Interview, 4 July 2017

Meet the London-based creative duo that have some of the world’s most esteemed legacy brands seeking their advice on creative direction, design and branding.

A neatly decorated and carefully furnished apartment in Camden serves as the office for the creative consultancy Campbell-Rey.

The flat is owned by Edinburgh-native Duncan Campbell, who met his partner Charlotte Rey, hailing from Malmö, Sweden, when they both worked as editors for ACNE Paper in Paris a little more than a decade ago. While working in Paris, it didn’t take long before the young duo’s eye for visuals and curation became highly sought after outside of their jobs as editors. As their extra curricular consulting for other brands became overwhelming the two started planning for a life as independents. Today they run their creative consultancy Campbell-Rey out of London and have already been doing work for major heritage brands such as Bentley, Baccarat, Bulgari and Coach.

We caught up with the duo to hear about their past, their visions for the future and what it takes for modern brands to stand out and make their mark in a world of constant noise.

Where did you guys first meet?

– We met in Paris in 2006 working as interns for Acne Studio’s culture publication Acne Paper. In time we became editors, which we were for a few years before we set up our own company Campbell-Rey in the beginning of 2014. Our work has always been grounded in culture and an appreciation of the handmade, as well as a sense of fun and irreverence, but with some variation in the output. We don’t make a huge distinction between creating an interior, a piece of furniture or object, an installation or book or a film or even a new identity for a client, it’s more the approach and our creative universe that runs like a thread throughout our work.

Concept and curation for an exhibition of George Hurrell’s photographs at Museo Mario Testino in Lima, Peru

What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned at Acne Paper?

– Thanks to our background working on Acne Paper in a very small team, we have always been involved with every stage of the creative process. That spirit continues today and when we design, we’re not only thinking about the product, but also about how it will be presented, who will use it, how we will launch it and what the pictures will look like. So for us it’s a holistic approach to design and creation that is instinctive, because we’ve never had the luxury of working in any other way.

How was it juggling your studies and the editorial work at the same time?

– Busy! (laughter) But also very fun and rewarding as we could take what we learned in school and apply it directly in our day-to-day work.

CQP: At what point did you agree to set up your own shop?

– In the end of 2013 we were ready to start something new so we took the leap and set up in the beginning of 2014. We were already consulting with a few other brands so the foundation was already there and felt inspiring and stable enough to walk out upon.

After working with so many successful companies during your time together – what would you say are some of the essential factors that determine a company’s longevity?

Charlotte: – Its authenticity and its organisation. By authenticity we mean passion for the product and the way its created, the story it tells and the world it represents as well as its belief in itself and its fearlessness to constantly work on what’s next. Even a heritage brand should focus on its legacy by focusing on its future rather than leaning back and dwelling on the past. By organisation, we mean execution and attention to detail from start to finish. A concept and an idea is important of course, but if it cannot be expertly formed and shaped into a final result then it really means nothing. Broadly speaking people love beautiful things beautifully presented and to be made to feel special, and this will always lie at the heart of a successful company.

“We want to create things that make the user think, that are made beautifully and that fulfil the purpose for which they were imagined”

Photo: Robbie Lawrence

I read a quote by Duncan from a previous interview where you said: “If something is cool then by definition it will be uncool one day. If it’s good, then it can be good forever.” Are there enough up-and-coming brands who take this philosophy into consideration when building their identity?

Duncan: – I think we’re lucky enough to work in a situation where we are often given a lot of freedom by clients to answer the question that we’re presented with. As Charlotte said earlier, the output may vary, but we would like to think there is a sensitivity and perhaps a wit to the work that is continuous. The idea of something being cool doesn’t really occur to us on a day-to-day basis. We want to create things that make the user think, that are made beautifully and that fulfil the purpose for which they were imagined, but the idea of grabbing on to the zeitgeist as it rushes past is not our thing. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that – by their very nature, many young brands, especially ones that have raised capital and have to see significant returns, need to tap into what’s happening in the consciousness at that moment. But I think personally we would be much prouder if something we had designed in 2017 was considered a classic 20 years later.

