“When I was a student, I met someone that was studying set design and remember thinking, ‘how boring, I couldn’t think of anything worse’,” explains London-based set designer, Thomas Petherick, “ten years later, here I am and it couldn’t be any less boring!”
Thomas “sort of fell into the job” when an artist management agent asked him where he was planning to take the experience he’d gained making props for friends who worked in the industry. The agent suggested he try set design and he found it fit. “Set design is such a varied area, one week you might be doing an editorial which you will work on for a few days and the next, you could be working on a big installation which has been months in the planning,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Over the past ten years, Thomas has gained a reputation for his striking and accomplished sets that often incorporate negative space or light to bring another dimension to his designs. His use of bold shapes to define and influence how people interact with a space have earned him a client list including Garage Magazine, Ashish, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Dazed among many others. A recent project for Novembre Magazine, however, sees Thomas scaling down his work slightly to explore more intricate details.
The shoot was a collaboration with stylist Georgia Pendlebury, who is also fashion director at Novembre. The pair wanted to explore how clothes, specifically styled outfits, could be presented in an alternative way within the parameters of a fashion editorial. The story showcases a number of outfits, in a sculptural manner, similar to how Nadine Goepfert did in her series Permanent Compression. However, in this case the garments appear to be flattened and sandwiched between perspex as if the model has disappeared into thin air, allowing them to retain more textural qualities than the glossy vaccum-packs of Nadine’s series.
Thomas and Georgia worked in a truly collaborative way throughout the project, not relying on their conventional roles of set design and styling on the day of the shoot. One of the aspects they wanted to challenge was “the hierarchal structure of working within a creative team in fashion, with defined roles that see the photographer at the top of the pyramid trickling down to the set designer near the bottom,” explains Thomas. Instead, they started the process together, conceptualising and bringing the project to life, then brought the photographer, Matthieu Lavanchy, on at a later date.
Throughout the story, the clothes are boiled down to their simplest elements – shape, colour and fabric. “I think it’s refreshing to see the clothes differently,” says Thomas, adding that, “they have no movement to give them form and no model’s appearance to influence how you read them.” This method of presentation allows the garments to be viewed almost free of context, enabling the audience to appreciate them for their compositions and textures instead.
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.