Member News August 29, 2016
by Lauren Festa
Nikos Georgopoulos, a Greek art director and graphic designer based in London shares a recent design project that blends fashion, technology, science and goodwill, all in an attempt to raise awareness for climate change. Acting as the art director of London College of Fashion and Fashion Space Gallery, Nikos creates the graphic identity of ‘Dress for Our Time’ – the world’s first digital couture dress.
The ‘Dress’ was installed earlier this year at St Pancras International train station and will be on displayed at London’s Science Museum this month. The project was initiated by British Fashion Designer Prof. Helen Storey (Centre for Sustainable Fashion) and focuses in trying to change the way we think and act upon climate change.
Interpreting the station’s setting as a conceptual boarder between Britain and France, the identity is inspired by Check Point Charlie and references boarder crossing signs. In my work, I aim more for a sense of atmosphere. Central to the graphic identity I created for the project, is the triglot responsive logo that I designed.
Dress For Our Time, by artist and designer Helen Storey, is a public art installation project that uses the power of fashion, science and wonder to communicate some of the world’s most complex issues of our time.
The dress itself is made from a tent (which is no longer in useable condition), gifted to the project by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In giving the tent a second life, it gives this public art installation an unbreakable bond to humanity and represents the importance of nurturing and protecting all people and safeguarding generations to come. It is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human and the precarious nature of our existence.
As the gateway to Paris – the city hosting the United Nations Climate Change conference COP 21 – many of the delegates that passed through the station came face to face with the world’s first digital couture dress dedicated to exploring climate change and its human impact.
Tell us how this project got started. Where did the idea come from and how did you realize it?
Well, before I established my eponymous practice here in London, I was the graphic designer and art director of London College of Fashion. As such, I was responsible for the design and the overall aesthetic of publications, exhibition identities as well as printed and digital materials, for London College of Fashion and its various sister organizations, including Fashion Space Gallery and various other creative set ups.
Dress For Our Time creator, Prof. Helen Storey, a former fashion designer, now social artist and designer, is one of London College of Fashion’s leading researchers. She approached me and commissioned me to come up with a visual concept for the graphic identity and visual language of her project. During our first meeting she explained to me the project and she emphasized on the fact that the Dress was made from a decommissioned UN refugee tent that once housed families in a refugee camp in Jordan. She was very passionate about sustainability and climate change and she said that the goal was to create this Dress in order to exhibit it at St Pancreas International train station during the weekend that the United Nations Climate Change conference COP 21 would take place in Paris. Therefore, all of the delegates would be passing through the station and they would see the Dress.
The way I approached the whole thing was that it would be a guerrilla almost site specific installation and as such, if we were to design a visual identity for it, this would also have to be site specific.
During our first site visit at the station in order to figure out what goes where, I overhead a random guy who was walking through the station who said that this glass wall between the station and the Eurostar train is virtually the border between Britain and France. And I suppose that’s where the idea came from. I had recently returned in London from a trip in Berlin where I visited Check Point Charlie, which was the Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. Now it’s a touristic attraction but they have still maintained the sign that read in English, Russian and French: ‘’You are leaving the American sector’.
By interpreting the station’s setting as a conceptual border between Britain and France, I created a polyglot identity that reads the name of the project in English, French and Chinese with the intention to reference uncomfortable badly spaced authoritarian melancholic industrial boarder crossing signs.
Can you tell us about the experience working with the designer and the UN?
Hellen is really an amazing artist and a lovely person to work with. She is so experienced and successful but at the same time she maintains the enthusiasm of a young child and the warmth and kindness of someone who is really familiar to you.
My experience of working with her and her team was absolutely amazing and I very much look forward to working with her again. I do consider myself very lucky to have been able to work on such an amazing project. She was very encouraging and supportive from the beginning and she gave me all of the freedom I needed. At the same time, the whole thing was a very collaborative process really and it was based on mutual respect for each other’s work and ideas.
Of course as you can imagine, working on such a high-profile project with so many different stakeholders involved like the UNHCR, Saint Pancreas International train station and others can be challenging. Communications’ departments, marketing teams and PR advisers; lots of people were involved. But on reflection, everything went well and everyone involved in this endeavor was super nice and very professional and I think it was a wonderful experience.
What is your back story? Schooling? When did you get interested in your field?
I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. Both of my parents are practicing Lawyers and they have established a boutique Law practice in Athens since the late 70s. Both of them though are very artistic and highly educated and as such, they tried to encourage my brother and I to discover what we wanted to do and to actually do it. I am very lucky in that sense because I had the opportunity to have a privileged education and upbringing and the necessary encouragement from my family to pursue my dreams and my aspirations.
