It takes two: the secrets of enduring creative collaborations
Speaking to Jungle director Charlie Di Placido, twin brothers Jalan and Jibril Durimel, and the founders of Perron-Roettinger, we uncover the benefits and pitfalls of long-lasting creative relationships, how they’re nurtured, and why they’ve stood the test of time.
A marriage, an ecosystem, a dance. These are just a handful of the comparisons that the people behind some of the most successful creative partnerships reach for when describing their collaborative practices. Despite the persistent cliche of the lonely artistic genius, in reality, few creatives work in total isolation. But to collaborate with an artistic partner on equal footing and equal billing presents its own unique set of challenges and gratifications.
“It helps when you’ve come up together,” says music director Charlie Di Placido from his London studio. Charlie is a regular collaborator of the music project Jungle, so much so that he was given an executive producer credit on the most recent album Volcano, despite not being a music producer.
Charlie met the founders of Jungle, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, before they had signed to a label. “They were both working in the local pub where I was drinking,” says Charlie. “Josh from the band is probably my best friend, Tom as well; we’re like a west London family who all live close to each other.” When Jungle released its debut album in 2014 and needed a music video director, Charlie was the obvious choice. They’ve been collaborating on every album since.
1 of 5
Charlie Di Placido: Volcano film for Jungle (Copyright © Jungle, 2023)
“From the jump, Josh and Tom wanted Jungle to be a big collaborative process and now we’re broadening that out as much as possible,” says Charlie. “It’s an ongoing discussion. We second guess everything, we tear things apart, we start every album process with questions and then we bash it all into shape.” When Jungle arrives in the studio to begin a new album, Charlie is often there, feeding visual cues to Josh and Tom as they make the music and start writing up the creative for the music videos.
Jungle’s music videos have become integral to how the album is experienced. Since the third album, Charlie has created a video for every track and fans have begun referring to the videos as the “Jungle Cinematic Universe”, as characters, narratives and motifs recur across albums. “The narrative has been going on for so long now, and we can really lean into that stuff because the fans have a connection with these characters,” says Charlie. “There’s a shared dialogue with the fans, that’s a collaboration in itself.”
At a time when music videos are becoming shorter and music labels are increasingly catering to TikTok, Volcano getting a full-length film to accompany the album is rare. Charlie points to the trust that’s been allowed to form between him and Jungle for over a decade as the reason why they can aim for ambitious and risky projects. “Volcano’s probably the first complete piece of work that’s as close to what I had on the page as I’ve ever had,” says Charlie. “I wouldn’t go so far as perfect but it’s pretty damn close. We have so much fun making the videos and the end results are always better than the previous incarnations. We want to raise the bar and that’s endlessly exciting.”
“It’s an ongoing discussion. We second guess everything, we tear things apart, we start every album process with questions and then we bash it all into shape.”Charlie Di Placido
Collaboration started even earlier for another creative partnership. Twin brothers Jalan and Jibril Durimel became interested in photography when they moved from St. Maarten to LA to study film at the same time. In the US, they discovered fashion blogs at the height of Tumblr in 2015, and began to take their own photographs before signing with the CLM Agency in late 2016. Weeks later, they landed a global Kenzo campaign. “We went from five people running around in a car to being on a set with 30 people,” says Jibril, calling from New York, where both brothers are now living.
Forming a partnership was never a conscious choice, the brothers say, due to their shared proximity and interests. “When you work repeatedly with one person, a language starts to develop,” says Jalan. “People think we have some sort of twin synchronicity, where we read each other’s minds. We don’t, but the more time you spend with someone, discussing a visual language, the closer you get and it becomes more fluid. There’s no magic that happens, it’s just over time the language of what we want to do has gotten more clear. And that’s when it gets fun.”
The brothers are frank about the challenges they’ve faced as a duo; they’ve attended therapy together and learned how to structure their practice. “At first we were very free with everybody doing everything at the same time,” says Jibril. “But it became important for us to let each other practice their creative autonomy. We’ve realised that at times we can be our own hindrance. It’s been important for us to allow one another to fail. Over time, we’ve realised it’s better for one of us to lead on one picture, and then the other leads on the next one. We’ll consistently be in a dialogue that allows us to contribute to one another’s ideas but we’ll let there be a captain.”
