President and Creative Director, James Benard, offers his take on everything from design to his go-to NYC hidden gem.
Describe your style in three words.
JB: Fabian meets Raphael. That is Fabian Baron the the art director (Interview) and Raphael the divinely inspired Renaissance painter. A very high mark to achieve but something to aspire to.
Did you always know you wanted to open your own creative agency one day?
JB: When I was a kid I would tape up fashion ads from magazines all over my room. I was fully aware that they were contrivances using models and sets, but that only made me buy into the fantasy all the more. There was a part of me that was always interested in being behind the camera.
Drink of choice?
JB: Gunpowder green tea.
What are you currently reading?
JB: The Luxury Strategy by Kapferer and Bastien
Favorite Pantone Color?
JB: Precision Yellow and Reflex Blue. These are both mixing colors, meaning that they are the pure pigments that are blended together to make the formulas with the numbers. I love these colors for their richness, but also for their names - how brilliant are the words Precision Yellow and Reflex Blue?
Where is your go-to NYC hidden gem?
JB: Kappo Masa. An underground Japanese restaurant on upper Madison Avenue below Gagosian. It's better if you go with a light appetite and full wallet.
Who inspires you the most?
JB: Children and very old people. I like the fringes.
Where can we find you off-duty?
JB: At the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I live 2 blocks away so I'm there often. My aim is to memorize the Collection, but it's proven challenging. Only one third of it is on display at any given time, and they change it up very often. You might also find me practicing yoga with my girlfriend Elena Brower. Elena and the Met; grateful for good company.
Which project will you always remember?
JB: The brand new Tiffany's packaging that just launched worldwide! It features an embossed interlocking T pattern. I get a charge seeing the iconic blue bags walking down Fifth Avenue. There is a room at The Met that features the jewelry work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (the founder's impresario son). Humbled by his achievements, I'm proud to stand in his long shadow.
What's your best advice to aspiring creative directors?
JB: I have a short list.
1. Pick up the phone and sell, and ask for what you want. You are only as good as the projects you do - and no one is going to give you anything if you don't ask for it.
2. Never turn down work because you're intimidated by it. Some jobs push us out of our comfort zone. They might be too big, too fast, require a skill set that we haven't yet mastered, or take too much time given your current workload. Take the work, make the commitment, and then figure it out. There's always a way. The times that I've been pushed to my edge are when I've learned the most.
3. Remember that you're an artist first. If a project inspires you and there is no money in it, work for free. Commerce is drawn to artistry - not the other way around. The money will find you if you love what you do. But have a balance too - don't do it all for free.
I can't live without my _________.
JB: I don't really like "things". A few years back I gave away everything I owned (except my suits). I felt weighed down by material objects and starting over was liberating. All I really need is my eyes, I take great pleasure in looking. Actually, there is one; I can't live without Kevin Sullivan. He is my lead designer. Love him!!!!
Where is your next destination?
JB: I will be in Istanbul next week. Watch out Hagia Sophia, here I come!
If you could spend one day with any artist dead or alive who would it be and why?
JB: This will be a surprise because no one knows about this guy - Abott Suger (1081-1151). He single handedly invented the Gothic style. He was a cultured and charming religious figure who was the friend and confidant of the French kings. This man is highly underrated in the word of design.
He oversaw the reconstruction of the Church of Saint Denis in the north of Paris (the burial place of the royal families). In that one building, he (and an unknown mason) invented and executed the pointed arch, the rib vault, and the flying buttress - which allowed for opened spaces and big stained glass windows. The innovations created a light, airy style that flourished for the ensuing 500 years.
I would love to talk to this guy about how he got the kings to trust him to take such huge risks on such an important structure. There was no proof that what he wanted to do would work. He must have been one hell of a talker. Probably as good a salesman as he was a designer.
What does luxury mean to you?
JB: 'Super premium' means that there is a correlation between the cost of the product and the features that the product offers. In the world of 'luxury,' cost comes out of the equation - it isn't important. Luxury is really about time. If you are taking time on a yacht, beach to beach, without worrying about money, food, obligations - that's true luxury. For me luxury is more about lifestyle than product.
One design faux pas you wish would go away?
JB: The typeface 'Trajan.' because it's hopelessly over-used. The new Star Wars movie poster, Rogue One, uses Trajan. I keep waiting for the face to become dated, but it doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon.