crazy thing where they think if they cut down the poppy next to them, it’ll benefit them. But it doesn’t work like that. You want to have more poppies so that people can see the beauty of them all. My whole idea is that I want a community of these people and we can all work together. We have a network of people around the world that work together and we’ve become like a family.” — Luke Jacomb

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