So I'm trying to be nonchalant and...poised as I wait for my buzzer to sound but deep inside I am seriously bugging out. It is 3.30pm on a humid New York summer afternoon and Mr Marc Atlan is on his way up to TI's head quarters. Dream come true? I thought I was hallucinating. Marc had emailed me a few weeks earlier saying he would love to have a meet in NY and me, I just had to marvel as to how the modern sphere of the internet can collapse whole universes onto each other . I don't think Marc Atlan realizes what a serious cult touchstone his work has been for a certain generation that learnt to think about fashion along the conceptual tropes offered by the likes of Comme des Garcons, Helmut Lang and Tom Ford's YSL. The product offered by those brands : CDG's Odeur 53, The Helmut Lang fragrances, the overflowing sensuality of the YSL ads...some of the key things Marc has designed in his career are like talismans to me. The packaging and advertising of those products were so exacting and rigorous and deeply thought out that they were an object lesson in the idea that a simple thing can be made deliriously sensual by the level of craftsmanship invested in its execution. The influence of contemporary art and an art-driven way of thinking was evident in the conceptual gamemanship behind the shockingly inorganic nature of Odeur 53's notes. Helmut Lang's fragrances escaped the bottle and became an expression of a raw, unflitered sensuality so that a block of words or a spray of liquid could express their seductiveness. And within Tom Ford's YSL was the hidden sentiment that you could be as kinky as you wanted as long as you were regal in your sense of self-indulgence. And the thing is I remember picking up those signals through the sheer dexterity of the design that Atlan offered. So there it is. I am clearly a fan. Marc's visit ended up being a really inspiring moment for me as our 3hr conversation swooped over a wide range of ideas about fashion, marketing, art direction and the inter-relationship between all these elements. Here are some of the highlights of what I absorbed that day.
1. Cire Trudon, a candlemaker I revere was ressurected both in terms of scent and design by Ramdane Touhami. And all that time I thought that deep bottle green with the bright gold emblem was of direct 18th century provenance. Design really can create a hidden narrative in a buyer's mind and I found it interesting that someone who you would presume to be only visually acute like an art director can be be so sensitive to the power of scent. Synesthesia anyone?
2.Speaking of art direction. I internalized for the first time that it is different from graphic design. I always thought them synonymous. But no, art directors, that rare breed that occupies the world of Atlan and Baron, Lloyd and Laird get to conceptualize an entire identity around a product. That entails everything from photography team and hair and make-up concept to the font choice and placement, use of color , quality of light, balance and space. It is a very abstract way to have to think. To see an identity around the name of a thing, or a box or a bottle . That intrigued me very much.
3. That leads us to the conceptual practices of Helmut Lang.He once made a fragrance derived from ONE molecue. How's that for purity!
4.People like Atlan taught a 90's generation to expect a whole new level of visual intelligence in advertising and packaging. It is something latter day luxury brands should factor into their current aesthetic.
5.Art direction of the French ilk...Jean Paul Goude ...Marc Ascoli...Fabien Baron..Marc Atlan...M+M Paris might very well have new torch bearer in the form of Olivier Zahm. Just ask Chanel.
6.Personality is as much a driving force in a career in art direction as it is for a designer, editor or model. It might seem to be stating the obvious but I tell you...a product can acquire "charisma" just based on who you hire to guide its imaging.
7. You can copy the strong work of another designer. But you can never steal that charisma. Or soul.
There's more in the Atlan mix.... a big reveal due in 2 weeks for which I was priviliged to have a sneak preview. Marc had to pry the prototype out of my hand at a meeting's end and I can't wait to upload a sneak peek of the project in hand in September. Long live the vitality of strong ideas activating beautiful objects.