Photo: Bompas & Parr’s glow-in-the-dark installation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The jellies were a hit. After the festival, British newspaper The Sunday Times even declared that jellies were the new cupcake and that Bompas and Parr were raising them from the dessert dead. Soon after, the two began making jellies for weddings and other major events. In 2008, they got a big break when DJ Mark Ronson tapped them to create glow-in-the-dark, gin-and-tonic–flavored jellies for his 33rd-birthday party. Because they were unable to afford real antique copper molds in those days, Parr used the 3-D modeling and prototyping lab at Bartlett to make bespoke molds, which actually turned out to be the best thing they could have done for their burgeoning business. Soon, Bompas and Parr — now officially Bompas & Parr — were turning out intricate and elegant molds, including a scale model of a nuclear submarine and one of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and selling them for thousands of pounds.
As a business, jellymongering was taking off, and Bompas & Parr was making quite a name for itself. By September 2009, even the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art wanted in; they invited Bompas & Parr to create a glow-in-the-dark jelly installation, branding the men as artists whose medium was jelly. They’ve developed hundreds of flavors, from Sex on the Beach to Coffee and Cigarettes (the latter of which is made with actual coffee and tobacco), and made them available in their deliriously exhaustive book, Jelly, which also details the history of the dish. But even as their profile has grown, they’ve remained remarkably accessible, even fielding calls several times a week from panicked at-home jellymakers, as though they were running an emergency jelly hotline.
Until recently, all of Bompas & Parr’s business was conducted out of the small South London apartment that Bompas shared with his older sister — that is, until she moved out after growing tired of the fl oors being sticky all the time. (The guys have since acquired a new studio space in the same neighborhood that boasts industrial refrigerators and much more counter space than their previous headquarters offered.)
But jelly is only half of the Bompas & Parr empire. The founders have also been developing into London’s coolest, most original event producers. Their first real catering gig was in December 2007, when, despite having no formal catering experience, they took a job choreographing a 12-course Victorian breakfast at Warwick Castle. It was a success, and their events got larger from there: a competition featuring some of Britain’s leading architects using jelly as a building material; a “walk-in” gin-and-tonic room that had guests inhaling an aerosolized form of the drink by way of an industrial humidifier; and a Black Banquet, featuring eight courses of black foods.
“It really is fun,” Bompas says. “There’s not one project that I can think of at the moment that I think, ‘Oh, that’s a bit boring.’ ”
Both Bompas and Parr say that they take an “architectural” problem-solving approach to creating their installations and events. “We haven’t been constrained by notions that conventionally [something] is impossible,” Parr says. “We’ve just said, ‘How can we do it?’ ” That’s not always an easy process, Bompas acknowledges: “Basically, we just have a big fight about [our ideas], which just means that rubbish ideas get lost.”
Those ideas that do survive the cage match, however, tend to be very interesting, relatable and even educational. “With most of our stuff, you can engage with it on a really basic, really simple level,” Bompas says. “You say, ‘Wow, it’s a massive lake of booze, and I’m floating across it.’ But there’s also a lot more that we make available.”