Collective Creativity

Haw-Lin, SO-IL, and Études Studio

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    It’s an image familiar to everyone: the creative genius sketching or typing in their studio, creating works of staggering beauty in perfect solitude. It’s too bad it’s so inaccurate. Anyone working in the creative industry can tell you that not only is collaboration essential, it’s usually the source of the best ideas. The way today’s creatives work is less about perfecting one skill than it is about sharing expertise, working with different media, and seeing how far collaborations and teamwork can push them.

    We asked three strong creative partnerships working across the worlds of design, fashion, and architecture to tell us more about how they collaborate. Their answers were clear: creativity is a collective act.


    “The internet helps.” This is an understatement coming from Haw-Lin cofounder Nathan Cowen, who along with Jacob Klein runs a creative agency that’s grown out of one of the internet’s most beautifully curated image blogs. They launched their “online mood board” in 2008 as a way of sharing photos with each other. It’s since turned into Haw-Lin Services, where the Berlin-based duo turn their eye for clean, high-impact compositions to fields from art direction and photography to branding and product design. Their clients span the fashion and design worlds: minimalist bagmakers PB 0110, Zeit Wissen science magazine, Berlin florist Marsano Blumen. Working with different mediums might come naturally to a pair who can make images of architecture, sneakers, plants, girls, and fashion into more than the sum of their lifestyle signifiers. But for Klein and Cowan, beautiful work starts with solid practices – and a totally open approach to working across disciplines.


    Nathan Cowen

    Can you think of specific instances where a fashion project has led to other work?

    This happens to us all the time. We’re very lucky to be approached by clients and collaborators who do not often share the same perspective of our services. Some think we only work within the fashion industry, and others only know our graphic design or photography work. Of course, it would be nice if everyone knew we offered almost all creative services!

    Specifically, our graphic and photo approach led us to work in the same manner with several product design companies. The Berlin-based New Tendency have become good friends and collaborators. These days, good design products seem intrinsic within the fashion world. Maybe that’s not such a bad consequence.


    Out of all the creative disciplines, the collaborations architecture requires might be the most complex. The drive to steer a concept from artist’s renderings to contractor’s shovels is a defining principle of Brooklyn architecture practice SO-IL. In fact, it’s the meaning behind the “SO” in their name, which stands for “solid objectives” – the kind that can be translated from abstractions into reality. The “IL” is the last initials of founders Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, a husband-and-wife team who launched their practice in 2008. Favoring a multidisciplinary approach informed by art and academia, SO-IL’s designs are all unified by an aesthetic Liu sums up as “determined pursuit of the new." It’s one that lends itself particularly well to exhibition spaces – Seoul’s Kukje Gallery and New York’s first Frieze art fair being notable examples. As Liu explains, successful collaborations depend on a fluid exchange of ideas.


    Jing Liu

    In what ways does collaboration aid your creative process?

    It's extremely fundamental. The result is that there is a sounding board that doesn't allow you to be complacent.

    What different backgrounds do you each bring to the table?

    Florian is generally more visually oriented, and I'm more analytical and conceptual. But we both like to question, disrupt, and be the one that pushes everyone out of their comfort zone (in terms of design) in the office.

    Can you give an example of how you applied your background in an unconventional way on a collaborative project?

    I think having lived and been educated in different cultural backgrounds make us both surprisingly good listeners when it comes to design. People often think that creative people are hard to work with, stubborn, and like to control every detail themselves. Maybe it's often true, but in our case, we are quite relaxed in letting the process be fluid and unpredictable. And we often enjoy the productive contamination from other hands.

    What’s something you learned working with someone with a different professional background?

    Architecture can be quite daunting and complicated to many people. But the basic principles of thought are often not so different from other disciplines. I try to communicate with the more overarching concepts and connect on a more basic level, rather than trying to explain the details. In this way, the exchanged ideas immediately become transferrable.


    The multifaceted nature of contemporary creativity might find its most representative expression in Études Studio. Based in between Paris and New York, the collective founded by collaborators Aurélien Arbet, Jérémie Egry, José Lamali, and Nicolas Poillot does it all: independent publishing, fashion design, creative and art direction. It’s a fertile and omnivorous approach designed to facilitate crossovers and “rabbit holes” from one project to another. A photographer featured in an Études monograph might collaborate on prints for a subsequent collection, and the group’s deep, signature shade of blue colors everything from bookbindings and t-shirts to limited-edition side tables. As Arbet puts it, “We are constructing an entire universe that people are invited into and encouraged to explore.”


    Aurélien Arbet

    How do your creative and publishing projects impact the fashion side of what you do?

    When operating under a multifaceted studio model, the various projects tend to overlap and serve as inspiration for one another. When we work on a book, for example, we are applying the same methodology that we use when designing a collection, or providing creative services for a client. Along the way, we may learn something new from one specific project, and that in return can influence and allow the other outlets to grow and evolve. I feel that this is the beauty of having a multifaceted studio: because the final outcome is such a unique and special blend of different forms of creativity.

    What kind of unique skills does fashion help you develop?

    One valuable skill that we have learned is the power and influence of the deadline. It is such a crucial element, where we are given an allotted time to design, produce, create, and construct a world that people can understand. If anything exceeds that, then the world we are intending to create simply cannot exist.