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feature interview: set designer stefan beckman

Edited by: Cator Sparks
on April 3rd, 2012
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If there is anyone out there turning designers, curators and editors’ dreams into reality it is set designer Stefan Beckman. He is the go-to guy to have your fashion show, advertisement or exhibit be the most stimulating experience in its field.  You know those Marc Jacobs shows everyone spins out about? That’s him.  

Needless to say, he is a busy man. We rescheduled several times in three days because he was working on a shoot for Ports, another shoot for V and a Juicy Couture party all over the weekend. Oh and he just finished a bunch of Maybelline commercials and a Cartier exhibition. 

While he was in a car between jobs we discussed his love of video, installations versus runway shows and his reoccurring dream. It ain’t a pretty one!

You are wildly busy. How do you balance it all?

I just take it day by day. It’s just so inspiring to work on photo shoots with props or a huge party where we oversee everything from decor to catering ideas and make it all fit into one vernacular.

I see you spent some time in Austin for college. Did the eccentricity of Austin inspire you at all to do what you do now?

 I have always been creative, my mom writes poetry and my dad is a landscape architect so it’s in my blood. But Austin is the most bohemian city in Texas! I was in college so I was drunk the first half and then had to get my shit together the next two years. I had two majors- Fine Art specializing in theater and the other in Film. 

 It was the college atmosphere which I loved and I still love,  having that atmosphere of doing things I’ve never done before.  For instance I’m doing a film for Banana Republic now- pushing the boundaries and trying new things. It keeps it fresh and interesting.

 I’m interested in film and theater obviously but I love typography and graphic design too. I love all aspects of creativity. 

 You have such a plethora of intriguing artistic references in your work (Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Bertolucci to name a few). Who are some of your favorites you are constantly inspired by?

Pop art is always a big influence-Ruscha, Baldesarri, simply the pop sensibility. But all types of art influence me like Alberto Burri and his burned tar canvases.

I am inspired by so many types of art- I like working with different periods. There is not a bad style (there are definitely bad artists though!) but stylistically you can do something good with any period- it’s all about your execution and how you make it happen and make it interesting. Bad design can be interesting too- and that works with fashion for the kitsch factor.

The Chris Burden installation at LACMA put a big smile on my face too. It’s not a painting, just a beautiful installation. I like to see the mechanics and how we make things work. We might have a good idea but it’s how you execute it that is most challenging. It may look good on paper but building it is the hard part!

Is there a project that really stands out for you? 

 The party for Hermes to open the New York mens store was really great. We changed all the rooms into themes- with a speak-easy, a loft space, a game room...When you can conceptualize something that a lot of people can enjoy it is gratifying. 

 The fashion thing gave me my start but a lot of those projects are super temporary because it is about creating ambiance on a set for a show or editorial, but to create an environment-  that is an emotional experience for people and that is very satisfying to me. 

That’s interesting because I was about to ask you your thoughts on installations versus shows?

Well it’s challenging. Fashion people have seen a lot of cool things so you want to do something true to the brand, but I think an installation is more interesting some times.

A runway show like Marc, McQueen or Chanel is incredible. But there are so many others that just aren’t great, so they need to do something different where the clothes work in the environment. It doesn’t matter your price line, you can do something cool with an event or installation instead of just a runway show. 

Are there certain trends in set design? If so, what's hot now?

 Maybe not trends but we do similar things for clients like garden sets or distressed walls. Since every brand is so different they are looking to do something out of the box. This goes with viral things for the internet too- they want to create an experience. So I guess that could be a trend. Film is becoming so huge in fashion. It is equally as important as print. 

Prada does an amazing job on their look books, Rem Koolhaas does those.  They make incredible little films.

I love that you worked on the Balenciaga  and Sorolla shows at the Queen Sofia Institute as well as Cartier’s centennial at their headquarters. Will we be seeing you do more museum/installation work in the future?

 I’d like to put it in the mix. You can’t do too many of those things since they are time sensitive. Those jobs have taught me a lot. You are dealing with curators and incredible clothes borrowed from around the world. And then there is the artwork- it is an interesting world to be a part of. It’s very important for the installation to enhance the work and not overtake what they are trying to show. 

 Does it feel more validating when your work is up in a museum for months than on a catwalk for 10 minutes?

Yes, it is nice. It’s great to be able to go back and look at it. I got to take my mom and my friends to Sorolla. They don’t get to go to all the shows or sets I do of course. And I even got to go back and look at it with a fresh eye so that was really interesting for me. 

Where do we find Stefan when he is not working?

I love to go to galleries and museums and I love to travel. I like a big inspirational trip once a year. Last year I went to India and Sri Lanka. 

Do you ever have a reoccurring dream? If so pray tell.

I have a lot of anxiety dreams! That’s the truth. I dream that I’m back in school and haven’t studied. On the other end, sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night and think of an amazing set.

 I just feel very fortunate that I do what I get to do. I get to work with really interesting people, places and materials and I could never do it by myself.  My team is amazing and I want to be inspired by them- so it is a collaborative process. 



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