I’ve provided creative services to the photographer Rachel Spivey for the best part of seventeen years.
And not only is she still in business – we are still married.
I guess any relationship forged between a designer and a photographer will have a creatively symbiotic dimension to it. I, more often that not, use Rach to shoot stuff I need shooting and I’m always on hand to do bits and pieces to promote her business.
This week a book arrived from the States with her logo in it.
OK, it’s one of 2999 other little marks being held up as fine examples of the craft, but I’m particularly chuffed that Rach’s was featured because, well… it’s ‘ours’.
Working for Rach has never really been a chore and it’s been great to have been so close to something that has slowly evolved, stopped, started again and has now become a proper grown-up business.
So, prompted by this unexpected appearance in an internationally renowned design tome, I’ve had a rummage around in the archive and pulled out some bits that will serve as a potted history of my most long-standing account.
When Rach, first started with the photography, it was a bit ad hoc. She was still working at Hulton Deutsch (now Hulton Getty) and doing the odd job for people and, while she was far from a credible outfit, she needed something to put on her invoices when she sent them in.
From the get-go she was the product. All the jobbing photographers I knew were male and didn’t come with a mass of bright red hair and I always thought this was a great point of difference.
This is the first little logo I did for her…
How of its time is that? Looks like Britpop photography done by the sixth Spice Girl, and probably one of the first times I ever used illustrator. Rudimentary, though not without its charm I suppose.
After leaving Hulton and sleepwalking through a couple of temp jobs, Rach became a one-woman photography department at the agency I was working for. It meant regular work, great clients, a fully specced studio and a change of tack identity-wise. As an offshoot of Parenthesis, the venture was christened Brackets – not only a reference to the agencies grammatical name, but the name given to the process of adjusting a camera’s aperture between shots to ensure a good exposure.
The idea was that Brackets would stand alone from Parenthesis, so that Rach could effectively work for other agencies. The look therefore was deliberately completely different. All minimal and slick, just using black and a fair amount of metallic silver. Maybe because I’d heard that silver halides were used somewhere in the chemistry of photography, though more likely because we were approaching the new millennium when EVERYTHING was printed in metallic silver.
The logo was a stylised camera with a pair of brackets forming the lens. But you can see that from looking at the pictures, right? What’s less obvious is that the ® mark formed the button on the front of the camera, and when that and the first bracket were used in isolation on the back of the business card, it formed Rachel’s initials.
Which is exactly the kind of self-satisfied wankery that makes us designers feel a bit better about our shallow little lives.
I even did her a mailer that played with the elements of the identity, though looking back it seems more concerned with building a brand than showcasing her work.
Brackets came and went and Rachel Cooper (by now Spivey) was once again a lone girl with red hair and a camera. At this point her brand expression began and ended with this business card that was shoved on the corner of a print job as a favour by a friendly printer.
It was heavily influenced by the style of one of my all-time favourite designers. (I won’t name him for fear he ever Googles himself and ends up looking at this 3rd rate facsimile of his much more elegant retro-futuristic illustrations.) And I’m not sure what’s going on with that type either. I have a thing for interlinking characters, but maybe that bent paperclip S was trying a bit too hard.
Fast forward a few years and two or three kids later and Rachel entered the fourth phase of her career.
Initially intending to leave the commercial work behind her, I created the logo with the photo corners to reflect this change of tone. In the age of digital photography these fiddly anachronisms are the reserve of cherished prints and albums of special occasions, and their inclusion here is intended to create the space that Rachel would be ultimately commissioned to fill.
Though her dad always thought they looked like ‘Batman’s underpants’.
The type was arranged in such a way to suggest the proportions of a print and, as the identity has evolved, works with or without the photo corners depending on the application.
Or what sort of mood I’m in.
Ha! In your face Corporate Guidelines.
One of the first things this identity ever featured on was Rach’s initial gallery website www.rachelspivey.co.uk. It was produced off the side of the desk of my then colleague, Paul Beacham, in return for a photo shoot of his daughter. It’s all a bit flash-tastic and dated now but I always quite liked the way he brought that very simple identity to life.
As well as all the stationery, the photo corners frequently cropped up on early ads and promotional postcards…
Though they probably reached their creative peak on the invite to the launch of Rachel’s first, modest little studio in our back garden…
They still appear from time to time, but these days the photography does most of the talking.
When Rachel made the decision to set up her boudoir business in the mid 2000s there was a lot of debate about how distinct it should be from her main identity. At the time, the current boudoir boom was still in its infancy and it wasn’t clear how such a risqué offer might alienate mainstream clients.
Though there was never any doubt about the name. Raquel Rouge was her nickname from her Hulton days and felt right for her ‘burlesque’ alter ego, but it took a lot of searching to find the right font to base the logo on. It needed something sensuous, feminine and retro-looking, but not evocative of any one specific era and modern enough to still work with contemporary shots.
I found it in Pendulum, though I still had to fiddle with some of the characters to make it read how I wanted it.
The idea with the colours was that the logo would reveal itself to you. It works best with the dark sexy red fading to a flesh tone out of a black background, but let’s be honest, with pics like these who the hell is looking at the logo?
It’s just as well I hardwired some synergies between the two brands. They both share a Goudy as a secondary font and the websites work off the same grid, because, as it turned out, these two strands of the business have ended up sitting side-by-side quite a lot.
As this niche little industry has matured and the whole burlesque thing has got more mainstream, there are a lot more swirly scripts in black and red out there than ever before. So there’s a real impetus to keep things playful and fresh.
Or at least ‘fresh’ in an old-fashioned way.
I’ve had a fascination with vintage clip-art that dates back to my college days. It’s quite over-done now but I created these as show cards for Rach’s stalls at vintage fairs. The direct tone of old ads help to get over key points as folks browse and they proved so popular with people that she had a set of business cards done.
When it came to creating an ad for Burlesque Bible magazine I was keen that we ran something that would stand out from the all the floaty feather fonts and pin-up clichés and came up with this idea, half inspired by an old matchbook.
Not everything I do sees the light of day either. Here’s an ad that will never run, as we’d never get the usage rights on the images that I, um, sourced on the internet. Though it did find an audience of sorts over at the Chip Shop Awards.
While budgets and hours in the day often curtail my bigger ambitions for Rach’s stuff, it is such a joy to work on something where the insights are first hand, the brand guidelines are all in my head and there are no sign-off procedures to stifle the creativity.
So as long as the cups of tea are still forthcoming and the client continues to give me a pretty free rein, I hope to continue working on this account for many more years to come.
In 2012 the ‘Come on ladies’ ad above went on to win a ‘highly commended’ Vinegar at the Chip Shop Awards and received a further nomination in the ‘Work That Never Ran’ category in the Fresh Awards.