Translating the Designer’s Vision

When I moved to New York six years ago from London, I started working New York Fashion Week, designing sets for major shows. All I’ve ever done is design. I was trained in graphic design, and then taught myself the rest. I do art direction, which encompasses set design, installations, interiors, branding, and graphics. I also design luxury furniture, and I’m even working on a jewelry line.

What I love about set design is that it gives you a chance to experiment. My job is to highlight the designer’s vision–it’s about taking what they’ve put months and months of work into and translating it into the physical space. A really important part of my job is making sure I understand the mood the designer wants to communicate. If you understand that, your design will hit the mark. If you don’t, you’re going to have an unhappy client and an unsuccessful project.

When a client gives me a brief for a project, it can challenge me to think in a certain way. Two years ago, we did the Lexus lounge at Milk Studios. We made this giant sculpture that turned into a bar later in the night. We even had edible gold leaf oyster shells with white pearl truffles inside. It was so much fun.

But it’s not just about the design; it’s about the production. Thinking of things is the easy bit–making it happen is the more challenging part, because you’ve got physical things that have deadlines, that take time to make, that take time to ship, that take time to dry. Of course, you never get enough time–the briefs are always late so you’re always rushing. And the budget is never quite big enough, but I’m a magic woman on a budget. I’m nifty. Before one fashion show, we had built a set that we needed to ship from Hong Kong, but we missed our spot at the port. The set wouldn’t arrive in time for the show. I remember having to make a brand new set in two days in a car park. If you want to work in set design, you need to be okay with no sleep. I’ve done so many shows that by the time the thing opened, I’m asleep behind the set, because I’ve been awake for 48 hours.

People think that Fashion Week is this mega bitchy environment, but what they don’t see is the camaraderie and generosity of spirit. To be a designer, to run your own label, for example, is so hard. Designers work really, really hard, and it’s not always this glamorous, fun thing. It’s being locked away in your studio for hours and hours. It’s a really, really tough business.

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