OPINIONSocietyApril 15, 2024

Briscoes’ new ‘retro’ collection looks awfully familiar


Remakes are never as good as the originals, and that goes for plates too.

There are many joys to op shopping, but for myself and a whole host of others it’s the discovery of something totally unexpected. A branded item mistakenly snuck onto the $1 rack, or a book you’ve been meaning to read. I’ve written before about my love of Crown Lynn and the surging popularity of the retro New Zealand crockery brand. It has dedicated markets in three main centres and prices for certain items can well exceed $1,000. The feeling of finding a so-called “unicorn” item stashed away at the back of an op shop is unmatched.

And so it’s with mixed feelings that I stumbled across a new range at Briscoes that looked suspiciously like something I’ve seen before. It’s a line of homeware items from Annabel Langbein described as “retro”, though in reality it should be labelled “knock off”. Not for its price, but for its pattern, because it looks very similar to a classic Crown Lynn print. With its brown and yellow flower design, it’s very reminiscent of a print called “Ballerina Gold”. You could easily mistake it for the real deal if you spotted it in a shop window. So much so that one person on social media questioned whether Crown Lynn prints still had copyright attached. Another wondered whether Langbein was profiting off someone else’s design. 

The original Crown Lynn plate (L) and the new Briscoes edition (R)

That may well be the case, though I’m less interested in the money side of this, and more the question: why is a Crown Lynn-inspired pattern being sold at Briscoes? Is this the start of a booming return for designs not seen outside of op shops or antique shops for decades? And am I meant to embrace it? Or is this all one big misunderstanding?

While some may be celebrating the fact that a beloved local brand is being rejuvenated, even in this small way, for me it feels like a weird dilution of that brand. Crown Lynn is so intricately linked with and valued by New Zealand and New Zealanders, many of whom still use items on a daily basis. By importing something that looks so close to a Crown Lynn pattern, slapping a “retro” label on it and selling it for $30, it feels like it’s simply trying to capitalise on retro nostalgia. Not to mention that Crown Lynn’s downfall was ultimately caused by an influx of cheaper, foreign-made homewares (like this) pouring in from places like China. 

But beyond that, there’s also not exactly a shortage of it. You’ll find authentic Crown Lynn in practically every second hand shop in the country and there are thousands of listings on Trade Me. I fail to see who will buy these, except those unaware of the brand that appears to have inspired the design. And that’s surely part of the problem: wouldn’t it be better if those people did know about Crown Lynn, and the story of New Zealand innovation that comes with it?

It would be a wonderful thing if a company like Crown Lynn could come back from the dead, providing low-cost, locally made products that are uniquely New Zealand while still being cool. But that’s not going to happen. This is just another example of nostalgia being exploited. How many TV reboots of old shows do we need? They’re never as good as the originals anyway. The same, it has probably never been said, goes for crockery.

Crown Lynn remains an iconic company, but it’s part of history now. It should be sitting in your cupboards and sideboards at home or stashed on the shelves of op shops, not flogged half heartedly at Briscoes.

Now when rifling through a pile of old plates at my local Salvation Army Family Store, I’m going to be double checking I’m not buying a knock off. Please don’t give me the glimmer of hope I’ve found something legitimately retro only to realise it’s been made to trick me. I don’t have time for that.

Keep going!