The brand’s kitschy-chic items spark joy in times of darkness for everyone from KAWS to Samuel L. Jackson
Blair and Eli Hansen’s brightest ideas bloom in their darkest moments. In 2016, Blair, a former gallery worker in New York who had been diagnosed with cancer, began drawing hobnail cups inspired by her great-grandmother’s collection of cobalt blue drinking glasses as a distraction from her illness. Those sketches later came to life as gifts for her closest friends. “We wanted to try to make a product, an artwork that was affordable and usable that could just connect us to a different kind of community more than anything else,” she says.
The cups were an early hit and formed the prototypes for their burgeoning glassware brand, Asp & Hand, which launched in 2017. In the past year, their brand of freaky handblown glassware adorned with striking nipplesque bits has exploded on Instagram, winning fans from KAWS to Samuel L. Jackson. At first the bits seem like a naughty detail, but they’re inspired by traditional prunts, small bits of glass fused to a larger form that were popularized by the Austrian bohemian style around the 18th century. They’re as functional as they are decorative, allowing for a firmer grip and a uniquely sensual experience. As Blair explains, “It fits in all your hand’s little nooks and crannies and fits with your body so well.”
The kitschy, surrealistic glasses are beloved for their kooky-beautiful colors. The nipple-less Spritz cups, which come in a set of four and are best for wine, juice, and water, range from silvery-blue and parrot green to rich amber and smoke. The Veritas, Bubba, and Savoring glasses are candy-colored cocktail cups that curve slightly inward or outward for optimal grip and often feature vibrant contrasting bits.
The secret to Asp’s allure is in finding a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. Eli, a notable glass sculptor, uses age-old glassblowing techniques to bring Blair’s contemporary designs to life. “As soon as you start using those glasses, you can never go back,” explains Karyna Schultz, the co-owner of Neighbour. “It’s something you can never live without.”
Over time, the quirky novelty that initially charms first-time buyers morphs into a real reverence for the pieces. “I have always been passionate about tabletop pieces that can live with you forever,” says Aerin Lauder, who carries Asp on her eponymous brand’s web shop. “Our Asp & Hand glasses have an artisanal feel that make them unique and special for any occasion.”
The brand’s punk ethos, singular aesthetic, and art-world cachet have also lured fans from the fashion industry. “We lean toward the textured and colorful pieces, such as the Knotty Tumbler, Veritas, and their large piece, the Drip vase,” says Deanna Fanning. She codesigns Kiko Kostadinov’s women’s wear with her sister, Laura Fanning, who is also drawn to the brand’s “really beautiful colors and their signature knots [or] nipples.” Kiko remembers discovering the brand at Los Angeles’s Morán Morán gallery, which showcased the full set of Knotty Tumblers. In New York, downtown designer Sandy Liang also stocks some pieces in her Lower East Side store.
Of course, it’s all about the bits. At first, Blair feared the bits were too provocative. Turns out they’ve not only become a signature—they’re the selling point. “You know, some people are unsure about the bits, and I’m always like, hold the glass. Sit with it, and you’ll be into it. It becomes very meditative,” says KRB NYC owner Kate Rheinstein Brodsky. “It's very tactile [and] such a pleasure to drink from. It’s a full sensory experience. People come in and they’ll buy a set of six [and say], ‘Okay, these are pretty,’ and then they’ll drink out of them, and they come back and they want six more,” she adds. Like tattoos, you think you’re in for just one, then suddenly you have a sleeve.
The Hansens were gratified to find loads of new customers connecting with their products during a period of intense isolation, but for a reason far beyond a spike in sales: It reminded them of the comfort and joy their glasses gave them during periods of illness. “The pandemic put the entire world into the perspective, to some extent, that we were in when I was sick, or when [Eli, who beat cancer in 2010] was sick, or when anyone is sick,” says Blair. “Nobody really sells to depression or pain. You sell to Eros; you don’t sell to the death drive.”
This instinct to design things that bond people and bring joy in times of sadness has led the Hansens to expand into new categories, namely erotic toys and bongs—all with their signature bits. “We realized pretty quickly that we were more artistic and more bizarre and maybe experimental than [more commercial] kinds of brands,” says Blair.
“Let’s burn it all down for a bong,” adds Eli. “I think that ability to jump in, that’s what attracted us to each other. That’s at the core of Asp & Hand. You don’t know where things are going to go. You can see the gears turning, and you can see us trying to find our way.”
Original article appeared on Architectural Digest | Author Josh Greenblatt