Robert Storey

say hi to_ Robert Storey

Rewind to one year ago and I had started to hear the name 'Robert Storey' around in design discussions more and more. To say that when I stumbled upon Robert's 'Nike Spatial Design Project' and was impressed, would be a huge understatement. I was even more floored when I found out that he completed this project, with his successful eponymous studio, at the ripe age of 23.
23 years old!? Sérieusement!?

From his clean lines, vivid colour palates, subtle and contemporary uses of inspiration from masters such as James Turrell, impeccable production and big name clients - I needed to get in contact with him. I needed to pick his brain and hear his story, about the differences between living and working in New York vs. London, about starting his studio and about the success of the young rising star who took the design world by storm overnight.

 

photos
Jeff Hahn

date
December 3, 2015

length of read
6 minutes

 
 

Introduction

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Hey Robert, can you please introduce yourself. Let’s say you just met a stranger at a party from a different industry all together, how would you briefly explain to them what you do?

I work with spaces, some people call me a set designer, some a spatial designer, its somewhere in that world. My clients are predominantly fashion based and my projects range from small still life shoots, making a set and styling products increasing in scale to making sets for fashion editorials, designing window displays, designing pop up shops and presentations spaces to runway designs for fashion week.

I've also recently made a lamp so I'm also interested in the idea of doing more product design

Oh great, have you done any product design before?

No, it was my first product, but I loved the experience and have many more ideas

Can we get a peek at it? We’d love to see it!

Yes of course.

Made with Kalmar for Wallpaper* handmade exhibition at Salone del Mobile 2014.
photo credit_ Leandro Farina

Nike Presentation | photo credit_ David Alee

 
 

The Beginning

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What did your parents do? How big of a role did that play in your life? Did it influence you in one way or another?

My father and grandfather are both very creative when it comes to making, although they weren't carpenters by trade, they made a lot of the furniture in my home where I grew up. I think growing up in this environment made design very approachable to me. My mother isn't physically creative but has an eye for the arts and is very encouraging of it. Without their support and encouragement, I may not be doing what I am today.


You studied sculpture in University, do you think that that experience was necessary to where you’ve ended up now? Or do you think you would be in the same place without it?

I think it was a huge influence. It gave me so many skills that aren't tangible but I know they are there; communication, talking about work on an intellectual level, realising what is obvious to make or completely unusual. Three to four years of being in London and not having to do anything but think about things you like and want to make, going to galleries and having fun, these years are invaluable.

Saying that, the tuition fees weren't as high when I was at uni as they are now so I am starting to think that young people who want to work creatively may be better off interning at a studio like mine for a year and building up first hand knowledge of how the industry works and gaining experience, but you would have to know what you want to do at the age of 18 (I didn't know I would be doing this, I thought I would be an artist).

 

"I am starting to think that young people who want to work creatively may be better off interning at a studio like mine for a year and building up first hand knowledge of how the industry works and gaining experience."

 
 
 

The Business

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"I was only twenty three when I opened the studio, so in some ways it was easier because I had less to lose ... I think it was after about two and a half years that I had a regular client base."

When you first opened your studio was there one area regarding the business side of things that you were less confident in than others?

When I first started in photo production I didn’t even know how to write an invoice!

Well, I studied fine art sculpture and art/design was pretty much the only thing I was ever interested in doing so although I did fine art in school, I never really thought about the fact that being creative would also involve being a businessman! I was never unconfident with anything I set out to do but I definitely have learnt a lot along the way when it comes to anything dealing with accounting or business development. Ultimately I think everything I have done has been quite organic so I've made mistakes but learnt from them and done it better the second time around.

Yeah I think that is something all creatives go through at the beginning. The business side is unknown territory when you’re main aim and focus is creating.

Was it hard to get your first clients?

Yes definitely, I think its important to read this: Starting out from scratch is certainly not easy. I was definitely supported by a few key people that helped me to get work and build up a client base but for the first few years, I worked a lot for free doing editorials and building up a network with the occasional job that helped me to pay my rent.

I was only 23 when I opened the studio, so in some ways it was easier because I had less to lose and was much more willing to live and work in my tiny studio amongst sawdust and paints but as time went by, people began to give me more work and the studio started growing. I think it was after about 2.5 years that I had a regular client base

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Were you ever scared to talk about money? I feel like it is a very natural thing coming from New York to talk about money where it gets a bit awkward here in France when I want to get down and directly talk dollar bills.

Its the worst, I hate it. I think being English, we are extreme in being overly polite about money matters. I have definitely gotten better but it still makes me uncomfortable although sadly, its not all just about making beautiful spaces, I have to pay my studio rent and the people working in it. I actually got an agent to represent me after a few years and they now deal with all my contracts, invoices and budgets so I am still dodging away from the subject.

Yes, I think it is also a very sensitive thing to discuss money in terms comparison to creative work and what you will be producing. I can imagine having an agent lifts a weight off of you so that you are able to just focus on your work.

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How did you know what to charge the first time you had a client?

I didn't know how much to charge, they would just offer me an amount and I would say 'OK!" some people massively took advantage of me being young and desperate to just do the shoot while others were more honest and fair with me.

It wasn't until I got an agent that I really started to understand my value and what was fair. Before that I was winging it.

