We’re lucky enough to call Carl Robertshaw a friend. A production designer, creating sensitive, physically graphic forms for the arts and events that are quite astounding. His open-minded and collaborative approach has gained him recognition across many genres… from Hussein Chalayan to Ellie Goulding and Antony and the Johnsons. The latter being an experience we will never forget.
We sat down with him for the second in our Creative Class series…
What was the career path that lead you to your current role?
I grew up painting and drawing and I’ve always loved things that fly – birds, planes and kites. I became obsessed with kites; their form, colour, movement and poetry. When I moved to London for my degree course at Central St Martins, in Covent Garden there was a Kite Store just around the corner. I loved the designs and cutting edge materials that the new generations of kites were made from. Around the same time I was given a sewing machine. I made a few kites and they looked great but more encouragingly they flew!! I also made clothes and structures like lampshades, which laid the foundation for my career path and forms the basis for my design processes. I’ve developed and refined methods for specifically creating lightweight structures – having been asked to design and produce some really extreme structures like Ellie Gouldings dress for the Royal Variety performance. My first major commission was to develop dresses that flew for Hussain Challayan’s collection in 1996, which cemented the direction I’ve taken.
How does the creative process apply to the field that you’re in?
Completely, is the answer. I like working collaboratively where ideas can come from anyone and anywhere and the process is able to evolve with the collective input. The end result is greater than the sum of its parts and everyone feels a sense of ownership.
I often say that my first language is drawing and my second language is English. However, I approach a range of different projects using a variety of materials, not limiting me to a specific genre or construction technique. Most projects I’m asked to work on are to produce something that hasn’t been done before – a set design or structure that sits between standard categories. This often means the finished design is the prototype and the steps to reach the finished design are carefully considered through the process. The process is an exercise in working out the unknowns, which can be daunting, but breaking them down into ever smaller questions means the ‘unknowns’ can be turned into ‘known’s’ methodically, resulting in a new amazing design.
Carl Robertshaw’s pieces for Antony and the Johnsons ‘Swanlights’. Image courtesy of Royal Opera House/Jill Furmanovsky
How do you manage ‘inspiration’?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, at the risk of sounding naff. By looking at the world in wonder and anew, like children do, staying open minded allows you to be inspired by the smallest and biggest things – from plants and clouds to architecture and painting. I often feel like I’m outside the world looking in, which I think benefits me to see the world with childlike wonder. I always have a sketch book on the go which is half diary and half for working out ideas. I don’t write lists anymore, or draw every idea that comes to mind, I’ve developed this filter approach, trusting the best ideas stay with you and conversely the not so great ones get forgotten. For me this is a more mindful way to be open to inspiration.
Carl Robertshaw’s dress for Ellie Goulding’s Royal Variety Performance. Image courtesy of ITV.
How is London good for your inspiration?
London offers so much. Every time you step outside the front door you’re inspired, you see something new. The people, the architecture, greenery, music, art, design, culture – London has a gravity that attracts the rest of the world and also London is a prolific generator of inspiring ideas and a start point for creativity to proliferate across the globe. London being such an organic city is always changing, keeping you on your toes. You can live here all your life and never experience it all. Life is what you make it, and London offers you the freedom inspiring you to be your unrestricted self.
Favourite fun spot in London and why?
This is a hard one. There are so many to choose from.
On my bike! I’ve been riding more this year than in previous years and having been on Critical Mass a few times, I think that it has be the most ‘fun’.
Critical mass represents everyone from across the board in London and there’s no end of enjoyment – from making friends with people who have made amazing home built contraptions to screaming at the top of your lungs freewheeling through the Strand underpass with sound systems echoing around you. It’s a surreal sight and to be part of – it opens your eyes to how our city can accommodate the movement of its population.
Places in London you like to eat?
Seriously – How do you choose just one?
If I have to choose one it would be close to home and simple – Lerynn’s at the top of Rye Lane in Peckham. They do the best lunch – sour dough sandwich with halloumi, avocado, bacon and chilli jam. Their coffee rocks too! There’s a garden out the back and it’s a simple no frills or pretentions, a “take us as you find us” café.
Tell us about a London postcode close to your heart.
My work takes me all over the world, and I love coming back home. SE15 / Peckham has been my home for more than 20 years and I’ve seen it change from the days when you were scared to walk the streets at night, having my studio broken into regularly, and creating installations for the parties at Area 10, to today, where still the African fabric shops explode with their mad assortment of colours, to the food stalls and tumble weave from the hair salons. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive.
What tickles you culturally?
Guys who wear their jeans too low. Its hilarious! Tickled? Yes! Every time…
What’s your favourite piece of the Foxhall Collection and why?
My favourite piece from the Foxhall collection is the Searling. I really like the cut and tailoring which is really clean.
Can I have one in Navy please?