Rob O’Connor’s Stylorouge inventive studio can arguably boast the most important pop portfolio of purchasers we’ve ever explored in Traditional Pop journal. From Meatloaf to Morrissey and Bowie to Barlow, we meet the person to speak 4 a long time years of pop, design, music and mischief. By Andrew Dineley
Established by graphic designer Rob O’Connor in 1981, Stylorouge is notable for creating file sleeve designs for an eclectic mixture of musicians together with Blur, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Sandie Shaw, Squeeze, Adam Ant, Crowded Home, Dr John and Easy Minds.
“After ending artwork programs in Coventry and Brighton within the late-70s I started working for a small design company in Brighton,” says Rob. “It was actually unglamorous work nevertheless it was good self-discipline and I realized extra about drawing, typography and layouts and acquired a great all spherical concept about industrial design.
“I knew I needed to work on file sleeves and inside a 12 months of working on the company, I used to be fortunate to be supplied a job with Polydor as certainly one of their in-house designers… Lots of the bands have been signed to Polydor in order that they appeared like a great match for me.”
Your first cowl design was for John Otway’s 1979 album The place Did I Go Proper? You chronicle the humorous story of its creation in your e book Scrumptious: The Design and Artwork Route of Stylorouge which was printed to rejoice your first 30 years of design within the music trade. It actually was a baptism of fireside for you, wasn’t it?
Oh sure! While you’re within the artwork division of a file firm you get to work on a lot stuff and study to chunk your lip and get on with it. There was plenty of variety, from Kirsty MacColl to Sham 69, and even promoting for James Final and John Travolta. I’m equally fascinated by the obscure artists, who after all of the funding, hype and inventive course, nonetheless by no means managed to interrupt by way of.
French electro-balladeer Ronny is a good instance – a darling of the New Romantic period who by no means lived as much as her potential. I actually loved that period. She was championed by Rusty Egan. He and I acquired on very effectively, he appreciated what we have been doing, we additionally redesigned the identification for The Camden Palace, the large nightclub he opened up with Steve Unusual after Blitz Membership.
It was an extremely busy time and I realised I’d want to depart Polydor to arrange my very own studio if I used to be going to have the ability to settle for bigger initiatives with purchasers away from the label.
I created Stylorouge by myself however inside six months the workforce had grown to 4. I knew that there was the potential to develop the enterprise, so the title Stylorouge was good because it wasn’t my title and it fitted in with the entire New Romantic French factor which was well-liked.
I virtually requested Ronny to file our answerphone message for us! I just like the thriller of it, lots of people at the moment have been working beneath mysterious nom de plumes and it was vaguely political with its pink reference.
Initially we have been primarily based in a extremely small studio house which was principally superb when working with The Creatures on issues like their Wild Issues EP as there was solely Siouxsie and Budgie nevertheless it acquired foolish when all 4 members of The Passions needed to come back in to speak about design. Then we might decamp to the pub, not very conducive actually. Not lengthy after that we moved to a much bigger house.
Round that point you labored with George Michael for the primary time, when he was with Wham! I perceive it was additionally you that added that exclamation mark to their title. What’s the story behind that 1983 sleeve design for Unhealthy Boys?
It’s such a easy cowl nevertheless it took a very long time, we did it 3 times. The primary shoot was of George and Andrew escaping down an alleyway, wanting like dangerous boys.
It was a bit like that opening scene in Trainspotting really, which individuals could not know we additionally did the design for. We used these dangerous boy photographs of George and Andrew however they didn’t like them, so we did a reshoot with Eric Watson of them as leather-based boys.
It regarded good however Eric left the entire photoshoot in a taxi when he was bringing them over to me. All we had left have been the clip checks and as a lot as we tried, it by no means actually labored, so we used a shot from a 3rd session with Chris Craymer and that was what turned that iconic picture of them leaning again to again.
George was at all times actually hands-on, once I labored with him afterward together with his first solo album Religion he would mark up the pictures to point out what he needed to be retouched up. We additionally designed dozens of various icons for the Religion sleeve, then he got here in in the future and mentioned “I’ve been engaged on this myself and these are the 5 I like”.
For him they represented religion, music, cash, fame and love, I believe. He was additionally insistent that there must be no lettering on the quilt however after the preliminary run Sony added his title and the title.
You additionally labored with Alison Moyet for fairly some time, one other artist identified for being forthright. How was your working relationship along with her?
We have been there virtually from the beginning with Alison, she’d had one single and she or he didn’t like the quilt. She needed one thing easier, so we created a looser look with that hand-drawn emblem.
I labored with the photographer Simon Fowler on the quilt of the primary album, Alf, we created the look of a barn within the studio with some outdated movie props and we lit it with blue lights and smoke.
It regarded nice and we acquired plenty of photographs to make use of throughout the marketing campaign. We did the observe up album, too, Raindancing and all of the singles off it. Alison rapidly uninterested in being a mainstream pop star and was already eager to insurgent in opposition to the foremost file firm she’d signed to after leaving the indie label, Mute, with Yazoo.