Where do you find inspiration outside of work?

Charlotte: – We take a lot of inspiration from our travels and by making the effort to seek out, find and visit what we believe are interesting things to see. Houses, museums, gardens, galleries, extraordinary people, buildings, parks, sculptures, restaurants and hotels. I think we’re very drawn to experiences, places that really transport you and that are singular in their expression, but that feel friendly and elevated. Places you want to spend time in and have long evenings in, or places that were built for a certain purpose or with a unique point of view in design or in use.

Concept and creative direction for Bentley’s first arts initiative, exhibited at Design Miami 2014

“We take a lot of inspiration from our travels and by making the effort to seek out, find and visit what we believe are interesting things to see”

With so many consultancies around today, especially in London where you are based – could you name three traits a modern firm needs to have in order to remain on top.

Duncan: – I guess it depends on how you measure success. As we’re part of a time where the creative industries are becoming more and more interdisciplinary, it’s difficult to define what makes one more successful than the other as we are generally moving towards a more collaborative approach rather than a competitive one.

Charlotte: – Flexibility would definitely be something we feel is important, to have the ability to respond to the market and the fact that our industry is in a constant state of flux. At the same time, this is balanced by the need for a consistent point of view. Of course each new job will present new challenges, but we think it’s important that the work has a point of view that you can build on and evolve as an agency, but that has a coherent ethos at its core.

You’ve just launched your own first furniture line at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, can you tell us about the decision to venture into design?

Duncan: – We work as a creative consultancy and a design partnership. On the consultancy side we work with brands that often have a craftsmanship aspect to them on creative direction, design, curation and storytelling. On the design side we create objects, products and experiences commissioned by clients and so it came quite naturally. Our first furniture collection under our own name consists of three two-tone marble tables on brass legs, which are available to buy on 1stdibs.com.

Charlotte: – In 2015, we wrote a book about the value of contemporary craftsmanship which was published by Gestalten, and last year many roads convened and we started to think more about designing physical objects ourselves and received a few commissions on the back of that. We have always been fascinated by materiality, and the allure of the handmade so it felt like a natural progression for us to take what we had learned working for other people and apply it to designing for ourselves.
Duncan: – Our first design commission was a punch bowl for the Punch Room bar at the London EDITION Hotel, which we launched during the London Design Biennale. The design took as its starting point the five original ingredients of punch, and then we formulated the interplay of the forms and colours with a resin caster here in London and a glass company in Murano called Laguna B. After that, in November 2016, we worked on the trophy for the Elton John AIDS Foundation ceremony for their Enduring Vision Award in partnership with Bulgari, which was a play on the symbolic red ribbon and an infinity curve cast in silver plated metal (as the original Bulgari was a silversmith) standing on a cube of Carrara marble. The recipient of the award this year was the Secretary General of the UN, Ban-Ki Moon, which was really cool!
Charlotte: – For the holiday season 2016, we designed a limited edition Christmas gift for American furniture e-commerce company 1stdibs, which was an irregular-shaped interlocking salt and pepper holder in glass in two colours, inspired by how beautifully interlocking Art Deco door handles slide into two but look uniform when the doors are closed. These were also manufactured in Murano by Laguna B.

The Thierry Table Collection by Campbell-Rey. Photo: Rebecca Reid

What is currently in the pipeline for Campbell-Rey?

Duncan: – We’re continuing to explore glass as a medium with Laguna B as well as working on some more tabletop objects that will be for sale on our 1stdibs.com store. We have also started to develop a capsule collection of lighting that we plan to launch towards the end of the year. We’re working on our first retail space in London’s Marylebone, which will open in September, and collaborating with an Italian mosaic brand as well as working on a few projects for London Design Biennale.

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