"It's the Australian syndrome. We always did cool projects there, but like once you move away and do international brands, it gives you a much bigger presence back home" - Craig Redman
So Suzy Menkes left her 25 year post as the style editor of The International Herald Tribune to move over to Condé Nast as Vogue International Editor, reporting exclusively for Vogue online.
Her first story, Fighting The Bitch Brigade, was published on June 3.
One of the more interesting aspects of how “the best known fashion journalist in the world” as Vogue describes her – and we certainly wouldn’t argue with that - is just how she is presenting herself to the world in her new digital incarnation.
And that is, not to put too fine a point on it, via an extremely unserious and in fact hysterically camp cartoon avatar.
For anyone who doesn’t know the back story here and assumed that Vogue has suddenly developed a sense of humour, Menkes’ cartoon avatar was not created in-house at Vogue but rather, by Sydney expat Craig Redman, one half of the celebrated Aussie graphic design duo Craig & Karl [Maier].
And Menkes would appear to be quite literally obsessed with it.
The duo, who live in New York (Redman) and London (Maier], have become the darlings of the fashion set with clients including Sephora, Kiehls, LVMH, Google, Nike, Apple, and The New York Times. Their work was profiled last week in The Business of Fashion.
But it’s Redman’s personal side project Darcel Disappoints that has really taken on a life of its own. And here is where Menkes comes into the picture.
Launched in late 2007 as Redman’s nom de plume for his blog, Darcel Disappoints, the egg-like character charted Redman’s adventures in and around New York shortly after moving to the city.
To our eye, Darcel is like a fashion version of Mike Wazowksi, the co-star of the 2001 Disney/Pixar hit Monsters Inc.
The blog was noticed almost immediately by Sarah Andelman, the co-founder and creative director of cult Paris emporium Colette, who subsequently commissioned Redman to create a series of 10 Darcel fashion spinoff caricature postcards for a Colette pop-up boutique at New York’s newly-reopened Ace Hotel during Fashion’s Night Out in September 2010.
The original set, which included Menkes, Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and Tavi Gevinson, riffed on their various identifiable styling and/or work signatures - in the case of Menkes, her trademark Pompadour quiff and holding two legacy media accoutrements, a notepad and pencil.
But we tend to think it could be as Menkes’ alter ego that he may have the most cut-through. Because let’s face it, we’re just a month into Menkes’ tenure at Vogue and wherever you look, Darcel is plastered across its masthead.
Menkes loves her Darcel so much, not only is she using it as her Twitter and Instagram avatar, she is even using it on her new personalised Vogue business card – with the avatar superimposed over Vogue’s “O”.
FELLT Industry caught up with Redman last week over Skype and according to Redman, it’s not the first time the Darcel Suzy has appeared on Menkes’ personal stationary.
PATTY HUNTINGTON: So when Suzy Menkes went online, when she joined Conde Nast International, she wanted to use Darcel as her avatar?
CRAIG REDMAN: Yeah exactly, when she went over to Condé. Actually Condé ended up calling me. She's always loved it. She's been using it as a business card for a couple of years. Or as a postcard or something like that. Her assistant contacted me a few years ago and said 'Suzy loves it, would it be OK to use it for a business card or a postcard'. I'm not sure exactly which. So she's been using it for a few years and I guess now that she's with Condé it was a good opportunity for her to maybe expand on using it, I'm not sure. But I was thrilled, either way. Super happy. It's pretty amazing to see the Suzy Darcel integrated into the Vogue masthead as well. I didn't know that was coming. That was great.
When did you first move to New York?
I first moved to New York in 2007. I won a Green Card on the beautiful internet. And when you win you kind of only have six months before you have to leave, so I pretty much left as soon as I could.
Did you start Darcel Disappoints immediately?
I think within the first six months, I set it up. Basically I just had the usual silly observations you have when you go to a new city for the first time, on how different it is to where you come from. And I thought, 'Well, I'm an illustrator, I want to start a blog, so rather than me torturing people with my absent literary skills, I may as well do an illustrated blog'. And I realised that I needed an avatar to represent me and I just drew him in like in one afternoon. The most simple forms I could really think of. And I guess I got lucky because Sarah from Colette discovered it maybe within the first six months and she's kind of been championing it ever since. She was the first one to find it.
Were you hooked in the fashion industry at first?
Not necessarily in New York. But I'm interested in fashion and most of my friends are involved in fashion in some way, so I think it's just part of my personality. And kind of the stuff I am surrounded by. It's the kind of stuff I look out for. And I guess if people can see that in the blog, then you kind of end up doing more fashion-based projects. Once you get Colette on board as well, you know....
Was there any early publicity? How did Sarah find you?
A friend of mine, Eric Elms, who's a great artist here, he wrote a blog post about it [in December 2008]. And I think she read it, because she knows him. She read it from there. The blog was and is predominantly, is just me going around New York, complaining about shit. Basically. And then at some point - I don't think it was on the blog initially - but for some project I did... maybe I started drawing other versions of Darcel, with different hairstyles and that made me realise 'Oh, there's no reason I can't draw other people, celebrities...in that world'. And then for Fashion's Night Out, Sarah said, 'Do you want to do some stuff for it?' I said 'Why don't I do 10 postcards with people I like in the fashion industry that I'm interested in?' And then that went well. I think it got picked up by a few sites. And then a year or so later, I saw Sarah in New York and we were just hanging out and she said that the 15 year anniversary of Colette was coming up. And then I said, 'Why don't I do an exhibition there?' It was during Paris Fashion Week. 'Let's do 150 portraits of people who have influenced Colette indirectly or directly?' And she said that was a great idea and between the two of us, we figured out 150 different people that would be suitable. And basically I had six weeks of hell, trying to put it all together. Which I think is a pretty short period of time. I was at my parents’ house at Valla Beach and was just sitting in the spare room, doing all the portraits.
This pre-dates Craig & Karl?
It did. It's kind of a convoluted story. Karl and I have been working together since the first year of art college. Basically from the first semester, we worked together pretty much on every single project. And then out of college we worked for a year in the same company, the same agency. And then a year after that we formed an art and design collective called Rinzin with three other friends. This is all in Brisbane. And so we kind of worked as five people altogether, for around ten years. And at the tail end of that was when I moved to New York. And it was a couple of years after that that we decided that we should split off and just do our own thing. We've been a duo for this long already. Craig & Karl is two or three years old and Darcel is from 2007.
It's fascinating that you can work together from two different cities. How do you divvy up the work? Do you do video conferences?
We try not to do video conferences. We've known each other far too long. The short answer is we talk on Skype. Pretty much every single day. So first off, if we get a project in, we will have a Skype call and we will talk through the project. Usually a brand or a client will reference some previous work of ours that they like, so it gives a pretty good visual indication of where we should head. So we'll talk about the project and kind of nut out the idea. And then depending on who wants to do it or who has time or which piece of work the client has pointed to, that person will then start creating the artwork and then the other person will then jump in the next day or the next morning or whatever and make comments, move things around. We basically have a Drop Box that we share and it's just open slather and if Karl creates a file, I can go in there the next day and change things around. It just comes from an intrinsic trust in each other. We've just known each other for so long.
And very collaborative obviously.
Yeah. It makes decision-making, whether like visual decision-making or like project decision-making, much easier. To have that second set of eyes just breaking stuff down for you.
One recent interview on Vogue mentioned that you are "working on" Suzy's column. Does the relationship extend beyond just the use of the avatar in that case?
No. I haven't read that.
And just out of interest, the way these things often go in fashion - with high profile magazines reportedly often expecting work to be supplied in exchange for just the glory of appearing in same - are they actually paying for the use of the avatar?
Yes they are.
Was American fashion journalist Jim Shi one of the people in the Colette exhibition or is he by chance a mate? He's been using a Darcel avatar on Twitter for some time.
No. He uses the Tom Ford one.
Does anyone else use a Darcel Disappoints caricature on Twitter or elsewhere?
Yeah, heaps of kids that are into the work. They kind of co-opt ones from the Colette exhibition that might have the same hairstyle or something as them. I think Hamish Bowles used one for a while. A lot of the people who were in the exhibition have prints of themselves. I know Hamish has one. I've seen it on his grand piano. In that Vogue documentary.
