Steven Wilson Karl Lagerfeld. Since his graduation from Brighton University, the colourful, multilayered works of artist Steven Wilson have been featured on album covers and international publications, and in special collaborations with brands such as Nike and MTV. For this spring, Wilson has been recruited by legendary designer and Renaissance man Karl Lagerfeld. The limited edition Steven Wilson Karl Lagerfeld capsule collection includes both ready-to-wear and accessories; soft cotton T-shirts are emblazoned with multicolour portraits of Lagerfeld himself and a leather pouch bag sports the likeness of chic pet cat Choupette. Other motifs includes a pair of Lagerfeld worthy sunglasses, the brand’s updated logo and a camera; all are emblems of the man himself. Something About met with Steven Wilson to talk Lagerfeld, printing techniques and working in Brighton.
This is a really dynamic collaboration Steven! Can you tell me how it came about?
Thanks! Initially the project came about thanks to my French agent. I have a UK agent and one in the States but it was my French agent who was contacted by Caroline who works for Karl Lagerfeld. I think she’d just seen my work online, that was it really! There wasn’t any sort of personal connections or anything. Just a simple case of being contacted after seeing my work!
That’s always the best way really. So did you have carte blanche? Were you allowed to do what you wanted to do?
To a point, yes. I mean there was an aesthetic that they wanted me to create the designs around – like Karl’s portrait [and that of] Choupette, then once I’d done those two, I sort of looked into the ‘World of Karl’ that they have created around the brand. So, it was more a case of finding the other things that I thought would fit. So obviously I looked at the things that he wore; his kind of uniforms. I took the glasses from his outfit and the [image of] polaroid camera just because I felt that kind of fitted quite well in ‘his world’.
How long did you work on it?
We went back and fourth. Even though I had sort of decided on the actual imagery, I did try and amount a few different styles to start with and sent them back and fourth. I did some single colour stuff and then it kind of progressed to the point where we ended up using the overlaid cyan magenta yellow colours. It’s something that I’ve used in the past. I started off as a student doing it on a photocopier because it was cheaper than screen print and I just used to send the paper through one sheet at a time to build the illustrations up, and I did my whole degree show like that, just because it was so cheap! It was 10p a colour and then obviously that after I left university and got a bit more established! It works well as a screen print because if you put cyan on top of yellow you will get the green, and so on, so they’re good colour reactions. The idea is that all of the illustrations are made out of just three layers. The final illustrations actually end up as seven colours because you overlap the three colours and build them up as layers.
Where did you study?
Do you live in Brighton as well?
Yeah, I work from home.
How does the town influence you work?
It’s a difficult thing to say… probably it does but without necessarily knowing so. When I first arrived in Brighton, I’d grown up in kind of commuted town and there wasn’t much colour there. Moving to Brighton was a bit of an eye opener. So I suppose from that point of view it must have had an effect on my work. Over the last 20 years I have spent a lot of time trying to establish certain styles, and developing the way I wanted to work. Brighton’s got a lot of flea markets and places like that, so I did used to sort of trawl through those and try and find paraphernalia that people had thrown away. Things like old posters, which I have always loved, to help me draw inspiration. On old posters too sometimes the colours wouldn’t quite ‘mate’ – that’s why I ended up overlapping colours on purpose. That’s how it all fell into place.
Then did you go to Paris from Brighton for this collaboration?
All from home! Most of my projects are just from home, most of the communication is done via email or through phone calls now. M house is on a few floors so I just work on the top floor where it’s a bit quieter. I work from one long desk. It’s a victorian house, so there’s a fire in there and I’ve got a lot of books and stuff piled high… I mean a lot of piled up stuff! You know, the kind that gets tidied up every 3 months and it looks really neat and then it just descends…
You’ve worked with so many brands. Is there one particular brand you’ve always wanted to work with?
Well other than this one [laughs] not in particular because the thing is , what makes the project interesting is more what they’re asking you to do. It is about the work itself rather than the brand you are doing it for. The thing that was nice about this one [for Karl Lagerfeld] was that it was a named collaboration. It wasn’t just like ‘We’ll take your work and no one will know who’s produced it’. From the start they said, ‘Oh it’s gonna be Karl Lagerfeld with Steven Wilson’. In the past, it was like being a kind of ghostwriter. That’s what’s really nice about it. They’re actively promoting the artist.
The iconography of Karl Lagerfeld is so rich…
Yeah I know! It’s been a bit of an eye-opener really. Social media to me has only been a fairly recent thing because I graduated in 2001; so it’s only been in the last five/six years that I’ve been using it. But since this project… you see the amount of stuff going around… it’s been well, yeah [he smiles].
Well, I interviewed an illustrator, David Downton, a few months ago and he said that Instagram actually changed the work for illustrators. He maintained that if you are a young illustrator you can get discovered by instagram…
Some people only use Instagram, they don’t even have a website anymore. Because you are flicking through quite fast that’s had an obviously effect on the type of work that people are choosing to create. The only thing I worry about is that the power of it is so big now as a marketing tool. Like I said, people are literally using it just to promote their work. From my point of view, it shouldn’t really dictate [the way you work].
The way I was taught was that you’d answer a brief and you’d build up a craft. Then you’d learn to adapt and answer different briefs, whereas within Instagram many people are making work suit that format. So it’s difficult. Some people are doing a very specific thing and they’re getting a big following on Instagram and that’s encouraging brands to collaborate with them to do that specific style. So it’s like, your work comes first, it’s very specific and then the brand will approach you afterwards. As such you will keep using the same work because you become renowned for those same patterns and same iconography, rather than learn to do the work first and answer different briefs. It’s just a different kind of approach from how I was taught I guess.
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