Set Design Archive

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    All too often these days we stumble across a jaw-dropping example of set design, only to discover the impressive final image is actually the result of some clever visual trickery and digital manipulation. That’s an impressive art unto itself, don’t get me wrong, but pure CGI can leave me feeling a little shortchanged.

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    For some the summer is a time to wind down and get away from it all, but in the heart of east London an exciting new pop-up space from glacéau vitaminwater is a vibrant hub of creative inspiration.

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    When set designer Nicola Yeoman emailed us to say her newly simplified website was live, I went to check the last time we’d featured her on the site. Astonishingly I found that aside from mentions in a feature by Dan Tobin Smith (with whom she collaborated on the Jay Z album The Blueprint 3) we had apparently never dedicated a post to her extraordinary talents in their own right. So consider this long overdue.

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    Here at It’s Nice That we spend an awful lot of time talking about, thinking about and writing about creatives but ultimately we don’t get too many chances to really see what goes on in their day-to-day working lives…until now. Our new collaboration with super-cool eyewear brand Ace & Tate is taking us inside the studios, and inside the minds, of a host of some of our favourite creatives.

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    Thomas Petherick is a set designer with a client list including the likes of Dior, Nike, Nowness and Wonderland, and considering the strength and consistency his aesthetic it’s no surprise that there are so many absolute stonkers in there. He works often with large abstract shapes, creating backdrops and props which structure entire editorial shoots with his vibrant colours and light tricks. This editorial, shot by Michiel Meewis for Fucking Young! magazine is based around Yves Klein’s famous blue, and for it Thomas created what is basically a giant wooden cheese and projected light and clouds onto it to make it look like the coolest, most high fashion object ever. It’s no mean feat, but he pulls it off with panache.

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    The best things in life are spherical. But before you take my word for it, let’s consider the evidence: the Earth is spherical, the sun is, all balls in sport are, many fruits are and of course (my personal favourite) Malteasers also are.

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    Last week I saw the photographer Jess Bonham give an excellent talk about her work, during which she showed this project for Kenzo which I had never come across before. Collaborating with long-term partner in creative crime Anna Lomax, she created this series of GIFs to mark the launch of the brand’s Resort 2014 edition in association with New Era. Playful and visually arresting, it’s rare to see the GIF used so neatly in a commercial context and is proof positive of why you should trust creatives of Jess’ and Anna’s calibre to deliver the goods.

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    Art directors don’t come much glossier than Romain Lenancker, as we’ve noted while marking his progress on a near yearly basis over the last couple, and perhaps as a result his unique brand of set design and art direction are basically unrivalled by anybody else in his industry. From creating sand dunes out of cosmetic powder to freezing products in decadently huge blocks of ice and sinking bottles of scent in swathes of black leather, Romain knows exactly what it takes to promote an everyday object from the realms of the ordinary to something altogether more majestic. And majesty is exactly what his ideas possess; all high fashion and luxury in no small measure.

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    Rearranging the furniture with Tim Walker and having a fully-grown lion wandering around in a room that looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie is just another day at the office for set designer Rhea Thierstein. London-based Rhea is whizzing through a stellar list of clients who are begging for a drop of the magic she sprinkles on to shop windows, fashion shoots, adverts and editorial features.

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    The creative process is not easy; if it was it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying. One of the most common – but least spoken about – factors creatives have to address is fear, and having the psychological, emotional and physical ways and means to overcome it.

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    Will looking into artist’s studios ever get boring? I think not, and neither do Freunde von Freunden who make this activity their profession. The Berlin collective travel to the homes and workplaces of some of the world’s most quietly spectacular people who choose to adorn their little nests with beautiful objects, and take pride in things such as ancient rugs, houseplants and hanging crystals.

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    We have the utmost respect for the seemingly limitless creative brains of the brilliant Bruno Drummond and Gemma Tickle, photographer and set designer respectively, with their bonkers images and unmistakable visual stylings. So when it came to commissioning a feature for the Spring issue of Printed Pages Magazine we were more than happy to hand the task over to them and give them full rein.

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    Welcome to the strange universe of Gemma Tickle – where balloons are square, hexagonal and cylindrical, where they’re as big as a person, and where they never, ever deflate. Her window installation for London boutique Darkroom plays with the kind of things you might expect of your favourite party favourites and makes them into the exact opposite, in an installation that’s as playfully funny as it is aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, Gemma’s on the site not once but twice this week, in a perhaps-never-before-seen double whammy of a celebration of her creativity, and the best possible demonstration of how great we think she is. Which is very great! Surreal and abstract and a bit weird, and all the things we like to see in a set designer. Woo! Go Gemma!

