Sunday 5th November

| BY Jack Moss

Scene It, Done It: We Talk To Marc Jacobs’ Set Designer Stefan Beckman

SBSB4We admit it: insufferable fashion sorts such as ourselves are notoriously prone to exaggeration. There’s this thing we like to say that goes something along the lines of: “such-and-such” has “literally” worked with “ehhhveryone”. And as with most things that come out of our mouths, it’s usually not true.

Usually. But not always. Take the brilliant set designer Stefan Beckman, whose list of collaborators is as long as your arm. Or leg. Karl, Miuccia, Marc – how much time have you got? And it’s the latter, Marc Jacobs, who has become Beckman’s most fruitful collaborator. Season after season, Beckman is the whirlwind creative force behind the designer’s fantastical runway shows. You remember the one where a giant, bubble-gum-pink house was dropped in the middle of the Park Avenue Armory? The hall of mirrors? Diana Vreeland’s living room recreated on 7,300ft2 of hand- painted fabric? All Beckman.

That’s not counting the elaborate constructions for some of the world’s most fabulous parties, or backdrops for just about every glossy mag, fashion house and top-tier photographer under the sun. When it comes to creating worlds for clothes to inhabit – well, we’re running out of superlatives. Here, Beckman talks to us over the phone from his New York studio as he wraps up another busy fashion month.

JACK MOSS: “Stefan, how are you?”
STEFAN BECKMAN: “Pretty good!”

JM: “Is it busy at the moment?”
SB: “Yeah, we’re just starting campaign season and there are some events. It’s not as manic as the shows, but still busy.”

JM: “How did the shows go? You did Marc [Jacobs] and Coach, right?”
SB: “I did, yeah. Things are calming down a little bit now.”

JM: “They looked great. Are you mostly in your studio or do you travel a lot?”
SB: “Yeah, I travel a lot – actually, I just got back from Korea. We were there and then in Tokyo for a Ferragamo project. But a lot of the time I’m here – or I try to be here!”

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JM: “It seems like you spent a lot of your life, the early part of it anyway, travelling. You were born in Las Vegas, right?”
SB: “Yeah, I was born in Vegas, but I didn’t actually live there very long – my dad was a landscape architect, he was working on a park there, so we happened to be there while he finished the project. And then we moved to San Francisco after that – I grew up there. Then to Houston with my mom, and then college in Austin, Texas.”

JM: “How much did all those different places in uence you?”
SB: “A lot, I think. They were completely different. Houston is a big city, but I grew up in the suburbs and back then it was farmland, it was suburban, just tiny houses, one after the other, like an open field. I feel like that’s the American experience. Texas – it’s this mythic place, football and beer drinking and all of that [Laughs.]. But hey, I had a great childhood. San Francisco is more cosmopolitan and had a bit of a hippie thing still going on, as well as lots of amazing architecture. I guess I saw both sides in a strange way.”

JM: “So where do you think your creativity came from? Were you into building things as a kid? Were you artistic?”
SB: “I was into spacial things – I loved Lego and blocks and all those kinds of toys. And in San Francisco my dad had a gift store – and he’s really creative, whatever he’s doing. He would create these amazing fantasy windows. One day it would be a whole Merlin setup with a crystal ball, and the next it would be a deer running through a field.”

JM: “Would you help him?”
SB: “Yeah, with the windows, and then we’d go on these buying trips to New York, which I loved.”

JM: “And in Texas you got into theatre… ”
SB: “Yeah, first I was acting, but in high school you got to do it all – like, building the set. I really loved that. I remember these competitions where you’d do these one-act plays and you’d have these modular pieces put together and you’d try to create an environment.”

JM: “So you gravitated towards that?”
SB: “Well, when I went to college I got a theatre degree and then a degree in film, and with film we’d work on these productions – TV or film projects – and I would build the set, create the environment, how it all looked. And that became my favourite thing, what I was really passionate about.”

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JM: “What happened after college?”
SB: “I moved to LA with this thought I would become an editor, because I like the idea of creating a space, but I also like the idea of editing it all together and creating a visual and a story. But I started working with this producer and we were working on some features – Article 99 and Prelude to a Kiss – which got me into… Well, I think the technical term is swinging [Laughs.].”

JM: “Swinging?!”
SB: “Well, you’re pretty much in a truck, picking up furniture and dropping it off at the next place – but those were my first jobs, working on TV movies and pilots. And then I got to dress the set, but that’s when I decided to move to New York.”

JM: “And that’s where you found fashion?”
SB: “Well, I didn’t have a union or any contacts there and, honestly, it was a stroke of luck I found the fashion community. I mean, my mother had always been really into fashion, into clothes. But I met a stylist here who lived in my building – he did all these Janet Jackson shoots and video.”

JM: “Oh my God. New York must have allowed you to meet so many people.”
SB: “Yeah, you meet people when you’re new to the city – photographers, stylists – and you just kind of start working with them. And back then there weren’t many people doing what I was doing. Marla Weinhoff was really the only person. Around that time I met Fabien Baron and we did our first shoot together in, like, 1997. And then I just started working with all these incredible people.”

JM: “Was it different when you started?”
SB: “When you work on a set now there are so many people. Back in the day, it used to be models, a photographer, a stylist, hair and make-up – and then, maybe if they needed a set or furniture, it might be the photographer’s girlfriend or something. But then my position came and people would start hiring someone like me to bring in a background, to bring in furniture, to create a set. In those early days, Steven Meisel would take Polaroids of what we were doing and pass round the Polaroids, and everyone would come study them and dissect the picture. It was a group thing. But now it’s digital it’s a different thing.”

