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Featured within the pages of well-respected magazines, feature films, and industry projects, Florence Deygas and Olivier Kuntzel have forged an unmatched bond as one of the most prolific graphic design duos in France. Both French designers have been developing out-of-the-box ideas for well over a decade, but as of late they’ve become key figures in the rapidly growing merger between street fashion and playful yet sophisticated design. We had the honorable opportunity to catch up with Kuntzel + Deygas at the pair’s studio in Paris for a chat regarding their past endeavors, current works, and what the future has in store.
Interview: L. Ruano
Interview with Olivier Kuntzel & Florence Deygas
Greetings Olivier and Florence. Can you please tell us a bit about yourselves and your professional background?
We’re Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Deygas, narrative designers. Between the two of us, we’re educated in visual arts for communication and classic movie animation respectively.
Florence: Our atelier is in Paris and is a large tool box with both digital and analog tools. All of our creations start with drawings by Olivier and I. These drawings can just stay as a sketch idea or be the final result of a creation, but it all starts with a hand drawing on paper. Then we work with our crew on computers to make the idea take form into a title sequence, pictures, and design applied on product.
How large is the crew in Paris?
We can host a crew of 8 to 12 freelancers, but it all depends on our current project which sometimes requires various different talents such as graphic designers, CG, filmers and photographers.
Paris has a rich heritage in fashion/fashion design. How do the graphic arts compare to the reception brought from that of fashion?
Florence: It seems like the fashion industry is re-discovering the power of graphic creations. Most of all, visual artists are more hidden behind their creations. The strength of the creation comes from the attitude of the visual creator and because of this, it is similar to the fashion industry who understands how important the fashion designer.
What recent fashion projects have you been involved in?
We recently had strong connections with Azzaro Couture and our story of “Beauty & Beast” was integrated in the collection by Vanessa Seward. For us, graphic creation is meant to be a narrative. To develop a story, in place of making a feature film or publishing a book, or any other media with a beginning, an end, and some conventions on rhythm and format. We like to search for less conventional ways to reach an audience. That’s why we focus on characters, because we can make various creations on various media platforms with them and the whole is drawing an infinite story. This story, you can submerge yourself by the middle or the end, then discover the beginning, it’s not important where you start. The most interesting aspect is to bring “fiction” into reality. So, there’s nothing better than products, objects, stuff you have with you. Our work is to bring life to objects by having our characters crossing paths with reality, and we need reality to incarnate our fiction to empower them. It’s not so far from religion, how the myth and reality needs one another.
Its interesting to hear you speak about creating characters to tell stories. How did the creation of Caperino & Peperone come to fruition?
Florence: We recently realized that our character creations were often pairs and duets. Probably because we are ourselves are a sort of a “pair”. But also possibly because this is typically a French attitude of “thesis vs antithesis”. It’s part of our French curiosity and love for “conversations” and dialogue. When one part of the pair says something, the other brings another vision of the same topic, not to fight, but to open the door to unexpected ideas and to help further develop the idea.
Caperino & Peperone were born to fit this need of conversation. They are a graphic pretext to make dialogues. Sometimes dialogues with words, sometimes abstract dialogues with “silent stories”, and expressing feelings only with the help of visuals. We consider them as “characters” in the typographic mean, like letter “a” and letter “b” always read “a” or “b” in whatever font is dressing them up (using Gothic font or Helvetica gives a twist to the reading, but the reading stays the same). The same with Cap&Pep, we can distort them to abstract shapes, make them as luxury Hi-Fi sculptures or use them as simple print on a t-shirt, they tell the same story but the interesting thing is the new feel that is created by the unexpected use of Cap&Pep. They have been created without any master plan and grew organically. Sarah at colette knew the concept behind them and she pushed us to make something visible. She offered us this great visibility at colette by opening up her website, then the shop and collaboration on products. But I know she wanted us to go further and publish the stories we have written on a large scale!
I was going to ask you about that actually. How did you two begin working with colette?
Florence: Sorry, but I will give you the full story…
In 1998, we had directed a full advertising campaign for an Yves Saint Laurent fragrance for men, “Live Jazz”. It was very unusual that underground directors were commissioned, YSL campaigns were mostly directed by Mondino or David Lynch. It seems like the YSL people had seen and loved some music videos we had directed for the Sparks band (from Los Angeles) and Dimitri from Paris. For the TV commercial we had the idea to involve in the casting not only models but real personalities, that in our mind would carry the feeling of contemporary and young “Jazz”. And among them, we involved Hiromix , the Japanese photographer, who appeared in the commercial as herself, taking snapshots. Then YSL people invited Hiromix to participate in a photoshoot to celebrate the 40 years of creation and history of Monsieur Saint Laurent, and offered me to follow this photo session and make a kind of “making-of” with my drawings. This making of became a book that was sold at colette who contacted me for an exhibition of the drawings. At that time we were finalizing our short movie “Winney” with Olivier and when Sarah discovered it at our workplace she proposed us a large Winney exhibition at colette for Christmas 1999. It was a huge party of 2000 guests and a most exciting event. The whole store was Winney-related, from windows to galleries to water bar, not a wall without Winney. And all the goodies that were produced were subsequently sold out.