I studied Graphic Design and Visual Communication at Vakalo College of Arts (BA, MA) in Athens, and at Camberwell College of Arts (MA) in London, where I conducted practice-based research exploring the relation between Identity and Archives.
I suppose, I’ve always been a creative person. Since I was very young I was writing stories, sketching and writing dialogues for my own comic books, writing songs and lyrics – I still do- deconstruct my cd covers and then create alternative ones by folding the booklet the other way round. I was never really football fun or I wasn’t really interested in cars.
I remember I would go to theatrical performances with my mother every week and she would talk to me about the actors and she would bring to my attention their body language, their tone of voice and the music depending on the scenes. We would read novels together and we would be discussing them. I remember all this with such warmth. My father passed on to me his fascination about great historical figures and orators and so forth. Basically, the love of language and etymological analysis and the importance that it plays the awareness of it and ability to use it in order to communicate.
Through my work, I am always interested in creating a sense of atmosphere and some sort of ideas-based graphic design by employing theoretical, historical and etymological references.
Why graphic design and creating images? Because I felt, and I still do, that graphic design and art direction is a cross-over discipline between many things that I am fundamentally interested in. The idea that I am art directing a pop video and the next day I am creating the graphic identity and visual language for a posh boutique hotel in Santorini is really refreshing.
Why did you feel fashion was a good vehicle to communicate climate change?
I think that Dress For Out Time was a very interesting medium to communicate such a prevalent issue, such as climate change. I feel that when issues like that are being communicated through visual culture and the arts in general resonate better with the vast majority of the audience. I mean if you think about it, most people, including myself, learned about what is going to happen if we don’t take some action through Hollywood movies. So I think that disciplines such as art and design are de facto good vehicles to communicate climate change because they make it relevant.
The same applies to fashion. We all have this idea in our minds that fashion industry is all about beauty and being thin and so on so forth. But at the same time, we are all influenced by it whether we like it or not. On that basis, I thought that the idea of using fashion in its most primitive form in order to communicate climate change was brilliant. Almost avant garde. And hopefully the slightly alluring atmosphere that the graphics contributed to the project might help a little bit too.
Are there plans to take the project to cities abroad?
The first ever physical embodiment of Dress For Our Time was installed at St Pancras International train station in November 2015. Since then, it has been displayed at the United Nations in Geneva, as part of the TEDxPlaceDesNations and it has even been worn by a Malian singer, Rokia Traore, during her performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Currently, is on display at London’s Science Museum and I am sure that Helen will take this project to lots of other European Cities and hopefully to America too!
July was recorded the hottest month ever. Why is more important than ever to be aware of climate change?
Climate change is something that is real and that is happening right now. Being socially aware is fundamentally important. It’s not a matter of ideology or preference in politics really. It’s about taking care of the environment that basically sustain us and our lives. The very term, climate change, is something that we hear all of the time while we go on living our modern lives. So in a sense, it doesn’t mean much to us because it sounds distant or irrelevant or stressful even and we all have so much on our plates. It is a perspective thing but I think it is crucial to be aware of it and you are absolutely right to point this one out.
I saw somewhere the other day an image of a demonstration and there was a guy there who was holding a placket with the message ‘There is no plan(et) B’. And I suppose that this pretty much sums up all of the reasons why we should care more and why we need to engage with the culture of sustainability.
How did you go about designing the graphic branded element for this project?
Well, as mentioned earlier I wanted to create a sense of atmosphere that references Boarder Control signs, marches and demonstrations, bold authoritarian public announcements but at the same time, I wanted to create a visual language that it can resonate within the fashion image and branding or indeed spectacle. So after a lot of research, we managed to find a Latin typeface that looked like the face used at Check Point Charlie and that had the same raw and industrial look and feel. Of course I could have used Spiekerman’s Din or Tobias Frere-Jones’ Interstate typeface. However, I wanted something more brutal and primitive in a way. Something that it was less designed and considered because I wanted to integrate such a feeling into a designed and considered composition and therefore, to create a particular atmosphere; a robust identity through the use and combination of different materials and references.
In an innovative blend of science, art, technology and fashion, how was the project impactful and what can future generations in the industry and not learn from it?
From my perspective, the most important thing that the future generation in the industry can learn from it is that everything is possible through collaboration and respecting one another. The outcome of this project is a public art installation but really there are so many different disciplines and talents who got involved in its preparation and realization that it is astonishing. On that basis, I think that the culture of collaboration and dialogue is fundamentally important in this industry.
I really believe that the project have had a large impact in London and I hope that as Helen takes it on to other places around the world and it’ll get more and more attention.