A book made to pause over
Interview with Ali Kirby, art director at DENHAM
You’ve been the art director of DENHAM from the very beginning. Must have been a trip down memory lane, creating this book. What was that like?
Indeed! This book took me on a journey into the very heart of the brand I helped to create. In today’s fast social media ready world, there are rarely opportunities to create timeless material that surpass the instant nature of thumb browsing. The 10-year book aims to do that. As any book does. It has been made to pause over. Spend time reading. To digest and discover the brand history –so I used the brief as an opportunity to present the brand as I see it after a 10-year evolution.
At DENHAM (and in life) I have built a reputation for hoarding collecting stuff, so I’ve slowly amassed a decade of archive material. Stories stashed across servers, backups and personal recollections. When the 10-year book project came along I hoped it would suppress my critics, as well as silence my inner minimalist! Despite being a head fuck, negotiating the content turned out to be a rewarding summary of 10 years creativity.
But 10 years isn’t as dusty as it sounds…
One of the many challenges over the years has been keeping control of the identity as the brand evolves, this book allowed me to revisit certain areas and present it with fresh content created solely for the book.
What were your objectives from a design point of view? And what was the biggest challenge?
The 5 Year Book highlighted the mechanics of the brand. How we build the product. How our ideas were formulated. We already had 5 years of fact-filled story-telling – so I wanted to find a different angle. The 10-year book attempts to capture the emotion of the brand – Supporting Jason DENHAM’s text with a visual narrative that flows over a decade of memories and his personal touch points.
Apart from fitting the book around my wedding day, one of the biggest challenges was working with 4 different photographers to create fresh content. Travelling from Amsterdam, Italy to Tokyo and Okayama in Japan. All before we’d created the content frame work.This meant reliving the brand story with an open brief on each photoshoot – looking for markers around stores, the product, the people that I knew could feature later in the layout. The additional challenge with different photographer styles is to ensure it all comes together in a tight and consistent handwriting.
What chapter is your favourite?
I tried to give each chapter its own identity to maintain visual interest through the book. DENHAM is a story telling brand, each chapter is a different story – so I felt it required a shift in design.
I’m proud of all the chapters, but my favourite is Chapter 9: A Decade of Scissor Graphics – as one of the journeys of my own graphical work has been spent exploring our brand icon – the scissor. As an object, a pair of scissors are two cold hard pointed metal knives bolted together.
But when given to a tailor, a jean maker, a hairdresser etc. they are used to create beauty – whether it’s hair; fabric; hedges, or even sheet metal – all rely on individual creative expression to show the scissors potential as a cutting instrument.
You need to first destroy something in order to create something new.
So over the years I’ve explored different ways to add emotion to the scissor, by forging scissors together with other objects, making camouflages – even cutting up and destroying our own logo to create something new. This has been great fun – and I’m proud to see the many interpretations of the scissor over the years. Not least the contributions from other artists in our House Guest Artist series.
Likewise, the ‘Dancing Scissors’ section was also an attempt to add emotion to the scissor object. Studying scissors over a decade has taught me that two scissors are rarely the same. Different maker marks; different functions; even different countries of origin lend a pair of scissors a unique character. Working with Rene Mesman we meticulously secured each scissor with fish wire to inject character and emotion to the object before playing with the light source to create a dancing still-life series.
‘You need to first destroy something in order to create something new.’
‘You need to first destroy something in order to create something new.’
Can you tell us a little bit about the different types of paper you chose, and why?
I wanted the book to reflect denim in some way. A natural linen with the warp slightly lighter than the weft attempts to capture the essence of denim fabric in the book cover. Discussing paper choice with the printer was an education in teaching them the obsessive world of denim. Raw jeans start off with a rigid, white weft yarn fabric with the warp yarns soaked in blue. Over time the indigo will meander its way across the jean to create lifelines. Indigo is always on the move. The impression it leaves behind creates natural highs and lows: areas of colour, together with barren areas where the indigo has moved on. (natural wear patterns)
DENHAM jeans are made in Italy using Candiani fabric (the Greenest mill in the world) and in Japan who worship the traditional qualities in denim. I chose FSC Certified paper to reflect our efforts in making sustainable product. We also printed the book in The Netherlands. Working with Dutch printers and technicians meant going local. After living in The Netherlands for 20 years, supporting a local economy is a very important choice for me; and time efficient – the book was fully realised in under 3 months.
How was it working with MENDO on this project?
The team at Mendo gave me incredible support working on the book. Comprising of a team Art Directors, book designers, sales & customer knowledge I knew there was no shortage of opinions. But they never controlled or dictated the content of the book. We had regular meetings to check the progress and I was encouraged by their positive and considered feedback. They were sharp to point out inconsistencies in content, irregularities in flow – using their experience and book knowledge – built up over their own 10-year history.
Designing books is not my day job, so presenting the finished book to a bookstore of Mendo’s calibre was a little daunting. A bit like making a jean and showing it to Jason (the Jeanmaker) and expecting him to show some compassion. But I was thrilled when the Mendo team, with their professional opinion, gave the book the thumbs up and that they were proud to have the Mendo name stamped on the cover.
Update: the book is sold out.
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