Wow. So its been a pretty long-standing relationship with Sarah (colette). What has been your favorite joint project thus far?
Florence: Each project was a pretty fun development, Winney, Cap&Pep, Com-pet… The idea of a favorite project is not the point, but rather a favorite relationship is! With Sarah and her mum colette, we always have a feeling that all is possible, because they can decide by themselves. We once had the same feeling when we worked on the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch Me If You Can”, because all of it was so unexpectedly easy. We assume this is because he is his own producer and can decide by himself. The decision process was short and fast, as with Colette and Sarah. We love the independence given to us and we respect the hard work they do, always with a smile on their face.
Its always great to hear stories like that. You mentioned working on the film “Catch Me If You Can”. What was your role within the film and do you two do a good amount of film projects?
Florence: We created the whole opening title sequence of this film. Since then, we’ve created other opening title sequences for other movies on various occasions. We like it very much, another way to tell “silent stories” and connect action and typography. We created the sequence for the Pink Panther by Shaun Levy, but the work can only be seen on the DVD. Our most special piece was created for an art project by Tobias Rehberger, a German conceptual artist whose art piece was a deconstructed movie, built by reversing the usual process of making a movie which involves starting with the title sequence and ending with the script. We had to invent a title sequence without knowing the artist list. The music was great as well and specially composed by Ennio Morricone.
Another interesting project was the SOUNDSHOP piece. Can you tell us a bit of your involvement in that?
Florence: Olivier has been very interested in Hi-Fi for a long time. Our atelier is hooked up with a lot of vintage JBL. Vintage Hi-Fi is interesting because it has some rare components that are no longer in use, and their use provides a special style of sound. Our place is quite large so we can listen the sound quite loud and that’s when we discovered the sensory power of the air and the bass pulsing in the room. Contemporary Hi-Fi has very interesting products and developments as well, despite the world of contemporary, the Hi-Fi world is really old school and boring. That’s probably the reason why art had abandoned this segment! We realized that high-end Hi-Fi today is a luxury that can still bring a maximum sensation. Driving a fast sports car is less and less possible because driving really fast is largely outlawed, but you can listen to music really loud on your Hi-Fi without restrictions! So we started to use the Hi-Fi codes in our works and transcended them in different ways. Sarah knew our knowledge and our extensive research so she offered a chance for Olivier to curate a part of the selection of the SoundShop. Olivier has connected with some interesting brands such as Piega from Switzerland and Feastrex from Japan (for speakers) as well as the Japanese amplifier brand Flying Mole.
But most of all we took the opportunity to present our two acoustic sculptures. The first one “Caperino & Peperone hHute Fidelite” is a huge system including wide band speakers, subwoofers, 1 stereo and 2 mono amplifiers, 1 pre-amplifier… all in the shape of Cap&Pep on giant bones. The Cap&Pep design was created to maximize the Hi-Fi quality. Their size and posture was worked to fit with the sound. The second sculpture is a little easier to display, it’s a pair of wide band speakers, looking like two free-standing humans. They look similar but are a bit different and they give the illusion of being living creatures. Their body is made of classic waxed walnut, and the speaker in their face is a Feastrex. For us, its not just an industrial object, its a piece of art. We don’t know precisely where this work will lead us, and that’s what we like!
With so much involvement with music, I’m curious to know what type of music you and Olivier personally enjoy?
Florence: Our favorites include: Chicago House (Darryl Pandy, Frankie Knuckles, Farley Jackmaster Funk) which is not so far from Steve Reich’s repetitive music (music for 18 musician). But more and more now we listen to Roedelius, Moebius from Cluster, Brian Eno, Erik Satie the Italian Piero Umiliani and our friends Etienne Charry and Bertrand Burgalat.
Music and fashion tend to go hand in hand quite a bit. With Paris being such a fashion mecca, what are some of your favorite brands?
Olivier: I like Martin Margiela sneakers, Lanvin, Issey Miyake, and Y’s.
Florence: I like Azzaro, COMME des GARCONS, Golden Goose, Repetto, vintage Leonard, and Balmain.
I enjoy some those as well, haha. With the year coming to a close and so many projects already complete, what can we expect from K + D for the rest of 2009 and heading into 2010?
Florence: Indeed, that is a bit a surprise that we had this many projects that launched in 2009. After a stop in October 2008, the financial crisis accelerated things and made the relationships more fluid with less time wasteful. That’s maybe why we had so many opportunities for creative projects. Our most recent was the Azzaro collection with special “cats” drawings by Florence, embroidered on dresses and an exhibition at Magazine Alive in Tokyo for Vogue Nippon’s 10th anniversary. To conclude the year, in December we’re releasing some exclusive products for Joyce Hong Kong as part of their Christmas festivities.
Still some good stuff to look forward to for 2009. Thanks so much for your time! Are there any last words?
Things are sometimes periodical. Sometimes up, sometimes down. The essential part is to have pleasure while working because it is the only transferable thing (which I was reminded recently of by readings involving William Morris). Thank you very much Luis, that was a very interesting and lively interview!