“I would probably say excitement and terror go hand in hand,” says set designer Imogen Frost. Working primarily in still life and based in London, Imogen’s portfolio is full of organic forms and born from a love of pushing creative ideas to their limits, problem-solving, and working within variable parameters. “Maybe the most exciting part to me is seeing an idea fully come together and realised in front of the camera,” she tells It’s Nice That. “There’s a lot of research and trial and error to get to that point so when you finally get there and see it in front of you, as you imagined it, that’s ace.”
Having grown up in Leicester, Imogen moved to London to study spatial design at Chelsea College of Art & Design but graduated with no idea what she wanted to do. While her peers were mainly pursuing architecture or digital design, all Imogen knew was that she enjoyed making things and working with her hands. That was until she went to Glastonbury Festival and experienced the Shangri-La area. “I just remember being in awe of all of these insane sculptures made of cranes and cars and tractors, and thinking it incomprehensible that this was built for only a week-long festival,” she recalls. It was the moment she first grasped what set design was and that it could be a potential path for her. Several internships for set designers later, she found the niche of still life and “it was like a lightbulb switching on in my head”.
On every project, she begins by playing with materials and found objects, describing this as her research phase. In fact, her signature visual language stems directly from her methodology. “One of the highlights of my job is that I tend to learn a new skill set every week – whether that be sand sculpting, model making, taxidermy sourcing... I may never use them in the same way again but it helps inform new ideas,” she explains. “I need to be able to physically feel and see something to understand it, perhaps to my detriment at times, as it’s not always the quickest way to work,” she adds. She utilises everyday items, turning the simplest of objects into harmonious and surprising compositions. This materials-first approach has led her to work for clients including Adidas Elle, Polaroid, Vogue, Cos, Hyundai and many more and while her clients are varied, there’s a distinct tactility that runs throughout Imogen’s portfolio; a soft, natural aesthetic which is at once clean and polished.
GalleryImogen Frost: Mix & Match (Copyright © Tais Sirote, 2021)
“I’m naturally drawn to organic forms… The abundance of texture, shape, colour, density etc that exists in the natural world really blows my mind,” she says. This proclivity for objects that cannot be replicated through manmade techniques and which are never the same sees her constantly picking things up and working out how she can use them in a design. “Elements of the natural world are fundamental in informing so much of our design that it feels habitual for it to infiltrate my work,” she adds. That being said, Imogen takes these objects and decontextualises them, rarely using them for their intended purpose, be it an organic or synthetic form. Instead, they become elements in composition “that will only exist for a matter of hours”. A recent collaboration with photographer Adam Goodison and art director James Earl of Studio Creme exemplifies Imogen’s experimental approach and explores naturally perishing elements and engineered durability. An open brief allowed the group to explore processes that they hadn’t before, informed by the materials they were using. “Looking into the structure and purpose of materials on a design level as well an aesthetic one was really interesting and posed the question: why are these materials made of that they’re made of?,” Imogen remarks. “The experimentation of seeing how materials would react with one another was a great way to create a series.”
On the commercial side of things, she points to a project for Gucci as a recent favourite. The deadline was tight and when they couldn’t find the perfect location to shoot at, Imogen decided to build a “lily pad-laden pond set in a botanical garden, from scratch. It was a great challenge in the time we had, so the adrenaline was pumping”. It’s these kinds of projects that she relishes though: “Sometimes they can be the best as you’re totally pushed out of your comfort zone, which makes it all the more rewarding when you get it done. We just had to get stuck in and felt fully immersed in this world we were making, as we had no time to think about anything else. We even had live frogs on set.”
Having spent much of her career to date obsessing over details and intricate still life sets, Imogen says she’s keen to work on something at a larger scale now. “It feels like you’re creating a more engulfing world which is really fun to submerge yourself into. The task of having to make your brain work in a slightly different way to accommodate a larger scale excites me,” she tells us. She’s also set her sights on moving image, again, an opportunity to think differently, concluding that “working out how to make each of these different mediums work coherently is a challenge I’m ready to embark on”.
Imogen Frost: Mix & Match (Copyright © Tais Sirote, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.