Patrik Ervell‘s spring ads don’t feature any of his own products; what is featured are never before seen Peter Hujar photos for Patrik Ervell in his spring campaign, both portrait and still life, taken by the photographer in the early ’80s. Even though there’s not a hint of Ervell’s own designs in sight, his message in the project, a collaboration with Nick Vogelson/NV&A, is crystal clear. Here, an interview with the designer about the wild west of Instagram, and re-appropriating Peter Hujar’s 1980s photography to mean something new for his own brand in 2015.
How did you first discover Peter Hujar’s work?
I was familiar with him from reading about the New York art scene from the early ‘80s; he’s a contemporary of David Wojnarowicz, and even [Robert] Mapplethorpe. He was the one who’s less known, a bit undiscovered. I feel like he’s ripe for rediscovery, there’s a retrospective, a book coming out. He’s kind of this legendary figure and at the same time is sort of undiscovered.
Like your spring collection, Hujar’s photographs are clean, stripped of frills or excess. His work is very rooted in the ‘70s and ‘80s [maybe his most famous photograph is Candy Darling on Her Deathbed in 1973], whereas your collection is modern feeling. What about it resonated with you?
I think that the images I chose are from that period — you know the people, you know the context — if you look at them they’re also really timeless. I look at the images I’m using and I feel like they could have been taken last week, or they could have been taken in the ‘50s even. They don’t belong to a specific time, to my eye. They’re classic. They’re timeless.
How do you feel these selections you’ve chosen for the campaign reflect your spring collection? Are there any parallels thematically or stylistically between the two?
I think there’s an attitude and a mood, but no, I wasn’t really concerned with—obviously when I’m doing that I’ve already abandoned the idea of showing product. So then it really is about the feeling.
What is it about fashion advertising today that made you decide to use photos that don’t include any of your designs?
I’ve done a few different rounds of ad campaigns. I have to say, this is the one that I’ve gotten the most echo, if that makes sense. I think people are numb to fashion images. Like, here’s another one. And I think they’re sort of changing the context a little bit, so that it’s actually much more meaningful to people. Also I think that it’s kind of a cultural moment for them bubbling up now. I remember when I first noticed it happening was on Instagram, it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing, where people would share something and put a Nike logo in the corner. It’s kind of appropriating imagery and making them into fake ads.
Kind of like Doug Abraham (@Bessnyc4)?
He’s the most well known one. But I feel like people were doing that before him. It’s something about our time, it’s almost that sort of being able to pop a logo on something, it’s like easy Photoshop, taking an image changing it there, especially on Instagram where it’s kind of the wild west in terms of copyright law, you can take any image from anywhere, and do whatever you want with it. That’s a rare space in our world; there are very few places that that exists. I think that idea of just re-appropriating or borrowing images and putting your logo on it, making it your ad, is something that bubbled up from a Tumblr/Instagram aesthetic and world.
How would you summarize how these photos represent your brand? What’s the Patrik Ervell message in Peter Hujar’s photos?
I think there’s a romantic modernism. That’s always the shorthand I think of. It’s a clean, modern aesthetic, but at the same time it’s deeply romantic. I think that his images have that.