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    If some people’s minds would manifest themselves as perfectly placid Zen-like spaces (think an up-market provincial spa) I think mine is better represented by Dominique Pétrin. The Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist is interested in “producing altered states of conscience and perception, be it through cognitive or visual illusions, or, for her performances, (through) the use of hypnosis.” The amazing spaces she creates are full of jarring colours, optical illusions and anthropomorphic turds which combine to incredible effect. Even looking at them online you start to feel like you might be hallucinating – is that burger really talking to me? – so I can only imagine how trippy it must be to spend some time there.

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    Our collaborative project with oki-ni takes a tangible turn this week with set designer and maker-of-things Zena May Hendrick. Zena studied design and performance in London and then Interactive Arts in Manchester which led her to making work for big-dogs such as GQ, Mr Porter and Esquire.

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    It’s Nice That favourite Sarah Illenberger is back with a fresh new website and a cartload of new work on it! The Berlin-based 3D illustrator uses huge playful sculptures to create her weird and wonderful visions, ranging from huge abstract faces for photoshoots through to imagery for advertising. One of her most recent projects saw her create giant leaf sculptures out of metal plates for German department store Breuninger’s window displays, channelling all things big and autumnal with a pizzazz that only Sarah can magic up.

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    Here we are it’s number three in our collaboration with oki ni! This time set designer Sarah Parker has cast her well-trained eye upon some more of the clothing company’s finest picks and magicked them into a spectacular geometric scribble-fest of an arrangement.

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    In our second instalment of majestic set design for our collaboration with oki-ni comes in the form of Andrew Stellitano and Sam Hofman’s misty landscapes. This series of images which look as if smart watches and brogues have been born out of a sulphuric geyser are perfectly extravagant, and are inspired by aesthetic present in Chinese Shan Shui paintings. With the clever aesthetic talents of photographer Sam Hofman, these guys formed something of a dream team and have created a set for oki-ni’s products that kind of blows coloured paper or white, MDF plinths out the water. Very nice!

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    How joyous and naughty it is when a large, classic fashion house takes a risk with an exciting studio to create something like you’ve never seen before. I mean, did you ever expect legendary scarf-makers Hermès to allow their shop to be turned into what looks like a cross between an abattoir and something out of Jeepers Creepers? Studio Toogood decided that the store needed to be “an antidote to West End slickness” and set about coating murdery gloves and tools in red resin to give a nod to the ways in which the Hermès products are made. This is a triumphant step forward for Hermès and should be a red warning to all the other shops in the area: start doing something exciting and new or risk being left behind.

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    Midas-touch Dutch duo Blommers / Schumm have been making the world look cooler for years. Their brilliant photoshoots and set design for the trendiest magazines are so consistently excellent that we barely even have to look at one of their projects before we whack it on It’s Nice That. This one, though, is by far my favourite. For a show in Amsterdam the duo paired up with Erwin Olaf and Petra Stavast to create Renaissance portraits out of household objects. So simple but meticulously done. Watch a making-of animation on their site to see the projects in their full glory.

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    There’s nothing quite like shaking up a luxurious, traditional space by filling it with something fresh, new and exciting, and French studio Bonsoir Paris are more than equipped for such a job. For their latest feat they have created a pop-up store and window displays in London’s prestigious Selfridges store to make an area for the Bright Young Things initiative to showcase young designers. Combining the ephemerality and childishness of inflatable toys with the timeless permanence of marble, the innovative duo created a retro-futuristic space with juxtaposes luxury with pop culture. Also, it looks like it would be hours of fun to run around in. Well done chaps!

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    As the festive season approaches, it’s time to huddle up together to collaborate on some fun projects with your fellow men. With that in mind we have joined forces with menswear brand oki-ni to work on some editorials that explore some exceptional up and coming talent. We have chosen four excellent set designers to take oki-ni’s products and create some exclusive still-life shoots to publish over the coming weeks. First up? It’s Miguel Bento!

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    I spent a solid hour on Sunday afternoon trying to fashion a crane out of a piece of origami paper using nothing but my own fair hands and a YouTube tutorial. It was very difficult, and ultimately I failed, but at least with my newfound experience I can now assure you that the masterpieces Lydia Kasumi manages to conjure out of what must amount to reams of coloured paper is nothing short of miraculous.

