Pierre Christophe, Art Director & Designer
What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Chantilly (France), by a Cameroonian diplomat father and a Tchadian/Egyptian mother. Having trained as an interior architect at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and Central Saint Martins in London, I mainly work now as an art director specialising in branding for the fashion and lifestyle sectors. My creations draw from my rich multi-cultural heritage and my clients have included Margiela, Kenzo, Les Galleries Lafayettes, Cartier and Izmaylova. In addition, I am the founder and director of Afro-Polis, a cultural platform exploring the modern African cultural landscape, and the Director of development and strategy of the Foundation Gacha, a social and cultural NGO, based in Cameroon.
How did you get started in your field of expertise?
Since the age of four, I knew that I wanted to become a designer. I can still to this day remember that evening over dinner, when my father asked my sister and I what job we will want to do as adult. My sister said a lawyer and I said an architect and as strange as it may seem, we both remained faithful to our dreams and fulfilled them… Growing up, I was fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci. I loved the fact that during his time, he had been able to explore and engage himself in so many different intellectual and artistic fields, with the same level of exigency. Far from me the idea to suggest that I am anyway close to that genius, but I too believe that this is how one should explore his intellectual/creative journey. What I love is to CREATE and it doesn’t really matter to me if what I design is a space, a product, an image or an event. I initially started working as an interior architect for several fashion brands (Margiela, Kenzo, Smalto and Galerie Lafayette), working on store design and creative merchandising projects. Then after a stint in Asia, as an event art director for Emotion (a division of Publicis), I moved back in London and started taking on projects as an art director for the fashion, music and lifestyle sector.
What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?
I have been quite lucky, in the sense that I got offered responsibility quickly in very in demanding companies. The only difficulty I ever faced lied in the fact that I have always been reluctant to pigeonhole myself into one category. My love for architecture is equal to the one I have for graphic design, photography, fashion and product design. I am kind of a one-man orchestra, and it is often at first difficult for some of my clients, to appreciate how versatile my skills are.
Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?
There are a lot of things that I connect with design-wise, but my main source of inspiration are African and Asian cultures. I am heavily inspired by Africa. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of avid travelers. Every summer, my parents were introducing my siblings and I to a new African country. These trips and further studies throughout the years, have allowed me to develop a very intimate, but accurate appreciation for the continent, its arts, cultures and traditions. Africa possesses a very powerful and dynamic cultural repertoire, and I love exploring it through my work. I am also very passionate about Asian cultures. I am the total 80’s kid. I grew up in French being fed by Japanese animes, mangas, and Chinese kung fu movies. This has left a strong impression on me. Apart from these two specifics, I take inspiration from pretty much everything. My life, encounters, travels, reading and so on.
What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?
It’s hard for me to choose, as I honestly give myself 100 per cent in each project I do. It’s like choosing between your children. That said, I often tend to like my last project more than the one before, therefore I will have to say that my favorite project is my next one.
What would be your dream job or project?
Helping to shape stories and experiences that are both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually nurturing. For me the packaging is just as if not more important than the content and I love the idea of getting involved in creating narratives that will impact positively on the public vision of the world and of themselves. I have set up a cultural organisation called Afro-Polis, in order to do just that. Its aim is to create a multi-dimensional exploration and critical discovery of Africa’s cultural DNA by fostering a participatory forum via events, talks and exhibitions as well as a bi-annual journal.
Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.
My little brother Nathanael Gam. Beside of the fact that he is family, he and his wife have set up an exquisite fashion label called Izmaylova. They specialise in high-end women’s ready-to-wear fashion. All the garments are produced in the UK. The brand is quite successful in the US, China and Russia. They set up the label three years ago, at 23 years old, while they were still students at the Central Saint Martin’s. It is a wonderful story of hard work, passion and talent and I am very proud of them.
What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Follow your dreams and live your passions. Life is about exploration, growth and learning. There is no such thing as failure, but only meaningful experiences that will guide your path for years to come. My father always used to say that an idiot who walks will always goes further than a wise man that remains seated. It is by doing that things are done and the truth is that preparation, humility and consistent hard work always pays. Conclusion: as the famous sport equipment brand says ‘just do it’! Only remember to be open to life and the opportunities that it will bring on your way. Life is a blessing and we are privileged to be involved in the business of creating dreams…
What’s next for you?