I think this is one of the hardest things for young people. It’s really nice when there are the fair and honest companies or people that come along, you also get the chance to learn what a normal rate is from those people.

For sure, you figure it out. But even when you know what is fair, clients are still able to take advantage of the fact that you are starting out and would do the project for less money because the market is already quite saturated and if you don't do it someone else will. In a way, this is not entirely a bad thing because at least you get the opportunity to actually do it! I think in comparison to NYC, those opportunist aren't as prevalent because the budgets seem to be higher and people want to work with more established people.

I think it is very difficult to get a break in New York unless you have either 1. An agent, 2. incredible connections or 3. experience and reputation. If you have one of those, you’re gold and New York is a great place to work. It’s a very tough beginning there otherwise. It must be great being able to get the best of both worlds (NY and London) and a very different experience going back to New York with so many successful projects under your belt.

 
 

Young and Hungry

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I’m still blown away that you opened your studio so young. It’s refreshing to see that if you’re talented it doesn’t matter what age you are. How has social media played a part in getting exposure and or clients for your studio?

haha, I think I was just keen and really excited to create, combined with a willingness to work really hard (I don't think I realised how hard but it was all worth it).

I think thats another advantage of going big when you’re young. You’re hungry and the energy you get from realizing your ideas pushes you through how hard it is at the beginning.

So true. Social media is huge both for me and my clients. I love Instagram so much. I have actually gotten a few jobs off Instagram from producers seeing my work and then getting in touch. For my clients, they often say, "make us an instagrammable space" because lets face it, that is where most of the world will see it.

Have you had some kind of mentor along the way?

I've obviously had my parents, my dad is a businessman so will occasionally ask a question about a VAT return and send me into a panic but then obviously helping with it. Creatively, I met Rafael De Cardenas just as I was starting out, I didn't actually know his work or what he did for the first fe months of knowing him but as we became friends I was blown away with his practice, he has encouraged me so much and helped me to understand the industry in such an unconditional way.

 
 

"For my clients, they often say, "make us an instagrammable space" because lets face it, that is where most of the world will see it."

 
 
 

The Work

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More or less everyone in the design world had to stop in awe when we first saw your Nike Presentation spatial design project. Can you describe your creative process in that project? Did they give you free reign or did you have certain guidelines you needed to abide by?

Wow thank you, we have had so much incredible feedback about that project and I think it did put the spotlight on us for a minute, I hope that the project enabled us to show what we can do.

The project was a bit of a dream for me because I love the Nike 'aesthetic'- there is something I love about how Nike combines high street and sportswear with luxury fashion. Everyone wears it from every walk of life so when you work with a brand like that you are accessing a huge global audience, that really excited me.

I was approached for the project by the creative director, Jen Brill, who I have to thank for bringing the best out in me. Nike were very open to us offering a creative direction so the brief was completely open with the exception that they wanted to divide the collection into 4 categories which we did by making individual vignettes. We took lighting reference from artists such as Dan Flavin and James Turrell and combined it with the studio aesthetic of bold, clean spaces with elements of symmetry and industrial materials as well as what we felt encompassed the Nike woman- sporty, strong yet feminine, urban and contemporary.


It’s only the truth! Yes I can feel some of the inspiration from James Turrell in a very contemporary and bold way. It must have been so exciting to be given that trust and in the end so proud to have delivered something that ended up so great.

Yes, I couldn't have been happier with the result.


How do you start to conceptualize a project like that?

It starts by looking at the brand and the collection I am presenting.

The Nike space was full of subtle references to the collection, the cut out shapes in the space come from the soles of the shoes and the pattern on the track pants. The materials such as the chain link are reminiscent of sports courts etc. Then the space itself comes from my own aesthetic and combination of references I have built in my head.


How much time did you have from brief to installation to do it?

I think we had 6 weeks.

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What do you have in the pipeline now? What is coming up next?

Well, we seem to have a lot of projects coming up and I am so excited to be so lucky to work with so many great, global companies. We are working with Hèrmes for a presentation of all of their collections, windows for Nicole Farhi, We are completing a mulberry showroom design next week and new Harrods windows are going to be installed in January and global window designs for Diesel over a rolling 6 month period. There are more but you can wait to see those :)

Wow! That is a lot in the works. You must be so busy and excited to do all of that. When we we be able to see some of these.

Things will roll out gradually, Nicholas Kirkwood is a christmas window and Diesel will be from January next year.

 
 

Extras

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Can you recommend one person that you know from any other creative discipline who has an amazing story thats worth sharing?

Quentin Jones is awesome. She’s an illustrator and film maker.

I’ve worked a lot with her. You will love it :)

 
 

Thank You Robert!

 
 

London

Best coffee in London?
Flat White, Berwick Street

Best place to get a drink in London?
A local pub, traditional and lo fi. I like the Scolts Head or Spurstowe in Hackney.

Hotel you would stay in if you weren’t from London?
Chiltern Firehouse

Best unknown shop?
Darkroom store on Lambs Conduit Street

Up and coming talent?
Helen + Isobel (set designers)

Best place to take clients in London?
Shoreditch House

Resources to help you with your career (fab labs,  printers, accountants, programs)
Google :)