I don't know actually about Anna. I've done a bunch of stuff with Darcel and Teen Vogue and I know she's been shown it before, but I have no idea what her response was.
Any negative reactions?
No, not at all. When I did the 150 [for Colette], there were just so many people to ask, about whether it was cool to be involved. We probably forgot a few and we were a bit worried. But everyone, I was really surprised, that every single person was really into it.
Surely you didn't need their permission to do a caricature?
We didn't need to get their permission, but it was just an act of courtesy I think, more than anything.
Where does the name Darcel come from?
He was honestly created in one afternoon. At the same time, I was like, 'OK I'm just going to buy the dot.com, get everything set up. I know if I procrastinate on this, it's never going to happen'. So I think I just Googled, like, French names for... I think it's French for like, 'dark wanderer' or something. He's quite a dour personality, so I wanted there to be a certain darkness. Even if it's just a gentle innuendo behind the name. And "Disappoints", because at that time he was a bit more pessimistic. So everything was disappointing to him. And I love a bit of a cheap alliteration.
So you're doing projects together as Craig & Karl, but for you separately, Darcel has spun off into a mini-industry of his own. Do separate agents represent you for Darcel?
Usually I don't let any agent represent Darcel. The representation is all Craig & Karl. Darcel is a fun project to me. I don't use him as a cash cow. It's really about people, brands, exhibitions.... Whatever it is, if they approach me I'm into them then I'll take it on. I've done Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz, Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, ELLE, the Kate Spade collection, lots of stuff with Colette. We've covered the Louis Vuitton store opening in London, stuff for Nowness.
I would have thought the caricatures would make a fabulous book. Also an animated film. Are these things you've considered or been approached about?
Yes, both. It's just a matter of when and how I guess.
He's a little bit Pixar.
Yeah, absolutely, sure. That would a heavenly match.
So what projects are in the pipeline?
Well the big new project with Craig & Karl was the collaboration with Kiehls. There's another huge project that's coming out next year. But we are NDA on that, so can't talk about it. We've been doing a lot of installations recently. We're doing a big mural at a brand on Wall Street here. And we're doing an exterior mural in Shoreditch in London. One's a public space and one is within an ad agency - Droga 5. They just opened a massive new headquarters down here. We're starting an installation on that next week.
Droga 5 obviously being founded by Dave Droga, an Australian [who sold a 49 percent stake to William Morris Endeavour last year for an estimated $150million.) On the subject of Australians cutting it internationally, Marc Newson has obviously done it on the industrial design front, there are a few people plugging away at fashion. On the graphic design side, correct me if I'm wrong, you guys are the first?
I don't know if we're the first, but at the moment, we're probably the most recognisable ones. I love being Australian and I love living in New York. I think, you know, it's the Australian syndrome. We always did cool projects there, but like once you move away and do international brands, it gives you a much bigger presence back home.
You also did an installation for INCU here.
Yeah we did. We've known those guys for a long, long time. I think they might have even stocked our mini T-shirt collection, like 10 years ago. When they opened the Galeries Victoria store, they asked us to do a limited edition selection. So we were like, 'Yep, sounds fantastic'.
What about a 3D Darcel toy?
I've been in many talks with different companies about that too. And for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened yet. At some point it will definitely happen.
In the animations, does Darcel have a voice?
No, he doesn't. And that's been one thing that's been in discussion - whether to or whether not to.
Who would be your first choice? Please don't say Benedict Cumberbatch.
[Laughs]. I didn't imagine him having a British accent. No James Ransone is always the guy I wanted to do the voice. Not that I've ever said that to him before. He's like a downtown dude, he kind of embodies that personality.
What do you use to illustrate?
Which is your favourite Darcel fashion portrait?
I kind of like the Margiela one. Just because it's so ridiculous and so funny. It's just the back of his head. I think there might be the four stitches somewhere there. I love the Valentino one as well. The hair is so good on that.
I think he's black. The background is bright red.
The commercial possibilities of Darcel are limitless I would have thought.
He's ready to go.