I am doing several projects at the moment, but one of my main focus is on Afro-Polis as I am currently working on a series of very exciting events scheduled to take place throughout the year. The first one is called ’Le Salon by Afro-Polis’. Inspired by the French Salons of the 19th century, that were centres of intellectual exchange, responsible for the dissemination of cultural and revolutionary ideas, Le Salon by Afro-Polis will be an innovative new event combining African gastronomy with contemporary Art. Popping up in Knightsbridge this spring, the A-P Salon will take guests on an unforgettable creative culinary journey into the minds of Africa’s most innovative talents. Each month, a contemporary artist whose production reflects on the continent’s vast and diverse cultural experience, will be invited to share his vision, with us. Le Salon will offer through tailored menus (inspired by the work of the guest artist), Art and scenography, an holistic and multi-sensorial exploration of the fundamental, social and intellectual content behind his production. We will be hosting two dinners per month dates and booking info can be found on the Afro-Polis Facebook page. The second big thing will be a five-days festival, which will take place this October, in London alongside the Frieze Art fair and will then travel to Paris (October), Cape-Town (November) and Lagos, in Nigeria (December). Encompassing an exhibition space, a cinema, a concert venue, an ethical boutique, a library, a restaurant and a café, this event will provide a 360° journey into the current African cultural renaissance, fusing live performances, movie screenings, conferences, workshops, food tasting and much more. I am very excited about both events as they will I believe impact positively on the public understanding of the current African cultural renaissance.
Jean Paul Gaultier: Be My Guest. This satellite exhibition at Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, presents Jean Paul Gaultier’s graphic design work for the first time. Dating from the early 1980s to now, pieces include the couturier’s unique and dynamic designs for invitations to haute couture and prêt-à-porter shows, as well as his iconic advertising campaigns. The imagery traces a trajectory through the evolution of his work and reveals the themes and concepts which led to his long-standing reputation as fashion’s enfant terrible. Runs until 31 May. For more information visit www.fashionspacegallery.com
Their Spirits. This exhibition by the acclaimed Jamaican artist Laura Facey explores not just the indescribable cruelty of slavery but also the transcendent nature of the human spirit, through a number of artworks. At the heart of the exhibition is ‘Their Spirits Gone Before Them’, 2006; a cottonwood canoe, floating on dried sugar cane. Inside the canoe are 1,357 resin miniatures of ‘Redemption Song’, a monument which stands at the ceremonial entrance to Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica. Runs until 7 September 2014 at International Slavery Museum, Liverpool waterfront, Liverpool L3 4AX. For more information visit www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
St. Lucia Jazz Festival. Revamped, redesigned and with a broadened artistic direction, the Caribbean’s premier cultural event — the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival — will attract thousands to Simply Beautiful Saint Lucia. Cultural enthusiasts, festival lovers and music aficionados will be wooed by over 50 world-acclaimed entertainers and artisans over the 12-day festival. Performances will be set against the iconic and historic Pigeon Island National Landmark backdrop, along with other scenic vistas across Saint Lucia, showcasing an innovative infusion of Music and Arts designed to highlight the island’s rich historic and cultural legacy. Runs from 30 April – 11 May 2014. For more information visit www.stluciajazz.org
Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things. A celebration of 36 ordinary objects that have revolutionised the way we live. A ‘hidden hero’ could be anything – a light bulb, an adhesive bandage or a zipper. It is an ordinary object, used by people all over the world based on an ingenious, yet easily comprehensible idea. It is produced a billion times over and constitutes an indispensable fixture of daily life. Organised by the Vitra Design Museum it will be on view until 11 May 2014 at MODA (Museum of Design Atlanta). For more information visit www.museumofdesign.org
Dak’Art the major contemporary art event in Africa, will take place from May 9 to June 8, 2014 in Dakar, Senegal and will gather many artists and visual art professionals from Africa and the world. Curators for this edition are Elise Atangana, Abdelkader Damani and Smooth Ugochukwu Nzewi. For more info visit www.biennaledakar.org
If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.