Rich Brilliant Willing Still Winning
It’s the kind of name an A-list indie band would kill for: Rich Brilliant Willing. ButTheo Richardson 06 FD, Charles Brill 06 FD and Alex Williams 06 FD are proving that there’s a lot more than youthful bravado propelling their rise in the design world. Since repurposing their own last names to launch Rich Brilliant Willing a year after graduating from RISD, the trio has benefited from growing media attention and in May won the top award for New Designer 2011 at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City.
Juried by the top editors in the industry, theICFF Editors Awards recognize the “best of the best” designs in 16 categories. For its inaugural ICFF show, Rich Brilliant Willing self-produced asmall collection of furniture, lighting and accessories, including an Appalachian dining chair in wood and painted steel and a Russian Doll end table in painted steel, glass and leather. The pieces reflect their inventive minimalism, which mixes Shaker simplicity, vintage inspiration and a playful, futuristic feel.
It has been a whirlwind few years since the design trio launched their laboratory-style workshop in New York City in 2007. They showed humor and ingenuity right out of the box in repurposing their own last names for a company dedicated to “re-imagining what was already there.” In other words, their focus on materials and form involves strategically rethinking and reusing such basics as pick-up sticks and plastic piping. These days, RBW’s snap-crackle-and-pop sensibility even infuses their website: When visitors let the site idle for a few minutes, they’re treated to a looping stop-motion video of the founders in an airy office space, levitating while dancing something that looks like a freeform Irish jig.
Since their debut, RBW has landed profiles in almost every major design publication, includingWallpaper, Dwell and ID, which named the firm among the country’s Top 40 Emerging Designers in January 2009. Last year they were front and center inT: The New York Times Style Magazine, with a cover story singling out a handful of designers who are making it big in the Big Apple. ‘‘We’ve learned to know the difference between what will be a feather in your cap and what will actually help you build a business,’’ Williams told theTimes. “We’ve started to develop our own voice.’’ In June the design team presented at Sofia Design Week in the Bulgarian capital.
The attention has been well-deserved. Since the RBW first stormed the Manhattan design world, the trio of alums has collaborated with an international clientele that includes heavy hitters like Artenica, Areaware, Innermost and Urban Outfitters. They have also done design work for organizations like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. In 2008 they generated buzz for an idea calledGreen Cell, a standardized rechargeable battery type that could be transferred from one battery-powered device to another – eliminating the need for endless chargers that eventually end up in landfills when new devices come along. The idea, part of a competition at the Greener Gadget Conference, demonstrated RBW’s belief in the power of design as a positive change agent.
“The first rule of improv is to never say no to something,” Williams toldNylon Guys magazine earlier this year. “That way it’s harder to run into a wall, and easier to keep the momentum up.”
Alumni Katherine Gray MFA 91 GL and Alexander Rosenberg 06 GL are both central to the cast of the glassblowing competition show Blown Away on Netflix.
Textiles students design custom jacquards for the RISD library’s collection of classic Knoll chairs.
Designer Karla López Rivera 04 FD returned to San Juan to launch Isleñas, a socially responsible footwear company.