Born and bred in the Midlands, Kelly studied art and design before heading South to pursue a freelance career in branding and design. In 2007 he moved to Paris and found the inspiration to start an independent greeting card business dedicated to keeping the spirit of print alive. He started with just one artist, and 13 years later, Lagom is an award-winning company famous for quality, innovative products and its iconic Cherished range. In 2019, led by his passion for beautiful, well-made objects, Kelly opened HOLD, an independent lifestyle boutique in Brighton's North Laine. I wanted to find out how a working-class lad from Leicester built two award-winning companies that have set the standard for quality and design in such a competitive industry.
Scarf by Begg & Co - HOLD, Bond St.Brighton
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Greeting cards from the Kew Garden collection designed by Kelly Hyatt
I meet Kelly in the North Laine Quarter of Brighton, an area with a long history of artisanal business and creative industries. Based in a former lithographers shop, HOLD is Kelly's latest creation, a lifestyle boutique, an exquisitely designed space filled with beautifully made objects for life and home. Despite it's smart appearance, the store is welcoming and fragrant, just like Kelly, who descends the oak stairs dressed impeccably in his signature dark blue and Maison Bonnet bespoke glasses. But there is nothing pretentious about Kelly, and as he shows me around his little store, I can feel the passion as he gently touches the objects that line the shelves.
This year marks 50 years since the first email was sent, and the UK moved away from 'old money' to decimalised currency. Giants of fashion and technology were falling to earth, Elon Musk landing in South Africa and Stella McCartney South of the Thames. Generation X was being born into a world that was changing fast. This generation would experience the birth of the internet, social media, negotiating the analogue and brave new world simultaneously. It was during this period that Kelly Hyatt was born in Leicester in the East Midlands. A former industrial hothouse famous for its textile industry and winding canals.
Kelly as a young lad.-The Tokyo Subway.
Although he has lived in the South for a large part of his life, I can still detect the accent of his hometown, especially when he is passionate about something. Despite living in Brighton and Paris, he has found his true home in West Sussex.
"We live in a creaky old house on the edge of the South Downs. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the UK. I have to be in nature or close to the water, and we have both close by."
I wonder if this is a rejection of urban Leicester, but Kelly's love of the natural world took root as a child on the banks of the Grand Union Canal, which backed on to his childhood home, and from the age of six, he took up fly fishing. Happy in his own company, he would take his little boat (Dum Spiro Spero - while I breathe I hope), out onto the water, visualising himself as a character from Wind in the Willows. He would hunt for mini beasts and creatures along the canal banks, looking upwards towards the birds, studying nature books until he became a keen Twitcher. He made his own fly and saved his pocket money to buy quality fishing gear from House of Hardy and Vice. Even at a young age, Kelly was drawn to good craftsmanship, a love and respect for nature, qualities that are still at the heart of everything he does today. He has a natural affinity with animals, even befriending a seagull who would visit him at his office in Brighton, pecking on his window for some healthy tidbits.
A Eurasian Hoopoe Photographed by Mario Cea
"I loved playing the drums and at one time thought I might become a session musician. I played at a very early age as my dad worked for Premier drum and used to bring home samples from bands like The Who, Bowie and all the great 70s rock bands. "
Although Kelly has always had an infinity for art, once papering pictures onto the telly with flour & water glue whilst his mum was hanging out the washing, he has always been creatively curious, seeking inspiration from many sources. The 80s saw a progression from fly fishing to drumming in a thrash metal band. Complete with Michael Hutchene's style flowing locks and the obligatory biker’s jacket, Kelly rocked out until the 90s dance scene introduced him to a new world of fashion and music. Once again, Kelly was finding inspiration in the changing world around him. But perhaps the most influential medium during his teenage years was his exposure to print media, magazines like The Face and Arena, which combined music, style and subculture showcasing photographers and models like the Buffalo Collective and cutting-edge writers. The importance of magazines cannot be underestimated for young people in the pre- digital era. It was our window into a world that was barely covered by the mainstream media.
"I've always been a big reader of magazines. I love magazines like Monocle, FT Weekend and the New Yorker. But it was graphic designers like Neville Brody of The Face who really changed how I saw things; the new typefaces and layouts were so inspirational."
Kelly studied art & design in Leicester , a career in print was furthest from his mind.
