“In the set design world, every single job that we do – whether it is a window installation, a music video or a fashion shoot – there is always an idea behind what we need to create,” says Gabriela Moussaieff, a representative of global set design agency Streeters. “A set designer always has an input and can design things to add to the initial concept, but they are always following a brief. There is always going to be the interference of an art director, photographer, a fashion designer or a stylist.”
It was this reality that inspired the second iteration of Veuve Clicquot’s Widow Series, an annual event that celebrates the French champagne house's founder, Madame Clicquot. Rooms is spread across four floors within a vast former artist’s studio complex in Shoreditch, east London and features the work of 12 established set designers. Each designer was allocated a room in the building in which they were given carte blanche to create a set. The resultant designs are expressions of each designer’s raw creative vision, unhindered by a pre-determined brief. “When you see each artist’s room,” says Moussaieff, whose agency Streeters represents all 12 designers, “you know it is a true representation of the artist’s creativity rather than the result of someone else’s vision.”
The lack of a brief means that the set designs vary considerably. On the ground floor, London-based designer Miguel Bento has created a walkway comprising coloured walls formed of translucent fabric, and flooring assembled from mirrored strips laid side-by-side. The set is inspired by London, a city where, according to Bento, “space is one of the most valuable things,” and has been designed to create an illusion of open-ended space. “All of these colours are supposed to give you a sense of peacefulness,” says Bento, “evoking a feeling of a wide, unrestricted space.”
On the first floor, Emma Roach’s set is inspired by glitches. Although at first glance the room appears a banal office environment, on closer inspection you notice irregularities: a wall-mounted industrial printer constantly flashes and whirrs, while an office chair with a elongated backrest sits against a desk that supports a computer with a stretched screen. Along a corridor, similarly banal in its narrow walkways and white indistinct walls, Andrea Stanley created three adjoining rooms, structured around a central space that voyeuristically looks into the other two rooms through window-like opening in the walls. While one room is a elaborated decorated with floral wallpaper and contains glass tanks with industrial tubing spilling out, the other room is stark, almost clinical, with bright lighting, white walls and plain flooring.
The 12 set designs provide the backdrop to a performance piece written and directed by FKA Twigs; the British singer performing a different choreographed piece within each space. “This is about bringing set design to the fore,” says Moussaieff. “Set design is not talked about as much as it should be so this is about showing how creative set designers can be.” That said, like in a fashion shoot or a music video, ultimately the set designs that form Rooms are the backdrop to a bigger star. It would be interesting to see how many members of the public bought tickets to the event to see the set designs rather than FKA Twigs perform.
Rooms is successful, however, in its ambition to create a point of different by presenting the visions of set designers free from the influence of outside creative direction. It is worth noting that the brief is not entirely open. The presence of Veuve Clicquot presumedly meant that the works had to be sensitive to the brand; unsurprisingly no controversial topics or political references are evident in the set designs. Conversely, it was arguably the brand's sponsorship that granted the set designers such creative freedom in the first place. The impressive overall execution of Rooms however overcomes such issues. The diversity of the sets coupled with the intrigue of the labyrinth-like space creates a unique immersive experience.