Halima Olalemi reveals how Art Direction’s pop years are still helping shape the future of brand language
Halima (Ad Archives)
How are you Halima, what’s going on?
I’m good! We’re on set at my first Ad Archives shoot and I’m really excited! Everyone’s been working hard and referring back to the mood board which is great because I really want to push the inspiration. I don’t want people to think ‘Oh, Hali’s just recreating ads’, so it’s nice that everyone’s taken that onboard!
So what are we witnessing here? What are you making?
I’m producing a shoot. It’s going to be a set of advertorials in Ad Archive’s first publication. It’s something I wanted to do because advertising, for me, isn’t futuristic enough, it doesn’t really push the boat, so for my publication I wanted to look to the future. Working with Donnika, our stylist, has been really eye-opening because she’s introduced me to brands and students that I wouldn’t have usually worked with. Instead of working just with known names we’re giving everyone a chance to get their name out there. That’s been a really good part of the process.
It’s amazing [for @adarchives] to have been going for three years and now to get to this point… I’m so excited for this to launch because its about giving back to the industry. It’s not about making a name for myself; it’s a resource. I want people to say ‘I found this [image] on Ad Archives, and I’m so inspired by it’. And that seems to be what’s happening — it’s making me really pleased!
What was the catalyst for starting Ad Archives?
It was while I was working at Dazed. I was asked to research some images and it started getting a bit mundane, you know, flicking through old issues, and one day I just thought, I’m going to start looking at the ads instead. And it got to the point where I realised the ads looked like editorials themselves. It was like a natural progression between articles and ads, where it didn’t feel like you were being sold something, it was more just a strong image and strong strap-line, with a little logo in the corner. Whereas now I feel like everything’s branded so heavily. So from that I enjoyed researching and using ads in my research rather than just editorial [imagery]. I liked finding out about who the creative director was, who the stylist was, and what they were working on at that time, and that’s what pushed me towards making this publication; I want to talk to tastemakers, I want to talk to people who have shaped how we view creativity, and fashion, and photography.
I was talking to Rankin a while ago about how people get this dopamine rush with Instagram, like they see an image, tap it, and move on. And I’m sure that’s how people react to my feed, but I think by making something more tactile it’s seen as something a bit more…
That’s a valid point. Also there is an interesting dichotomy when you digitally archive print ads. And there must be challenges to that, particularly because on Instagram you’re squeezing the images into a little box… I do think it’s a shame on Instagram you can’t read a lot of the copy in the images, or whatever… so it’s cool that you’re aiming to build a bridge between the digital and tactile realms.
Yeah, and that’s something I feel passionately about — that younger generations know who the creatives are behind an amazing shoot. Instagram’s created a platform for digital to be recorded easily, but it’s also why the younger generation seems to be looking back a lot, obsessed with nostalgia. With the publication I’m currently working on I also want to look forward. And everyone I’m working with on this also wants to create a fresh, futuristic viewpoint that might nod to the past but is moving forward. A fresh set of imagery.
So on the one hand I want [the publication] to be these weird future advertorials, but then you could go on my website, or Instagram, and find more of an archive which you can delve into.
Nostalgia is an interesting point because a lot of the ads on Ad Archive are from the late-90s, early-00s; The Face, i-D, Dazed, Sleaze Nation, all of these publications. And browsing through your feed it’s interesting to see the visual trends running through. There’s this new millennium tech optimism in a lot of the imagery.
Yeah, they were getting experimental with type, and often wouldn’t feature people in adverts. Strong typography, graphic colour…
Yeah and I think that’s my point; at that point in time it similarly wasn’t about looking back, it was about looking forward. Around the turn of the millennium people wanted to push it, so we start seeing these brands, like Nike around 2003 where you’ve got like, white backgrounds and really desaturated pops of colour, and kind of ‘computer’ typography. And then you’ve got Apple who kind of fucked the game up, they really changed visual language in the brand world around that time…
Yeah that was huge. And look at brands like Levi’s who have stayed relevant because their whole thing was to do with culture. Their campaigns were about subcultures and that made me love them so much as a brand. When you look at them over time - yes, they’ve changed aesthetically - but the idea has remained the same. That’s why it’s so important to respect the past. Not constantly copy it, but see it as a point of inspiration and then bring your creative sensibility to that. For me, I feel like I bring strong concepts inspired by these ads, but not directly. Even by looking at who the original creative directors were, I’ve learnt so much about that work.
So are you planning on this publication being a long-term thing?
Potentially! But I’d also love to do a poster book, working with photographers and stylists to make fake campaigns for fake brands. Or rehash an old campaign and have some fun with it. Just make strong imagery — I think that’s what people want to consume.
So it sounds like you’re now viewing Ad Archives as a vehicle for creative direction?
Yeah, definitely! I mean from running Ad Archives I’ve learnt so much about the industry which I didn’t know. I love researching and finding out about the people behind things. I want to make something that shows how much I love this. If I can do that and use [Ad Archives] as a vehicle to collaborate with people, then why not? And give a photographer or a writer a chance to also make work that they love, but also look at a side of fashion that they may not have considered. That’s important. Over the last three years I think I’ve done well to capture an audience — people who are loyal to it, and now that’s done I can say, ‘here’s some work that I’ve made for you guys. Enjoy it!’.
How do you feel that visual language in advertising has changed — from the era you’ve been archiving [primarily ‘90s-‘00s] to now? And what does that mean for the way you want to express your own take on this language?