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JM: “How do you feel about that?”
SB: “It’s good and bad. You can do a lot more and you can do it more quickly, but now people need tons of content, so they need the photos, which are important. You need social media now, so you have to make video, you need stuff for Instagram. So you just need a lot of things – it’s hyper-aware…”

JM: “Marc Jacobs is obviously one of your most important collaborators – relationships, even. How did you meet?”
SB: “I worked on his first campaign for Vuitton with Inez and Vinoodh, just because I was working with Inez – that was a coincidence. And then, a couple of years later, I got a call – [Marc] wanted to do a set and the show was in five days.”

JM: “And you’d never done shows before?”
SB: “I’d done some events, like a cocktail party – but to do a show was completely different. There were lighting crews, light and sound, rigging – but you were working together to make something special. That was great. I was just thrown into it.”

JM: “What was that rst set?”
SB: “It was this metropolis – all layers, these abstracted buildings – and it was well received and I just rolled with it. And it was amazing to have this audience to react to it. I love doing a photo or a commercial, but it’s a whole other thing to create an experience that people actually go into.”

JM: “How do you feel when a show is happening? Nervous?”
SB: “No, more that I want to make sure everything goes right. That the designer gets good reviews, for it all to make sense, that no one falls over. I’ve had some experiences with Marc that have been quite emotional – hard to do, but very rewarding. So, sometimes when I watch, it’s… moving.”

JM: “Which ones are those?”
SB: “There were two – one that we called the Victorian Surf, this discarded beach – there were so many layers to that show and it was super-hot in the venue. You didn’t know where to look. It was just… emotional. And then the Diana Vreeland thing, the painted backdrop – that was really intense. They were both really intense in terms of making them, the process…At the end I want Marc to be happy – I mean, I want to be happy, but I want Marc to be. It’s his vision – even if it’s my vision as well, it’s his show. It’s what he’s putting out to the world at that moment and what kind of emotional response he wants back.”

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JM: “Do you ever clash? You know each other so well… ”
SB: “I think Marc is all over the place creatively, so it’s not that he has one way of thinking, and it might be the complete opposite of what you’re thinking. It kind of just depends on the season, really. That’s the beauty of working with him, because he pushes you in different ways.”

JM: “How important is fantasy? Things seem to be becoming a bit more stripped back.”
SB: “Well, this season with Marc we did a scaled-back show, but everything was still completely considered, whether it was the chairs or the stencilling or the programme. I feel that was a little bit of a reaction to what’s going on with everything [in the world]. But fantasy is super-important and people want to be entertained.”

JM: “I think there was still an element of fantasy to it, though – the girls walking in silence, then everyone following them outside onto Park Avenue, where there were those massive speakers.”
SB: “Yeah, we’d come to it for a few reasons, mainly this old resort show [at the Marc Jacobs Mercer Street store in June 2015] where the girls left and came back into the store. But it was the dead of winter, so we couldn’t do it all outside.”

JM: “It had snowed all week – like, 6ft – and then, that day, it was blazing sunshine. It was perfect.”
SB: “Yeah! We loved this idea of the surprise of going outside. Of experiencing it – concentrating on the clothes and not just watching through your phone.”

JM: “Do you consider the whole Instagram thing when you’re making sets?”
SB: “No. Well, it’s great if it looks good on Instagram, but it shouldn’t just be about that. It’s about the clothes. Honestly, with Marc we’ve done some simple things and people are like, ‘Are you upset you’re not doing a giant set?’ and I’m like, ‘No – Marc has the best intuition.’ A few seasons ago, when he did it in that plain white lacquer room, it was perfect for the clothes.”

JM: “Are there other designers or shows you look back on with admiration? Ones you didn’t work on?”
SB: “The Galliano shows and the couture shows for Dior back in the day – so incredible. Or some of the old Comme shows. Alexander McQueen – they stood the test of time, they still tell a story.”

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JM: “You’ve done so much. There must be highlights.”
SB: “Highlights… Some of those parties for Hermès. They were so over the top. Shows for Marc, for Coach. Some of those Prada campaigns I worked on with Steven [Meisel] – the gas station one we did. They are amazing to look back on.”

JM: “The catalogue is so big – it’s almost too much to talk about.”
SB: “Yeah, for sure. When you’re in it, you don’t think that way – you’re doing Italian Vogue, you’re doing W, you’re doing campaigns, four shows, a party. You look back and think, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I did all that.’”

JM: “And you don’t see it as this nished product like we do.”
SB: “Exactly. And I give the same to everything – whether it’s an editorial for no money, or even when I’ve put my own money in, or some of the exhibitions I’ve done. I’d love to do more exhibitions. I love that idea of curation.”

JM: “Is there anything else you still want to do but haven’t?”
SB: “I’d like to work on a movie. I’ve done shorts and I had some opportunities some years ago, but the problem is timing. I’m too focused – I’d have to give up everything else. And then also, from a retail standpoint, I had a store for a while, in another life – I had a furniture store from, like, ’99 to 2004 – so I’ve looked to curate some shopping experiences… something interesting. Dover Street Market is a great example. How people can be inspired.”

JM: “Do you like interiors?”
SB: “Yeah, I love it all. Different periods and different things – I love modern, but I love old stuff, too. I don’t know if I want to do apartments and houses, though.”

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JM: “It’s your house in the pictures here, right? Did you do it yourself?”
SB: “Yeah, it’s my house outside of New York. Did it all ourselves – it’s like a ranch, so we did it modern, pop-arty. I like graphic things, they work well there. How are the pictures? I haven’t seen them.”

JM: “They’re good! Do you like having your picture taken?”
SB: “No [Laughs.].”

JM: “Well, you look very natural!”
SB: “[Laughing.] Thank you!”

Taken from Issue 46 of 10 Men, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…

Photographs by Marcelo Krasilcic

www.stefanbeckman.com