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    It’s a kind-of-funny and actually-quite-scary universal truth that modern society has become so desensitised to the appropriation of sexuality to endorse products that we scarcely even notice the scantilly-clad women excitedly clutching utensils in homeware ads anymore, not to mention commercials about bare-chested blokes driving enormous cars which seem to run on testosterone instead of fuel. Having sat back and observed the same sexually-charged undertones in advertising in mainstream lesbian magazines, queer arts and culture publication Muff Magazine decided it was high time somebody spoke up about the massive vibrating elephant in the room.


    The result? Creative director Bukanova and photographer Emma Ercolani teamed up to shoot Toy Story, an ironic take on this very idea, and a marvellous job they’ve done too! The shoot is a tongue in cheek parody of the eroticism which lies at every turn in contemporary culture, gently mocking the advertising industry without bringing it to its (carpet-burned) knees. Plus, it’s super funny. I’ll be damned if you can differentiate between the vibrator and the aubergine without a second glance.

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    Window dressers often go unnoticed, don’t you think? Involved in their own unique brand of set design, they create micro-universes designed both to frame and to contextualise a fashion designer or retail outlet’s vision, and yet unless they’re dressing the enormous storefronts of Louis Vuitton or transforming Selfridges into a submarine they rarely get the credit they deserve.

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    There’s something oddly opulent about using a foodstuff to create a sculpture and that may be why I find them so compelling. A fruit carpet sounds like something Louis XIV might have installed at the heyday of extravagance at Versailles, but it is in actual fact what Brussels-based agency Villa Eugenie created for the launch of Kenzo’s Spring/Summer menswear 2014 range. Lemons, apples, limes, strawberries and bananas made up the giant installation at the Académie Fratellini in Paris and provided a fabulously fruity backdrop to the event. Not only that but afterwards all the fruit was donated to charity – something pompous French kings would never have done (hence the revolution and that).

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    Guys, I am going to level with you, I don’t really know what “architectural opera” means. If that means we’re through, then ok, let’s go our separate ways (don’t, I need this). What I can tell you is that it fuses “architecture, music and performance,” so “the stage becomes the lead actor.” I know this because Ada, a London-based architecture practice, educational and events project recently worked with composer Adam Doen to stage Europa for the Bloomsbury Fete and that’s how they described it. The pictures look amazing; colourful and playful but clearly carefully-thought-out to help bring the performance to life. A romp through their previous work suggests Ada are well worth keeping an eye on too.

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    Not being biased because we know these two (and my are they lovely) but this newly completed website showing the collaborative work of Isabel Gibson and Helen Chesney is brilliant. Isabel Gibson was one of the Graduates last year, winning us over with her Africar project. Helen and Isabel attended University together and, as soon as they realised they were both kind of on the same track ideas-wise, they started collaborating on a range of commissioned and self-initiated projects with one another.

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    What more could you ask for on a boring Tuesday than a creative three-way collaboration between some of the world’s most up-and-coming designers? These silky, foldy, layered scenes are the result of severafrahm, JAG Zoeppritz and Aesthetics Habitat putting their creative minds to work and coming up with these strange dream-like sets.

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    We were pretty chuffing excited when we found out that Jack Hudson was joining forces with Lord Whitney for a series of fictional record covers. That excitement went up a notch when we found out the title for said project was Mock N Roll because puns make us feel alive. And now the fruits of this collaboration are out? Well they’ve surpassed even our own sky-high expectations. Weird and wonderful doesn’t even come closer to describing this vibrant, silly and sometimes utterly bizarre series of bogus LPs which boast a compelling visual vernacular that runs throughout. An homage to the colour-saturated world of yesteryear, you can feel the fun Jack and Lord Whitney clearly had putting this together, particularly in naming the bands and albums.

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    We all know that Nike are pretty capable when it comes to creating show-stopping retail spaces. Their past work with Brinkworth in the UK has always been exceptional and they’re clearly determined to maintain that standard right across the globe. Witness their latest collaboration with Studio-at-Large for their Nike Free retail space in Beijing. The Track, as it’s been dubbed, features numerous iterations and colour ways of the Free trainer suspended as if in motion around an LED-lit running track construction, designed to highlight the shoe’s game-changing sleek silhouette. Anyway, that’s more than enough from me. Best to let these stunning images do the talking…

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    I dare you, no wait, DOUBLE dare you to check out Anna Lomax’s work and not feel brighter, bouncier and better about things in general. Describing herself as a “maker and collector” Anna graduated from Brighton University in 2007, but her illustration degree was merely the stepping stone to a set design and art direction practice defined by a flair for executing off-the-wall ideas with consummate skill.

