The truth is we are all paid to think. And even the best of design houses need some outside thinkers every once in a while to either get back on track or catapult their brand. During these moments of transition, Jacob Wildschiødtz, Creative Director of agency NR2154, has earned a reputation as the man to call.
Be it delving into an archive or starting from scratch, Wildschiødtz and his team have delivered striking visuals for brands like Diesel or Georg Jensen with a keen eye for integrating sharp graphics and typography. Those same eyes have helped bring magazines LOVE and Rika to life, as well as the recent Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs book.
The Impression sat with Jacob to talk about how he got his start, distilling the core of brands, skateboarding, laboratories, and building an agency in New York.
Jacob, thanks for taking the time. You’ve a unique balance of print and branding as you’ve been doing magazines for a while now but you’ve also found an agency. Can you share with us how that started?
They are pretty related actually, as my passion for art direction and my career grew out of the magazine world: publishing, art directing, editing, designing and shooting. It began when I co-founded a skateboard magazine with Troels Faber in Denmark, which developed into a new magazine that was about fashion, music, art and design—a lifestyle magazine really. It all started there and that is why magazines are still very close to me. Of course, when I’m on a deadline and it is late at night and the studio has been working 20 hours a day for the past week as we were on the first issue of FREE Magazine, I say to myself, “This is the last magazine I’m going to do,” but the next month a new project starts up and I get into it again. It is just a passion of mine to do these editorial projects so it will hopefully always be something that I do.
I really enjoy telling stories, curating, creating, designing, art directing and doing so in a tight team. Magazines gave me the opportunity to create everything down to the last detail, which is very much in my nature and how I work. Now I’m very fortunate to be where I am and working with the people I do.
How did you transition from magazines to an agency?
It grew very organically. We received a call from Carhartt as we had a relationship with them through the magazine, and they asked if we wanted to do their first big campaign for their streetwear line. They became our first client. That propelled us into working with brands and doing campaigns and everything else took off from there. We took a break from school as things became really hectic, thinking we could always go back to school later, but that was really the moment to make something happen. That was when the studio was formed.
So after you left school and started the creative studio, how did you transition to New York?
I was looking for bigger challenges and the experience of working with new people has always been a passion. That is where the magic happens, in the relationship with other creative people. I had the opportunity to do some projects in New York, and that quickly grew into even more new projects here. So we thought, why not just open a hub of the studio here, and now it has already been 7 years.
Since I came back from Love Magazine things have really taken off. The studio has been growing a lot in the past year, with the addition of several key positions and taking on much bigger projects and clients. We are not structured in a traditional big agency format, but we can manage large projects through our network structure and we have managed to retain the flexibility and the creative focus of a smaller studio.
I was very fortunate to work with Lee Swillingham, a great creative director, on various projects and he brought me in on Love Magazine as a design director. I took over from him when he and Stuart Spalding left and then I brought in the whole studio. It’s been a fantastic opportunity and experience working with Katie Grand and everyone at the magazine and I’m very grateful for it.
What are the differences between working for brands/labels/designers and publications?
Brands have more objectives. I tend to work with brands based on a more strategic foundation. It isn’t just about pretty pictures and graphics. We always start by analyzing and understanding the problem we are trying to solve for our client — identifying the opportunity.
In the magazine world it isn’t as much about trying to solve a specific problem. I see publications as a laboratory where you can be free to develop creativity in many different directions with story telling as its essence. Of course this is a great freedom, but I think it also gives us a toolset that we can use to cross over into the work we do with brands.
What type of work do you do for brands?
Our work with brands often starts by creating a strategic foundation for the positioning of the brand. From there it is a variety of things, from either creating a whole new identity with brand strategy and positioning or only isolated new branding codes, to packaging systems, to creating brand imagery and full 360 campaigns. Often we are working with brands that have existed for a long time and we reboot, rebrand, and push them back into the market. On the other end, we work with new brands, preferably as early on as possible, to help shape the foundation of the brand. The work can be on many different levels, from pure creative work to also consulting on core offerings and products.
We have a really strong strategic team and the whole idea of the studio is that we bring in the resources that we need for any given project. So if we need a social technologist or architect or any other talent that may not even be related to fashion, we can pull together teams of collaborators from our network that are suited for whatever project or problem we are trying to solve for a brand.
Interesting that you bring in experts per projects. What type of brands have you been working with?
It ranges from fashion to beauty, lifestyle, luxury, jewelry, art, and culture. Over the last year we have worked with Georg Jensen, and the work really started in their immense archive and history of great art, trying to get to the roots of what Georg Jensen is. From there we started rebuilding the brand around that. We’ve also worked on rebooting Diesel with Nicola Formichetti and redefining and designing BOONTHESHOP in Seoul with Peter Marino as the architect of the new flagship. These are the types of projects that I love as we really get to dig deep and create a true foundation for a brand. We have also been working with LVMH on various brands, most recently Hennessy. That was also a great opportunity because again we were able to start in the archives and pull out old material that we could use to reinvigorate the brand, and build branding codes based on the existing heritage. What we do isn’t about creating fake brands, but distilling and digging into the core of what these brands are and working from there.
Noticed that in revealing brand you reveal typography as well. You have a strong foundation in graphics and typography, how important are they in your work?
It’s very important, but of course not in equal amounts for everything we do. Coming out of the magazine world, I can see that special harmony and balance, or energy and tension, that can happen between imagery, graphics and words.
It is one of those places where my fascination with the details comes in. The saying “the dragon comes alive when you put the last dot on the eye” is very true especially when you work with magazines and communication, as everything has to work together. You can communicate emotion in the way you set a word or treat a serif. It is very important for us that the imagery and graphics work together and not just as an afterthought, like a pretty picture with a logo slapped on it.
Do you spend time developing typefaces?
Typefaces are time consuming and are always a team effort in the studio. For Rika Magazine, we create a new display font for every issue. We have also developed custom typefaces for Love Magazine and Hennessy, among others.
Having come out of Europe and working now in New York, do you find there are international differences in creative direction?
I think creative work is so international today that things are kind of blended together everywhere. What I really appreciate about working in New York is that the people are just amazing to work with and tend to see new opportunities and the positive aspect in things. People in New York are more focused on solving problems and pushing things forward, and that is close to my nature as well.
So, on the subject of pushing things forward. What type of technologies are you paying attentions to?
I grew up in a really exciting time when a lot of technology was taking shape and I think the intersection between fashion, art, technology, and design is where everything is happening now.
There is no one thing that is really key right now, because everything is coming together and creating a whole new way of communicating. It isn’t just about putting an ad in a magazine, it is about all the different touch points between our clients and the world around them. This makes the work more challenging for us, but can also make the communication really powerful.
Often creatives’ personal and public lives blend, as they tend to work on what they love. Is the same true for you?
Yes, they are one for me. I’m really fortunate to do what I love and I’m really fortunate to do what I love with the people that I love and respect. For me, teamwork and being together is where the magic happens.
Jacob, thanks and we look forward to watching more magic happen for you.
Great, and thanks Kenneth.