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Everything Is Image: Or How An Art Director Saved My Life

Some of Marc Atlan's Greatest HitsSome of Marc Atlan's Greatest Hits

From I-phones to limited edition Nikes, why has design become this much of a market force? Is it that we're experiencing an on-going visual evolution of contemporary culture in the same way we are under-going a technological revolution? I'm not trying to write a master's thesis. (Part of the discipline of The Imagist for me is to learn to be...succinct). I'm just trying to figure out how the hell the whole world got to be so design sensitive. When did American product packaging start to overwhelm its content? To personalize the issue a little bit... I was out out to dinner last night with a pal from an ad agency, when the subject turned to Fabien Baron and his powerhouse agency Baron and Baron. It is not a company anymore it seems.It is a brand in itself, if you'll pardon that dirty word..."brand".

Baron you know from the firm's traditional image management of magazines : Paris Vogue, the 90's Harper's Bazaar- which obviously I've been looking at a LOT- Interview magazine, Arena Homme +, as well as fashion ads -most notably Calvin Klein. We gossiped a little bit about the influence Le Baron and Karl Templer now had over the direction of Calvin, down to the models, in which that team seems not to be as personally invested in. Certainly not the way Calvin the man invested in Kate Moss and Brooke Shields and now no girl or boy for Calvin is allowed to be a bigger story than the clothes.

Well it seems the "Baron eye" which had already been trained on furniture and ...dominoes.. is now to be turned on a line of eyewear for Modo . I love the word eyewear... at the slightly Dada thought that your eye could wear something. But in the middle of the dinner I started to ponder : "Why would I want a pair of sunglasses courtesy of Baron and Baron? Is that not a little bit esoteric...this market?" But the answer is, I'm supposed to buy them because I'm supposed to be design sensitive enough to respond to their inevitable nuances of innovation and taste.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. But it occurs to me that great design does trigger an emotional and irrational response to product and that response is a big part as to why we feel compelled to stick around in this industry. The perfect example of this is the work of Marc Atlan. Its nowhere as modish as the cult of Peter Saville, of which I am a card carrying acolyte. (I could write a book on how his choices for New Order and Yohji Yamamoto made me weep for joy as a kid). Nor was it ever as radical as the post-computer cut-ups of M/M (Paris).

But to this day I still haunt the Comme des Garcons store in Chelsea like a well-mannered crackhead, just to stare at the perfume bottles Marc designed. And how I miss the Helmut fragrance shop on Greene! Marc Atlan has not had the massive commercial success of Baron but from the first day I laid eyes on that Odeur 53 bottle...so clear...so clean..so considered, I knew nothing but love for Marc. And then his imagery for helmutlang.com! The "I Smell You On My Skin" campaign. It was such a thing!

Empty design...as in ultra-minimal design till it becomes a kind of anti-design is now the order of the day. Notice how you don't notice the grey apple on the white box on Macintosh's packaging anymore. Which makes it all the more "mac" for it. Its the sureity of subtlety. It brings to mind the work of Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme. I know, I know. Its over. We need to move on and I really ought not to bring up Kris Van Assche's uncharitable put-downs of Hedi's taste in New York magazine this week .(An e.g of a killing quote from the piece: "What is the point of coming to Paris and doing fashion," Van Assche wonders one morning in the gilt lobby of the Plaza Athenee, "if not to make life more beautiful?" Kris carries the shade one step further by dismissing Hedi's runway waifs with the line "That is not a vision of elegance") Hedi taste doesn't need a defense but I feel compelled to note that Slimane didn't "come to Paris" to do fashion and so I expect the romantic myth of Parisienne elegance could not be the same proposition for him.

But Hedi comes in as a coda here (have I failed to be succinct?) because apart from the "impossible" cut of the clothes and the skinny scandal , the precise graphic design sensibility that Hedi brought to Dior has had a massive influence on the new kids. I know this because that treatment of the Helvetica font could be renamed the "Hedi" given how much influence the Slimane edition of diorhomme.com has had on current web design. I know this because when I got home from dinner that night, I opened my mailbox to see a suspiciously thick -if stylish- little envelope. I opened it up quickly and found inside a booklet for the Winter 07-08 Dior Homme line, Hedi's swan song. White cover, black text upper left corner and lower right corner (thicker font-2 lines). So beautifully weighed and spaced and equated. Opened up the book and each page was edged with a tiny perfortion so you could mark the shoe or bag or jeans that you loved. Oh Hedi you made me cry! But it was not for joy.

Taste is a dictatorship.

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