8 Things
Roanne Adams, Founder and Creative Director at RoAndCo

If you’ve been to one of her fashion presentations or received one of her elaborate invitations in the mail, you might be surprised to hear graphic designer and art director Roanne Adams describe her business as “not the edgiest design firm.” This, after all, is a woman who’s so well known for her career-launching work for emerging fashion stars like Abigail Lorick and Timo Weiland that brands often come crawling to her for infusions of downtown cool. Yet if she’s managed to turn RoAndCo Studio into one of the most up-and-coming boutique firms in New York at the moment, it’s because her little-known clients like Rachael Ray and Zappos have just as much respect for her work as folks like TenOverSix do, which has a lot to do with Adams’s instinctive approach to design: Rather than competing to be the most avant-garde kid on the block, she prefers putting new twists on familiar ideas from the past, researching a brand’s history or creating narratives around those who don’t have one. Her inspirations, as enumerated in the pages of our book Paper View and brought to life here, run to the likes of Guy Bourdin and ’70s advertising icons. “I’ve always been more into Paul Rand and Herb Lubalin than any contemporary designers,” she says.

Which isn’t to say she’s some kind of design Luddite, of course. She’s just well balanced. As an undergrad at Parsons, she was “designing weird stuff — bizarre magazines and experimental books,” she says, and interning for Stella Bugbee at Honest. But her first job out of school was at Wolff Olins, where her pet project was rebranding the kids’ clothing giant Osh Kosh. “Being put in that environment was like using opposite side of my brain. Suddenly I had to appeal to the lowest common denominator and explain things to people who were all about driving numbers. It was nice to have an experience in a small firm that liked to poke fun at capitalism, then go to an environment where they embraced it.” That knowledge has actually come to define her work, in a way, since she set up her own studio in 2006: The fledgling fashion houses she built her roster with weren’t just getting logos and catalogs from her, but full-service creative direction, and by extension, business consulting. Adams still likes taking on new brands that let her wade elbow-deep into their debuts, though her goal is always to set them up “so they can kind of do it themselves at a certain point,” she says. “It’s like teaching them how to ride a bike.”

Even with her more established clients, though, she does tend to do a little bit of everything, creatively speaking. It’s that control-freak thing that more than a few designers share, the urge to script all the parts of a brand’s story rather than just the one that ends up on paper. Adams art-directs many of her clients’ lookbook shoots, and she’s known for her immersive fashion week presentation sets, starting with the decadently dystopian world she crafted for Lorick in 2008. “We once did a show for Rachel Antonoff on the Lower East Side where we called it a school play rehearsal, with a cardboard piano and the girls dressed up in tutus,” she says. “And for the spring ’11 Honor show, which was inspired by French New Wave and Wall Street in the ’80s, the space looked like a place where bad things happen. So it was about this Belle de Jour woman who’s seemingly perfect but has this bad side.” To create all this imagery and give it dimension takes a wellspring of such references — check out the slideshow at right to discover the ones Adams turns to most often these days, then follow this link to purchase a copy of Paper View, where you’ll find eight other such inspiration lists from folks like Sebastian Wrong of Established & Sons and Pin-Up’s Felix Burrichter.

 

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Post-Painterly Abstraction: “I’m really into post-painterly abstraction, late-’60s and early-’70s graphic paintings by the likes of Frank Stella and Larry Zox. I love the use of color and shape. Color blocking has become a recent theme in my work, maybe because it’s such a big trend in fashion.” Above: Frank Stella's Harran ii, 1967

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Peter Saville: “Peter Saville has been a pivotal figure in graphic design and style culture since his work for Factory Records in the late ’70s. I’ve always admired him, and we recently used his iconic album covers for Joy Division and New Order as inspiration for a branding project.”

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Peter Saville: "Saville's work is refined and modern, and he communicates with imagery in an elegant way that’s both conceptual and simple—qualities I strive for in everything I create. What’s most enviable about his work is the amount of freedom he had with client projects, which is a rare luxury for designers."

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Celine: “In the world of fashion branding, Celine is currently at the top of my list for making a huge comeback and leading the way. I love everything from the logo to the bold ad campaigns shot by Juergen Teller. Simple, clean, and contemporary, Celine’s message manages to cut through all the fashion mess—always the ideal when developing branding in any field.”

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Micah Lidberg: “I love Micah Lidberg’s illustrations on so many levels: They’re super weird, totally beautiful, and have amazing color palettes. Their strange combination of objects, quirky characters, and little idiosyncrasies are what make them so great.”

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Micah Lidberg: "For such detailed pieces with so much going on, I admire how they avoid appearing too cluttered or difficult to look at."

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Creativity series: “My mother-in-law is a library volunteer, and she’s helped me build a library of my own with vintage graphic design and art direction books. My favorite and most influential books are the ones in the now-defunct Creativity series by the Art Direction Book Co. While the design annuals are a fantastic source of inspiration, unfortunately they remind me that everything has already been done!”

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Guy Bourdin: “Whenever I’m art directing fashion photo shoots, I often reference Guy Bourdin. I really appreciate his graphic images and simple compositions, as well as his habit of always shooting with a narrative in mind. I like to approach photo shoots with a story or narrative, even if it’s only subtly implied. A strong feeling—whether it’s sensual, provocative, shocking, exotic, surrealistic, or even sinister—makes whatever image you associate with a fashion item that much more compelling.”

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Wooden furniture in color: “We recently built a wooden bookshelf and lacquered the interior shelves with bright orange; I love the juxtaposition of wood grain with bright color. I also like the work of the designer Rafael De Cardenas, who uses brilliant color combinations and geometric shapes in his furniture—this is clearly a recurring theme for me!” Above: De Cardenas's TRI Bench for Johnson Trading Gallery

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Wooden furniture in color: De Cardenas's interior for Unknown Union in Cape Town

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Florals: “We recently art directed a campaign shoot for Candela that used huge floral arrangements and wreaths by Taylor Patterson. The flowers were shot against a black background, and they were a beautiful complement to the otherwise dark mood of the images. I’ve always opted for poppies and wild flowers over roses, but I’ve suddenly found a new love for all things floral.”

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An image from RoAndCo's floral shoot with Tom Hines, for Candela's fall/winter '12 campaign

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A floral twist on the logo the firm developed for womenswear line Honor in 2010

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A Guy Bourdin-esque image from the fall/winter '09 campaign for Lorick, art directed by RoAndCo

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A spread from RoAndCo's brand book for luxury hair accessory designer Jennifer Behr

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The invitation to eco-focused label Bodkin's fall '09 presentation, which took the form of a Buckminster Fuller–inspired tetrahedron containing a living air plant

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One of the firm's more intimate client projects involved collaborating on a textile design for Arnsdorf's spring/summer '11 collection, which went on to become an iPhone cover and laptop skin in RoAndCo's Society 6 store

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Lorick's fall '09 lookbook

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A particularly elaborate in-house project: The invitation to last year's RoAndCo holiday gathering, which contained a custom-labeled bottle of Morris Kitchen's ginger syrup and related cocktail recipes

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Pick up your copy of Paper View today!