Hi Ben, the guy that never takes a break, what is your current state of mind?
Ahahah… I have had a very busy year so for the first time ever, I actually feel like I need a break!
I say this but I will probably end up working the whole summer…
Last time I took a break was about 2 years ago when I embarked on a journey to Switzerland to do research for a book I am currently working on. The trip started at the Swiss National archives in Bern and ended up 2 weeks later in a cemetery near Zurich in search of a graveyard. This is what the holiday of a workaholic looks like!
How do you see the role of art directors evolving as the industry is changing?
We are living in interesting times. Back in the day, brands would spend large budgets shooting a campaign and they would run with 6 images until the next season. Now, they need more and more content to feed the beast.
Digital is becoming increasingly important but budgets haven’t adapted, which means that the level of quality is pretty low. I feel like it will take a bit of time for things to adjust but on the other hand it’s pretty exciting. It's kind of the Wild Wild West and it feels like no one really knows what they are doing but at least the window is open. There is room for exploring new things, new ways of communicating.
A few years ago, I remember looking at the David James archives and I came across that Prada Spring Summer 1997 campaign shot by Glen Luchford with Amber Valetta. I remember thinking “why are we not seeing these amazing campaigns anymore”? For the past 10 years, I feel like campaigns have been there to sell handbags rather than establishing an atmosphere or a brand universe.
It looks like we are finally getting back to that. Look at what Alessandro Michele is doing with Gucci. Love it or hate it, he has a strong point of view and he is developing a singular universe.
There are so many brands out there that in order to stand out, you can no longer try to please everyone, you have to dare to be different.
You collaborated with Gucci for several years, creating a lot of content, deploying a comprehensive digital platform. Why is it more relevant for brands to continue working with free-lance creatives vs. integrating in-house creative hubs?
I don’t believe in integrated in-house creative hubs. The reason why a creative is creative is precisely because of the stimulation from the outside world. I don’t think working in a corporate environment stimulates creativity.
The process inside big brands is so heavy that you end up spending your life in never-ending meetings and every single creative idea is diluted at the end.
I also feel it is very valuable to work for different brands at the same time, and to develop personal projects in order to be able to maintain a balance between commercial and personal work. One feeds the other in an organic way; diversity enriches your point of view.
Tell us about the process of modernizing a 25 year old version of Le Monde d’Hermès.
Axel and Pierre-Alexis Dumas gave us carte blanche, which was exciting at first but also quite scary. So, Oliver Wicker (the editor in chief) and I sat around a table with old copies of the magazine, and I remember that the first thing that struck us was that Hermès was written on the cover despite the fact that the magazine was called Le Monde d’Hermès. So, the first thing we did was to remove the Hermès logo and put the name of the magazine on its cover!
That first symbolic step would actually define what would come next, to move away from a catalogue in order to embrace a proper editorial point of view, which is not easy with a brand magazine. We also wanted to bring more rhythm throughout the magazine, to establish a natural flow.
Once you manage to bring about this structural change, people are ready for everything else. We changed everything from the paper to the bespoke font that I designed. In fact, the only thing we didn’t change is the size of the magazine. People have been collecting this iconic magazine for decades, so it had to fit on their shelves and look aligned with the rest of their collection.
What is The Colour Journal?
The Colour Journal is a publication that I am going to launch this autumn. It is made up of 6 chapters, each dedicated to a single colour. It’s a collection of iconic stories and forgotten moments from art history, all linked together somehow through the same colour. Not only in a visual way because it would have been too literal. So I am using incredible archive pieces I have dug up or original material shot by photographers I have commissioned and who have been willing to invest their time and spend an entire week exploring a specific place or subject across the world.
I didn’t want to launch another fashion magazine because I don’t think they are relevant anymore, so with this project I am trying to come back to the great age of magazines: the storytelling. It is easy to create a beautiful magazine with pretty pictures but that’s not enough, I wanted to go further.