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From the moment London-based set designer Paulina Piipponen emailed LN-CC with an imagination-igniting and possibility-pushing treatment, we knew we just had to collaborate. The concept for Sci-Fi Santa’s Workshop, an otherworldly backdrop for this season’s most coveted pieces, quickly evolved. As we release the William Bunce-shot visuals, Paulina invites us inside her handcrafted futuristic world of duality.
Firstly, how are you, where are you and what have we interrupted you from?
I’m very well thank you. I’m just at my studio in east London making little prototypes from mylar and aluminium for a personal project I am working on.
Now, how do you like to be introduced? Set designer, visual narratives storyteller, art director, what do you do and why do you do it?
I think I identify as a set designer the most but as a profession it can take many forms; sometimes I am more of a maker and problem solver and sometimes I consider myself more of an artist or storyteller. At times I am simply called in to answer a brief in practical terms and at other times I get more involved with forming the aesthetic idea or even conceptualising the work. I was a graphic designer initially but wanted to have a more hands on profession and haven’t looked back. What I love about set design is that it is so versatile. I might be making a wooden sculpture one day and an intricate floral display the next. Time is often of the essence so the problem-solving element is a big part of the job, which I really enjoy.
Materials play a fundamental role in forming your aesthetic sensibilities. What was the starting point for Sci-Fi Santa’s Workshop – what inspired this otherworldly laboratory?
I think I am very drawn to science fiction and fantasy. I find it fascinating reading fictional speculations about how stressors such as A.I or climate change might adversely affect society or human behaviour. Similarly, I have always been drawn by the idea of the uncanny; that which is strangely familiar in an unsettling, eerie, or taboo context. On a more positive note I love watching science fiction and fantasy films for the wonderful worlds they present; from fantastical animals to outlandish vessels and gadgets. I love all of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, the exquisite and intriguing worlds he creates and his apparent love and respect for nature are incredibly inspiring. When left to my own devices I really like creating sets that feel a bit outlandish and in some small way bring in these elements; the futuristic and mechanical juxtaposed with the natural and ethereal. I love playing with hardware and finding new types of clamp systems and parts to incorporate into my designs. I’m really into material manipulation so playing with wax to create the weird plastic wrapping around the Balenciaga shoe was a treat. I also really enjoyed making the orchid tank for the District Vision glasses, a good example of juxtaposing the mechanical with the natural.
Exactly! Throughout Sci-Fi Santa’s Workshop, some of the season’s hottest items are immersed and/or juxtaposed against the natural and the synthetic, the soft and the hard, the familiar and the unexpected…
Yes! I initially approached LN-CC with the idea for this project because I wanted to do a quick and fun set design project and needed some cool products to style the ideas around and LN-CC was a great fit. I enjoy having products to build my sets around making a custom design to specifically frame a certain object. That stipulates some creative restriction that can actually fuel the creative process. The products also inspire the creation in that there can be a certain texture or colour that I latch onto and, echo, accentuate or juxtapose in the set design. Ultimately, I imagined it to be a future laboratory where the presents were being manufactured and tested. I really like the juxtaposition of the shiny and hard metal hardware with the materials and textures of the products, as well as the addition of the more ethereal natural elements.
Do you have a favourite image/set-up?
Yes, my favourite is the Balenciaga shoe encased in wax. The wax envelopes the shoe so beautifully and the waves of the wax undulate in such an incredible way it almost looks digital. It was also really funny how the wax came out in different shades of white which perfectly echoed the shoe which too is designed in a range of brilliant to off-white shades.
The project sees you work with WIlliam Bunce once more. Could you talk us through your collaborative relationship with him?
William and I have worked on a number of shoots together over the years and I really enjoy working with him. He is a lovely person and we have a great working relationship. Often it is just me and him in the studio together playing around with sets and lighting and it’s always a very chilled and fun experience. I fiddle around with my sets as he masterfully plays with the lighting to make the designs pop. William is super versatile and can compliment any idea I present him with using his photography and lighting expertise.
Beyond product, what do you hope people take away from Sci-Fi Santa’s Workshop?
I just hope people find the images fun and interesting.
Finally, is there anything that you’d like to mention/promote? What excites you most about tomorrow?
I really want to devote the next year to making more personal work along these lines as well as pursuing artistic projects outside fashion.
Art direction & set design Paulina Piipponen, @paulina_piipponen
Photography William Bunce, @williambuncestudio