VOGUE Living Australia - - In Store - By FIONA MCCARTHY

LOVED THE SYN­ERGY of sell­ing my Li­mo­ges porce­lain pieces back to the French at Le Bon Marché in Paris,” says Shel­ley Simp­son, di­rec­tor and de­signer of Mud Aus­tralia, a brand whose or­ganic-shaped ta­ble and cook­ware has roots in Syd­ney but a world­wide reach. With stores in Syd­ney, Mel­bourne, New York and Lon­don, and in­ter­na­tional stock­ists from Am­s­ter­dam to Chicago, Toronto to Zurich, Simp­son’s “beau­ti­ful but func­tional” pieces can be found grac­ing the ta­bles of Gwyneth Pal­trow, Brad Pitt and An­gelina Jolie, Philippe Starck and even our own Prime Min­is­ter, Mal­colm Turn­bull. Bill Granger and Donna Hay were early fans; Syd­ney chef Guil­laume Brahimi uses cus­tom-made ver­sions in his Padding­ton restau­rant. Simp­son’s love of ce­ram­ics started 22 years ago, when a friend she was house-shar­ing with en­cour­aged her to give a pot­tery kick wheel in the back shed a spin. “Be­ing un­trained and in­ex­pe­ri­enced meant I never wor­ried about push­ing any­thing too far,” she says of dis­cov­er­ing a nat­u­ral affin­ity for work­ing with clay. Her big break came in 2000, when chef Neil Perry com­mis­sioned a se­ries of black earthen­ware plates to go with a sig­na­ture squid-ink pasta dish. “But I kept feel­ing un­com­fort­ably anx­ious they weren’t go­ing to last.” Swap­ping her base ma­te­rial a year later to Li­mo­ges porce­lain im­ported di­rectly from France not only gave her the hard-wear­ing qual­ity she longed for but marked the be­gin­ning of the dis­tinc­tive fin­ish Simp­son can call her own — a lus­trous in­te­rior (like the in­side of a seashell) and a slightly chalky tex­tured out­side that be­comes smoother with use. To her plates, bowls and beakers, she has now added teapots, cups and vases, cook­ware ( pie dishes, bak­ing pans and mix­ing bowls) and pen­dant lights. Most pieces come in a range of 18 colours and vary­ing sizes. All pro­duced at Mud Aus­tralia’s head­quar­ters — a light­filled, high-ceilinged fac­tory in Syd­ney’s Mar­rickville, which Simp­son runs with her hus­band, sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor James Kir­ton — each piece is unique thanks to her tech­nique of slip cast­ing the ves­sel’s shape and then work­ing the in­side on a band­ing wheel to give it a hand-fin­ished feel. The clay is tinted with colour be­fore it is fired to give it an ex­tra depth of colour (if it chips, you’ll never see white). “Ev­ery piece is touched by so many sets of hands,” she says of the process, where, once dried, it is bisque-fired, sanded, hand-glazed, fired again and then art­fully wrapped “to en­sure they ar­rive safely wher­ever they’re go­ing around the world”. Smart cobalt shelv­ing that lines the fac­tory floor heaves un­der the weight of tall cylin­dri­cal vases in blue, slate, steel and plum; there are stacks of cheese plat­ters in wasabi green and the large ‘Peb­ble’ bowls that Simp­son her­self al­ways uses to bake the fam­ily’s Sun­day roast chicken. It never oc­curred to her that peo­ple didn’t know they could bake with her dishes. »

« “I was in one of the stores and I was sur­prised when a cus­tomer re­marked on how frag­ile the pieces were.” Be­ing on the shop floor gives Simp­son the chance to de­velop a di­a­logue with cus­tomers, when she can ex­plain and ex­pand on the range. “We like to look af­ter peo­ple the way we want to be looked af­ter.” The har­mo­nious colour pal­ette al­lows cus­tomers to have fun with mix­ing and match­ing, whether it’s ac­cord­ing to a favourite colour or room scheme. Some of the best shades have come from the big­gest mis­takes, ad­mits Simp­son. “Our steel blue was meant to be black! It’s all trial and er­ror,” she says. “I’ve had to make a lot of mis­takes to learn, but no one’s ever told me not to do it the way I do.” A re­ally rich sat­u­ra­tion ra­tio of al­most 20 per cent pig­ment to clay was used to achieve just the right shade of red. “Find­ing a true, crisp red was re­ally im­por­tant to the range.” Not one to rest on her lau­rels, along­side the re­cent open­ing of a Lon­don store, Simp­son is cur­rently work­ing on a cus­tom-coloured range for Pal­trow’s ‘ life­style brand’ Goop and a col­lec­tion for ABC Car­pet & Home in the US. “It will be to­tally matt,” she says. “I like to shake things up a bit.”

“I’ve had to make a lot of mis­takes to learn, but no one’s ever told me not to do it the way I do”

Pho­tographed by MARK ROPER

A se­lec­tion of Mud Aus­tralia ce­ram­ics, in­clud­ing wa­ter jugs, carafes and ‘Nest’ bowls.

clock­wise from top right: stacks of ‘Peb­ble’ bowl moulds. Simp­son pre­pares moulds for pour­ing. The Mar­rickville stu­dio shelves are stacked with bisque ready for glaz­ing.

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