"My career in cards was accidental. I wanted to be an installation artist."
When the British art scene was exploding and gaining global recognition, Kelly was exploring his own creativity. It was the seminal Saatchi exhibition, Sensation, that opened his eyes to what art was and could be. Artists like Tracey Eminn, Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst were pushing the boundaries of taste and tradition; a tent embroidered with past lovers and a portrait of a serial killer made with tiny handprints. During this time, Kelly gained his first private commission to produce four paintings; the brief given - sex and drugs. Kelly is a great storyteller, and with his characterful Leicester accent, he can tell the naughtiest anecdote with the innocence of your grandmother gossiping at the local market, and his giggle is infectious.
" To get inspiration, I stayed in the clients flat on my own to get in the zone. It was awful. His white cat got stuck in the basement, and I got spooked."
Keith Moon of The Who
Early edition magazines
Ron Mueck and installation by Damien Hurst
Fortunately, this incident didn't deter Kelly from the creative arts, and it was with this first client, he started his first greeting cards company. For Kelly, talent is only part of the story. He began his career selling handmade, mixed media cards on a blanket in Covent Garden and at music festivals. Original and striking ideas such as a card bearing a plaster for a get well greeting. From the get-go, Kelly has always had an unstoppable work ethic.
"Talent is only one part of success - you need determination and drive and the ability to get stuck in - sometimes the naturally gifted can be lazy. Inspiration comes from getting out in the world and finding inspiration - get out & get inspired."
Like all good innovators, Kelly's work was ahead of his time, too obscure for high street giants such as Athena. These were the days before the internet, when peddling your wares physically around trade fairs was the only way to get your products noticed. It was at the Spring Fair that Kelly really saw the opportunities within the greeting card industry. This was the golden age of cards. Kelly and his business, Beaumonde International, went on to work with brands such as Playboy New York, Love Is, Paperchase and produced a range of Christmas Cards for UNICEF.
A selection of the Cherished range designed by Kelly Hyatt
But Kelly is best known for award-winning greeting card company Lagom Design. Lagom Design was established in April 2007, in the very heart of Paris. The aim was to renew the focus on quality print and design, an art that was becoming lost in the age of mass media. Again he was ahead of the pack.
" When I created the Cherished range, people didn't believe that you could sell a simple, coloured card with just words on, and now they're our bestsellers. I've always gone with my instinct.
I wonder if Kelly is worried about the impact of digital on the humble greeting card.
"Digital will never replace cards. Sales actually went up during the pandemic. I believe people are reconnecting with the simple things we need as human beings. Reacting against the constant need to push forward."
"The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea." Wind in the Willows
I could talk to Kelly for hours. His modesty, humour and creativity are inspiring. Open to ideas from team members at all levels, he is respected by his team and the industry at large. His drive to find inspiration in both the mundane and fabulous inform both his work and his love of life. It may be decades since a bespectacled boy took to the Grand Union Canal on his tiny boat, but he is still looking for those stories, ripples of inspiration that speak to the heart.
"I'm a magpie so I need to able to travel, see friends or soak up different environments. Now that lockdown is easing, I can feel my creativity flowing back. Digital media has its place, but you cannot beat seeing things in the flesh. For example, I've just visited Pantechnicon in London and I was blown away. Food, great design and a beautiful space all inspired by Japanese and Nordic design. Photos cannot do it justice."
Dreaming of travels - Villa Feltrinelli, Italy.
So what next? Kelly firmly believes that we can move forward by taking the best bits from the past.
"For the sake of the planet, we have to move away from consumption for consumption's sake. I feel that you should only own objects or clothes that you can connect to with the heart. Things of quality that have longevity. I hate throwaway fashion and how young people are led by influencers, a celebrity culture based on superficiality and not achievement. We live in a quick-fix culture, and people are too eager to swipe for the next best thing. It is essential to take a deep breath and to remember the simple things we need as human beings."
As I finish coffee from a bone china mug, handcrafted in Stoke-On Trent, I couldn't agree more. It's the quiet things that make life special, and it's what Kelly does best. Beautifully designed, well-made products that enhance our lives not with quick fixes but longevity.
I'd like to thank Kelly for taking the time out of his busy week for a chat.
Words by M.C Porter