“If I’m not pushing myself to make the best thing I can make, then what’s the point?” Posing this question is Lydia Chan, set design connoisseur and creator of all things weird, colourful and imaginary. This mindset is also what drives her work, where you’ll see her building whacky environments, 3D objects and worlds filled with narratives – a place where shapes and odd characters interact with one another. “I joke with my friends that I like my food subtle and my visual content strongly flavoured,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Lydia defines herself as a maximalist, so the projects she likes to take on will always be visually heavy and packaged with a clear narrative. It comes as no surprise then to learn that her inspirations arise from cartoons, anime, bright colours, robots and other sources that are “garish” and “childish”. But what gives her an edge – her USP – is the way she subverts these influences and makes them all a little bit darker. “A play between happiness and sadness, innocence and suffering.” There are some other, more adult-ish things that she looks at for inspiration too, such as abstract art, watercolours “bleeding” in water, Caravaggio paintings and Japanese wood block prints. Once all of these elements are in tow, she’ll commence work on her set constructions – be it a mountainous scape for footwear store Roker, a squiggly room for the Stella McCartney x Ed Curtis collection, or an animalistic throne for Adidas.
The latter of which is one of her favourite projects to date. Conceived as a campaign for Adidas Predator, the project celebrates female football players for the first time in their 28-year history. “The campaign was about creating a throne with the shoes so the women can sit on top of them,” explains Lydia. “It was about power, the celebrations of female successes and athleticism.” Lydia kicked off the brief with some sketches, followed by a couple of rounds of changes. Once they were happy, she started building the throne comprising hundreds of pairs of Predator shoes, “which I then deconstructed with a knife in my flat,” she adds. “My flat looked like a sneaker factory”. The process was one she enjoyed thoroughly, particularly for the trial and error approach and freedom to experiment with the shoes, chosen depending on the size, symmetry, direction of the logos, or even the placement of the insoles. “Sometimes what I set out to make and what ends up coming together is very different and always better. I surprise myself every time. And that’s one of the most satisfying parts of my career.”
In other news, Lydia recently closed an exhibition at Now Gallery, in which she created a vast landscape occupied by alien structures and colourful layers. The “long” design process evolved from various sketches, models and arrangements using both digital and analogue processes. “At the end, we probably cut out thousands of pieces on the CNC machine and packed my studio to the brim with objects to be painted and varnished. It was such a feat to put together,” she shares. Looking forward, Lydia will continue to expand her portfolio by way of immersive 3D objects like this one – her “deepest passion” due to the physical experiences it provides. “Set design for photoshoots and image making is a beautiful curated experience but there is something so ephemeral about the objects that are made. I want to work on designing objects and space that have more longevity […] I’m also looking into designing more objects like chairs, centre piece sand art objects. Something that people can own and have in their lives.”
Lydia Chan: Now Gallery (Copyright © Lydia Chan, 2022)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.