I feel that a lot of things are derivative now. People thrive off bootleg culture and it can be lazy at times. Personally it doesn’t feel creatively strong. Of course some brands are smashing it. Martine Rose does really well with her advertising — it’s creative but simplistic, it feels like it’s for you. Whereas bigger brands like GAP or Calvin Klein, I think they think that just because they used Tyrone [Lebon] for their campaign it feels fresh and young. But when you look back the only difference was that they used to have more white borders and now they have a social media tagline.
As opposed to say, someone like Stüssy using Tyrone, where it looks sick because it totally fits the brand and there’s a reason for incorporating it into the graphic language.
Yeah. And you can tell that with Clavin Klein he had to work with a brand. But with Stüssy there’s so much set design, so much creativity. My favourite image was the one where Stoya is sitting in an ape’s hand. The ridiculousness of it made me want to create imagery like that. That to me has sustenance. Whereas, you know, Frank Ocean standing with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike doing ‘something in my Calvins’ just doesn’t really resonate so much. So you can tell the brands that rely on their reputation. But then again, maybe because Martine Rose isn’t as huge as Calvin Klein she has more creative freedom. At the end of the day do you want to sell people stuff, or do you want them to respect your ethos?
Beyond Martine Rose, are there any brands out there that you feel are pushing it? Any household names?
I would probably say Diesel, in terms of being consistent in their branding.
I have to say I don’t understand a lot of Diesel’s messaging.
That’s the thing, I think that’s part of it. It sort of makes you question their thing and how you fit into the brand and their aesthetic that they’re trying to build. They did this thing where they put these posters up around London, and at first I thought it was ‘street art’, but then when I went into the store it all came together and made sense. They’re selling affirmation but then when you come into the store you don’t feel like you’re bombarded by clothes. It’s important that it’s the whole experience. Hmm, now I’m trying to think about other brands that do it well but I keep thinking about the past!
Well even looking to the past, who’s done it well?
I’d still say Diesel. Maybe Adidas. And I hate to say this but I think Benetton. And the reason why I say I hate to say it is because I don’t appreciate brands using social issues to push their products.
That’s very interesting, because [Oliviero] Toscani saw his imagery as social messaging, pushing social consciousness rather than products.
Yeah, I mean in terms of diversity and concepts it’s on point. But I think my issue is I don’t know how I feel about them using AIDS or homosexuality to push a product. But the one thing I will give Benetton is consistency. They knew what worked for them and they really pushed it. Even with their imagery where it’s just people on a white background, they made the composition really interesting. Everyone has their own equal standing. Whenever there’s a group shot there’s no ‘you step forward, you step back’, it’s always everyone in a row.
Another brand that I think a lot of people overlook is Hugo Boss; Ben Kelway Studio do the creative direction at the moment. I’m loving the different types of photographers they’re working with; it doesn’t feel so ‘laddy’ anymore. There was a period of time where it felt like, ‘this is for men! Live the man’s life!’, which felt corny, but then they started experimenting more with art photography, and when you look at their campaigns, yes it looks like a fashion image but the model’s head will be cut off and the pose will be experimental. So it feels like they’re eager to work with photographers who make amazing imagery.
For some reason when I think of Hugo Boss I think of titanium. Is that weird?
Haha. They worked with Collier Schorr for their latest campaign. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Hugo Boss and they still managed to keep that sense of the young, hedonistic male, but I feel like this is a bit more artistic, it’s more thought out — you know who the audience is immediately. That’s what I love — strong imagery supporting a campaign. It looks timeless, it could work in the nineties or it could work in ten years. It comes back to the photographers they work with.
If you were to launch a brand, how would you communicate what it’s about?
The best thing for me would be to invite people to a launch where you get to experience the archive. So people could come and try on the clothes, see what it’s about. Maybe it’s over two days, and then the second day you would launch a new collection. I’ve always wanted to do that actually, because so many of these clothes seem out of reach, they’re so expensive, but if people could understand the pieces, the archive, they might feel more connected to the clothes, to the brand.
As a consumer, to connect with a brand, I don’t want to feel like a brand has brought me to a space just to spend money. I want to be involved, I want to learn something and take something away from it. I’d approach it in a way that people are involved, rather than launching on Instagram where a week later people will forget about it.
It’s interesting that you’re drawn to experiences grounded in the real world when you’re so proactive on Instagram!
Yeah! I think just being on Instagram so much just forced me to. And I didn’t want [Ad Archives] to just live on Instagram and that be it. I wanted it to be more than that afterwards. It’s important to me that people can connect, and not just see the feed and not know who runs it. I think being creative is about continually educating yourself. That’s so important.
With older ads we’re speaking about (primarily) a visual medium, but still a multi-sensory one. I think back in the day art directors and creative directors — the people making the ads — were very aware that the way the ads were being consumed, in print, was a tactile experience. People touching the page, taking a moment to take it in…
Dude, Marlboro used to create ads where you could smell the thing. Like, Menthol! That’s another brand that really pushed it actually, maybe because they needed to be more creative, since they were selling cigarettes. But I love Malboro ads, they’re so tactile! There’s this one where they made a fan, and you could make the fan move. But that’s what I want, and I want people to feel like they’ve learnt something…
So it’s about using ads as signifiers of a time and place, or as a socio-cultural reference.
Definitely. That’s why [Ad Archives] goes beyond [crediting an ad] being in Dazed. It’s about showing Prada in Dazed, 2002, shot by Juergen Teller, styled by XYZ. Because that’s what we need to know; who were the tastemakers? Who was doing cool shit at a certain time? How did they shape our future as creatives? Ad Archives is something I want to give back to the industry, as a resource.
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