1 of 6
© Copyright Durimel
“We’ve realised that at times we can be our own hindrance. It’s been important for us to allow one another to fail."Jalan and Jibril Durimel
Over the last five years, the pair have been working on the biggest project of their careers so far: a photography book. Jibril describes it as their utopian “Gotham”, a fictitious place that they’ve been finding together. “We moved around so much growing up. I think a lot of people feel like this: when you move around so much that everywhere you go you’re a foreigner, even in your homeland. In the back of your mind, a home is being developed which is a cultivation of cultures that makes you think of home. Because Jalan and I have moved around so much, [our home] has become this fake place, this ideal place that doesn’t exist. We’re using images to point ourselves to that place.”
The Durimels’ photobook is the sort of project that requires a shared vision built on trust and communication. A childhood together certainly develops that trust, but other creative partnerships find each other later in life. The LA-based designers Willo Perron and Brian Roettinger had built significant careers under their own individual studios before they came together to form a shared design studio, Perron-Roettinger, in 2017. “We spoke about doing it for years,” says Brian from the studio in LA. “I think we started talking about it in 2015 and then we finally got the space in 2017.”
1 of 5
© Copyright Durimel
1 of 6
Perron-Roettinger: Rihanna’s Superbowl halftime show (Copyright © Perron-Roettinger, 2023)
Although the Perron-Roettinger studio is just over five years old, this year marks the ten-year anniversary of Willo and Brian’s first project which was the campaign for Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail. “I asked Brian to work with me on it,” says Willo, speaking from Paris. “We had a friend in common in LA, Aaron Rose, who would have parties at his house and we met there. Brian had done records that I really liked, these really under-the-radar, pretty nerdy records.”
The pair share a love for music that was their entry point into design. Willo had no formal training as a designer, and instead just made “things and things and things” with his friends, which became clothes, interiors, graphics and album packages. Brian played in bands and quickly music became a byproduct for design work. “Playing music was this hyper collaborative thing for me, where everything was working together. That became a pivotal point in my creative life because I started to see how music and design had a relationship. I started to make album packaging and T-shirts and flyers and posters. I knew shit all about design – I was completely uneducated at that point – but for me it worked for what it was. It started getting me to look at and think about design.”
After collaborating on the Jay-Z album, the pair continued to work together until formalising their partnership under one studio became inevitable. “I started to reach a point where I wanted this to feel bigger and more meaningful and also more collaborative,” says Brian. “That was a big point: to have something where you have a creative partner to bounce things off, but also to learn things from. It goes back to being in a band for me. I feel the most comfortable in that position.”
The pair credit their partnership to their different styles of working: Willo is the big ideas guy who throws said ideas at the wall, while Brian works diligently to finesse a design. “We’re different ends of a spectrum in a good way,” says Willo. “There’s Brian projects, that he’s been working on for two years and then they eventually come out, and there’s Willo projects where Brian has no idea what’s going on. And then there’s studio-wide projects where every single person has a hand in it. It’s a stew of all the different practices in the studio. We don’t have a format.”
“That was a big point: to have something where you have a creative partner to bounce things off, but also to learn things from. It goes back to being in a band for me. I feel the most comfortable in that position.”Brian Roettinger
Despite the high profile projects the pair have worked on – from Savage x Fenty fashion shows and Skims packaging to Jay Z albums and art gallery books – Willo and Brian have the same answer when I ask them what the high point of their collaboration has been. “The studio,” says Brian and Willo nods in agreement. “The biggest and most exciting thing is the studio. I went to an opening here last night and pretty much our entire staff was there, past and present. I started to really see this system that we’ve built.”
“The studio is the project,” adds Willo. “The precision to get all the right people in a space; cultivating a culture; building an ecology: that’s the collaborative work.”
Creative work is collaborative work. Whether that’s within a support system for your own project, an external client or a long-term partner, learning to work in teams is vital. All three of the creative pairs I spoke to highlighted communication as the key quality that makes a creative partnership flourish: a willingness to listen and receive feedback, and to do the same for your partner. All three pairs also pointed to their respective partnerships as a key aspect to the success they have found within their industries.
“Human beings have been living tribally for thousands of years,” Jibril concludes. “I think every creative person who’s had some success has had a tribe. Sometimes you see brands say they’re not a brand, they’re a lifestyle, and as corny as that sounds I’m starting to understand that more and more. It’s the life you live that inspires the most honest creation.”
1 of 5
Perron-Roettinger: Kesha, Gag Order. Photo: Vincent Haycock (Copyright © Kesha, 2023)
About the Author
Katie Goh is a writer and editor living in Edinburgh. Katie's writing has been published in the Guardian, VICE, Dazed and Prospect among others. She is the non-fiction editor for Extra Teeth literary magazine and she is currently writing a memoir called Foreign Fruit, which will be published by Canongate and Tin House in 2025.