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Features / Workwear

Set designer Robert Storey on being subtle in his wardrobe but bold in his work

Photography:

Jack Johnstone

Filled as it is with tropical plants, Robert Storey’s Dalston studio is like east London’s answer to a Victorian palm house. From here he heads up Storey Studio as its creative director, working on everything from set design for print editorials in British Vogue, to spatial design for projects like Christopher Kane’s runway show in Tate Modern last year, and most recently venturing into product design with the studio’s first lamp.

Mixing sportswear and washed out, well-made basics with subtle design details, when it comes to what he wears he has cultivated a dressed-down but discerning eye – something he says sits at odds with the more showy nature of much of Storey Studio’s output. Here, he talks about going from sculpture to set design, watching but not following fashion, and why he lets his work, not his clothes, do the talking.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

Tell me about what you do.

I’m called a set designer by most and I’m represented as a set designer, but it’s set and spatial design and the way the studio is progressing is actually more spatial design. Everything I work on is within fashion, so we do photoshoots for magazines, campaigns, advertising, editorial, and then we do moving image. We also do still life shoots, interior shoots and moving on into spatial projects we do window design, presentations for fashion weeks, runway shows, and we’ve started to do a few more interior projects like designing stores – we did Prism in London. Just last year we designed our first lamp as well so we’re also moving into product design. Ideally I’d like to start doing more product and sculpture.

Does creating work within a fashion context factor into your style?

I’m definitely influenced in some way but I think my style is really quite casual and it’s also mostly informed by the way I work. If I’m building something I have to be relatively practical in what I’m wearing, so loose fitting, easy clothes but I don’t follow fashion per se. I don’t wear off-the-runway looks. I love fashion and I watch it, but I don’t follow it.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

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What are you wearing today?

A jumper and a T-shirt from Filippa K, trousers from Cos and my trainers are Nike. They’re just really casual, comfortable clothes. I wear Nike all the time. For me it’s almost like wearing a suit, which sounds like a strange thing to say but it feels almost tailored. I think Nike trousers look really smart and you could almost wear them with a shirt.

Earlier I was wearing a Dries van Noten T-shirt and an Acne jumper but you would never really know because they’re just nice plain pieces. The sleeves on the Dries van Noten T-shirt are slightly longer and it’s got a rounded hem, which is really nice. I like those details and I think that maybe does in a way feed into my work because my work is very graphic and bold, but it’s always really important that the details are simple.

What do you look for you in your clothes?

Things that fit really well and are well made. Also clothes that last for a long time and don’t really go out of fashion. I rarely buy new clothes. My favourite thing is when my clothes get really old and they get a bit washed out. Even if I see a T-shirt in a shop and they offer to get me a new one I’m like no I want this one, the one that’s been in the window for three months.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

Is there much difference between what you wear when you’re in the studio and in your spare time?

It’s all pretty casual. My work is also very much my life. It’s not like a job where I have to be formal, I can just kind of turn up and and wear what I wear. When I go to meetings I am myself, I don’t try to be anything else. I think people want to see a creative.

What’s an average day in the studio like?

I don’t know that there is an average day. We’re coming up with new ideas all the time and we’re so busy that often there isn’t much time to be really experimental but if there is a free day then we make models or we prototype shapes for sculptures or products.

How does your team fit together? Has the studio grown much?

When I started six years ago it was me in my bedroom. After a year I got a studio, which was about 200 square feet, and after three years I got this studio, which is like 800 or 900 square feet. So it was me originally, and one assistant, and then two assistants, and then five.

I’m the creative director of the studio and then there are the designers. We work on briefs either collaboratively or individually depending on the size. So if there’s a really big brief maybe there will be three people working on it and we all kind of research together and then break it up between us and design accordingly. Then I kind of oversee the creative direction of the design but because we tend to work on quite a few projects at the same time it’s difficult for me to be working on just one thing all day.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

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What was it like doing the Christopher Kane show in the Tate Modern?

That was really funny because I love the Tate Modern and when I was at university I always dreamed of having a piece in there. It was kind of bittersweet because it was incredible to do something in the Tate but at the same time there’s still a feeling of wishing it could be something a bit more personal to me, which is why I said earlier that I’d like to do more sculpture and product design.

“If you know yourself well enough you can apply your aesthetic to anything.”

Robert Storey

It was immense though and an amazing space to work in. We’re quite lucky as a studio because we have quite a strong aesthetic and people come to us because they want us to put our stamp on it. If you know yourself well enough you can apply it to anything.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

Does your style reflect your work?

No actually I think it’s quite the opposite. I’ve often wondered whether my personality comes out through what I wear or what I do, and it’s through what I do. If you look at my work it’s really quite colourful and there’s a lot of energy, and I actually love bright colours. In a way I aspire to wear more colour but I tend to wear quite muted, washed out blacks, blues, and the occasional check. I think I hide behind my work. I love being a bit outrageous or a bit showy, but not so much in myself. I like my work to do that.

“I love being a bit outrageous or a bit showy, but not so much in myself. I like my work to do that.”

Robert Storey

Do you think it’s better to separate the two?

I don’t think it’s detrimental not to and it’s not a bad thing to do either, it just depends on your personality. I’m not personally like that, but I was doing my washing last night and all of my clothes were black and it kind of made me wish I lived in the 70s. I’d love to wear crazy prints but I’m not really brave enough to do that yet. I have a selection of really colourful clothes at home that never see the light of day. I feel like I’ll wear them one day.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

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What drew you to working in the fashion industry?

I relate better to fashion than I do to theatre or film for sure – I know a lot more about it. I went to Central Saint Martins, where the focus is predominantly fashion, and I studied sculpture but all of my friends studied fashion. Even though I knew nothing about fashion when I moved to London, by osmosis after four years I knew every single designer and what everyone was doing because my friends all talked about it all the time.

When I graduated I didn’t intend to be a set designer but I’d made friends with an agent who was looking after photographers and set designers, and he recommended me to a set designer as an assistant and I really loved it. For me it’s way to apply sculpture to fashion in a commercial context and I feel comfortable in it – I wouldn’t choose to do any other form of set design.

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

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Jack Johnstone: Robert Storey

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