We are currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of Fiesta dinnerware, which is among the most popular lines of dinnerware in the world, especially on wedding registries. We had a moment to catch up with Dave Conley, a longtime Director of Retail Sales and Marketing for the Homer Laughlin China Co., which still manufactures Fiesta dinnerware here in America, to gain some insight into why people love this colorful line and some of the secrets of its success.
Q. What was designer Frederick Hurten Rhead’s inspiration for Fiesta?
A. Legend has it that Joseph M. Wells, Sr., Homer Laughlin’s chief executive at the time, was visiting Southern California during the depths of the Great Depression and was struck by the Mexican influence and their colorful “fiestas.” He decided that what dinnerware needed was something bright and colorful. Mr. Wells and Mr. Rhead put their heads together and decided on a bright, solid-color dinnerware line. Mr. Rhead designed the decidedly Art Deco shapes which were very trendy for the time.
Q. What qualities have made Fiesta such an enduring success?
A. The Art Deco shapes have never gone out of style. They are just as fresh today as they were 75 years ago. Most of our competitors who introduced solid colors in the 1930s used more traditional shapes which became dated within a few years. Colors have been updated as needed to keep up with (or ahead of) the current fashion trends.
Q. Describe the process for choosing/unveiling a new color.
A. We work with color experts such as the Pantone Institute, and we consult with fashion coordinators from the larger retail chains. These people provide valuable insight on upcoming color trends. We learned very early that certain retailers set fashion trends while others follow. We learned to listen to the trendsetters. Once we have determined a color direction, we call on our ceramic engineering staff to begin experimenting with various color shades. We fire our kilns at very high temperatures and the engineers can tell us which shades will work best with a minimum of variation. Any color under consideration must work well with the other colors in the Fiesta palette. The Fiesta customer loves to mix and match colors making it very important that the colors blend well with one another. Our color committee includes members from the sales, marketing, design and engineering departments. Of course, our CEO must give final approval to our color choices.
Q. Fiesta was actually discontinued in the 1970s until the mid-1980s. Describe the series of events that led to Fiesta’s retirement and comeback.
A. Late in the 1960s, kitchens turned to earthtones (remember those brown, gold and green kitchen appliances?). Homer Laughlin tried to make that shift and learned that it didn’t work well with dinnerware. Sales dropped sharply and Fiesta was retired in 1972.
By the mid-1980s, “retro” was new again. Retailers approached Homer Laughlin about resurrecting an older dinnerware line and Fiesta was the obvious choice. Technical improvements needed to be made to the product and an extremely durable, restaurant-quality, ceramic body was chosen. The new body was matched with a very durable, “lead-free” glaze. Previous experience taught us that color changes needed to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Instead of changing all the colors at once, we now add one new color at a time, making sure that the new color is a good fit with the other colors. Now, customers can add a new color without discarding all the old colors.
Q. Describe Fiesta in three words or less.
A. It’s all about color, shape and legend.
Q. What is the ultimate message you want to convey to customers through Fiesta?
A. We want the customer to appreciate that there is no right way or wrong way to collect and use Fiesta dinnerware. There is no limit to the number of ways that you can mix and match your Fiesta. By changing the colors, or combination of colors, one can change their tabletop from very casual to festive, to semi-formal. The homemaker can change colors with the four seasons or change on a daily basis. The only limitation is your imagination. In this way, the tabletop never becomes boring.
What do you think of Fiesta dinnerware? Tell us about it in the comments section.