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The BoF Podcast | Es Devlin on Collaboration, Creativity and Stage Craft



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Background:

In the world of set design, Es Devlin is a trailblazing, unstoppable force. Her remarkable career has seen her craft stages for global superstars like Beyoncé, U2 and Adele as well as immersive experiences for Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and most recently, Gucci which recently brought its Cosmos exhibition to London’s 180 The Strand.

But to describe Es as a set designer only feels somewhat reductive. She is a deep thinker who approaches her work like a creative philosopher, examining critical questions about the world.

This week on The BoF Podcast, Devlin joins BoF founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed to discuss her career and her impressions of fashion — as well as her advice for young creatives.

Key Insights:

  • Devlin approaches work through multiple lenses. “The practice is to see it through my own eyes, then see it through my collaborators eyes, then finally to see it through the audience’s eyes,” she said. “Building on all of those converging and colliding… viewpoints… I think it’s a very helpful muscle to learn just in living.”
  • In creating bespoke environments, narrative is a central part of Devlin’s process, particularly in working with fashion companies. “What I’ve learned… is how to tell a story about the history of a house through an experience that an audience will walk through,” she says.
  • For creatives who may not have the budget of established fashion houses, Devlin encourages leaning on scarcity as a tool to harness creativity. “You can make a gesture by picking a place and turning all the lights out. You could make a gesture by just doing everything in one colour,” Devlin says. “Make your limitations… be the point, be the advantage.”
  • As AI plays a bigger role in her own work Devlin is studying the technology to learn more, rather than work with it without context. “My approach generally is to learn to read as much as I can rather than speaking from a position of inaccuracy or ignorance.”

Additional Resources:

  • Gucci Cosmos Exhibition Arrives in London: Gucci is staging its first major exhibition in London, curated by Italian fashion theorist and critic Maria Luisa Frisa and designed by British artist Es Devlin.
  • At Saint Laurent, Far From Fashion Week: The show, staged against the blank slate of a massive sand dune, went back to the roots of the house in the latest manifestation of designer Anthony Vaccarello’s independence from the traditional fashion calendar.



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