She needed to be actually subversive and name the second album Watersports which was actually humorous and we even acquired so far as a midnight picture session along with her, underwater at The Sanctuary Spa in Covent Backyard.
Once more, the file firm wouldn’t give in, so we managed to get a much less controversial moist reference in there with the eventual title, Raindancing.
Most designers on the time had a signature ‘home model’, an aesthetic that immediately distinguished their work. The one thematic model that runs by way of your work is the usage of lovely calligraphy and hand rendering…
I’ve at all times loved calligraphy and nonetheless do it now given the prospect. We have been on a roll again then although. Lots of artists needed their picture to have some character. They needed to face out from the mass produced, so utilizing hand-lettering was a great way of attaining it.
One other artist you started working with as a solo artist was Adam Ant. What was the inventive relationship like with him?
He was extraordinarily concerned with all the pieces. We labored with him across the time of the Vive Le Rock album in 1985. He was away on tour and he’d additionally taken on a theatre position, so he was fairly distracted. He’s an actual character and actually revered that his artwork was in our palms.
He would ship us postcards to see how issues have been going. He wore pink PVC chaps on that Vive Le Rock cowl that we acquired Nick Knight to shoot. It was a little bit of a style and graphic reinvention for him actually and plenty of enjoyable.
Squeeze is a band that you just’ve labored with for a very long time, beginning manner again in 1985…
I nonetheless see them so much. Their lyrics are sometimes humorous and tongue in cheek however visually it’s vital to keep away from making them seem like a comedy band and that may be robust.
For his or her new album we’re engaged on one thing intentionally severe to replicate the darker themes of in the present day that run by way of the tracks. They’ve been speaking about artwork that’s fairly sombre and darkish and I’m attempting to drag them again a bit. It’s at all times an attention-grabbing negotiation.
I actually loved engaged on their Cradle To The Grave album in 2015. It was primarily based on a TV present by Danny Baker – an interesting and humorous statement of rising up within the 60s and 70s. The tales actually colored the design course. We went for a barely psychedelic look that referenced the work of Tadanori Yokoo whose work I really like. Mark Higenbottam has labored with me for years right here, and he did an important job on the imagery.
Because the 80s was coming to an in depth you labored with Tears For Fears on their extravagant The Seeds of Love opus and its singles. How was that relationship?
This album infamously took the band 4 years to finish and it felt like the quilt took virtually as lengthy! Roland Orzabal had it in his head that it could be his Sgt. Pepper’s second, it was at all times going to be epic.
I can solely take a part of the credit score as a result of there have been so many individuals concerned. In addition to Roland’s appreciable course, we had a photographer, set builders, stylists, so many individuals.
An ornate set was constructed that we visited for 2 weeks, taking pictures numerous individuals and props that have been all used for the marketing campaign and different singles. I nonetheless actually love this, they have been an important collection of sleeves.
There was additionally a spin-off single by the band round that point, anonymously credited to Johnny Panic And The Bible Of Desires, and we labored on the sleeve and video course for that as effectively.
There actually will be no different design studio within the nation that may boast such an enormous pop portfolio as Stylorouge. Inevitably we’ll have to depart out a lot notable work, however we will’t overlook your design and artwork course for Blur that started in 1990 with their emblem and the primary single She’s So Excessive.
We had a few of our most enjoyable in conferences with Blur, the band have been often concerned with the design nevertheless it was at all times Damon Albarn who known as the photographs. After we created that Blur emblem, it was simply earlier than we began counting on computer systems so we labored on a whole lot of variations, principally by hand.
Blur have been attention-grabbing as a result of they didn’t actually match any model, so the design wasn’t imagined to both. They have been type of dishevelled, sort of pop and somewhat bit rock.
We tried to make them seem like every other product than music, and to emphasize their Britishness, which we principally succeeded with, however the first picture we labored with was that well-known Mel Ramos woman and hippo portray. From then on we did maintain it sort of British, it was at all times all very cheeky and playful.
I believe certainly one of my favorite Blur sleeves is Trendy Life Is Garbage, the steam prepare sort of represented a downfall of requirements in Britain. I got here throughout a card in my newsagents and we obtained the rights to make use of it. It labored properly with that 50s Pageant of Britain typography.
It’s unlikely that anybody studying this gained’t have your work of their music assortment. Is it attainable so that you can decide a private favorite?
The Banshees’ Juju album nonetheless stands out for me from 1981. I made one thing from nothing actually. It was actually an African Juju masks, a ritualistic doll created from ebony that we utilized in destructive so it seems gold. I needed it to seem like a 50s catalogue of artefacts however the band didn’t go for that. They did love the Dada nature of the cut-up music rating I used as a collage although.
I believe it’s nonetheless my favorite album of theirs, all of the singles have been nice and I loved designing them. Nevertheless, it is vitally onerous to choose a favorite although.
There are tales and experiences I’ll always remember behind virtually each sleeve I’ve ever labored on.
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