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    Set Designer David White (I call him Dave) is riding a seemingly endless wave of success at the moment, amassing a huge body of polished work for just about every important name in fashion, editorial and retail you can think of. How many people out there can count Alasdair McLellan, Juergen Teller and Metz + Racine as collaborators, 032C, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar as clients and still have time to work with brands like Vivienne Westwood, Uniqlo and Kenzo? Nobody else spring to mind? Thought not.

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    Gary Card is a man for whom the word bespectacled could have been invented. Whenever I see him it’s the first thing I notice and if I had to draw him in a Pictionary-esque scenario, it’s what I’d start with. But if my team still couldn’t guess it, I would have a stab at drawing something technically brilliant and amazingly creative because this guy is the real deal. His new project for Arjowiggins’ Curious Matter paper collection is a fantastical set of creatures which reflect the theme of metamorphosis (the paper is created using potato starch) and as ever Gary makes the most of most of his materials which he harnesses to his own unerring sensibilities. A tip of the cap to you Mr Card.

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    There’s a lot of rules surrounding bold prints in the fashion world. Don’t mix two patterns together, don’t wear bold prints on a grey day, avoid at all costs if you are over weight or over 40. This is all ABSOLUTE RUBBISH — bold prints are the best, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. One of It’s Nice That’s favourite set designers Sarah May knows what I’m talking about, and her fantastic celebration of bold-print garments for Detail Magazine is an eye-popping two fingers up to all those who think bold prints are a no-go.

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    We have a meeting room here at It’s Nice That HQ. It’s nice enough – there’s a few magazines – although the temperature tends to swing between icy arctic and sweaty Sahara with little middle ground. The clever folk at The Assembly Rooms wanted their meeting spaces to be better than “nice enough” though and so commissioned London-based art director, set designer and prop stylist Jessica Dance to do something a bit different. Her response was the brilliant Knit Heads which reflects her stated desire to “create tactile and inviting solutions” to a host of interesting briefs for a range of big clients. These lambswool animal heads are really beautifully done, a combination of technical craft and bags of character and charm which are making me look for any excuse to go and meet these guys. Kind of puts our magazine rack in the shade…

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    We don’t start enough of our posts with quotes from great Russian writers so let’s rectify that on this chilly Tuesday with a line from Tolstoy: “In terms of sentiments, the lack of logic is the best evidence of sincerity.” The quotation serves as the starting point for an extraordinary project by French art direction/set design duo Bonsoir Paris.  Their Substance shoot for Amusement magazine plays with the properties of a strange material which seems to flit between various states of solidity, with the models on, in and against this strange white form. Rémy Clémente and Morgan Maccari named their studio Bonsoir Paris because most of their creative work took place in the evenings after work, but with projects like this it’s no surprise that their burgeoning reputation has made the agency a full-time concern. Bravo chaps, bravo indeed!

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    Carrie Louise is a set designer who not only rocks the first-name-as-a-surname thing, but also creates some stupendously cool set designs. Working with big name photographers like Dean Chalkley and Patrice De Villiers as well as pursuing some great personal work, the Brighton University graduate has a fantastic eye for composition and colour. Don’t believe me? Check out her opulent still-lifes for Harrods, where the the tables groan under their greedy loads in a superb homage to the Flemish masters of yesteryear. She can also do silly and surreal without being “wacky” (a treacherous line to tiptoe for contemporary creatives) and she turns her talents to film and events for the likes of Secret Cinema too. Splendid on every level.

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    It’s been a while since we last checked in with Romain Lenancker, aka Lenancker Romain, an art director and set designer with an almost unparalleled eye for composition. With a client list to kill for, Romain, who splits his time between Stockholm and Paris, has recently updated his website and although it’s high end stuff, his portfolio is living proof that it is possible to marry the needs of demanding commissions with arresting, thoughtful imagery. He’s particularly adept at using a limited colour palette to maximum effect, letting his superlative attention to detail capture and hold the viewers’ attention.

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    Wies Preijide made her rather explosive debut in The Hague’s 2011 degree show, when she separated areas of the exhibition using dividing walls of meticulously woven thread. Hung against walls or used as a divider in a space, the lines of thread become almost beams of light in the room, casting colourful shadows and playing tricks on the eyes of viewers. “The textile walls make the existing space divisible, but also create optical transparency and spaciousness by the experience in perspective.” Wies says, “Through a combination of lines, color, views and passageways the spectator the idea of a transparent walking home.”