APFEL worked with the hotel's Michelin-starred chef Tom Harris to create an identity for the hotel, which is on the site of the former St John Hotel off Leicester Square. Selecting collaborators such as Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby's Universal Design Studio, the clothing brand Comradettes and the artist Sister Arrow, APFEL worked to forge a new character for the venue.
Having previously worked with institutions such as the Tate Modern and Barbican, APFEL's work spans a broad range of design disciplines, from brand identity and art direction to websites and exhibition design. In the One Leicester Street project, the studio was required to oversee the creation of a new visual identity, creating a cohesive design that drew together Universal's interior work, Comradettes' uniforms and Sister Arrow's illustrations.
Below, Emma Thomas, APFEL's director and co-founder, discusses the process of creating a visual identity that encompasses multiple areas of design.
What was your original brief?
Tom Harris has got a very particular style; it's very British but also super inventive and elegant. He is really interested in locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. It’s really beautiful food but he’s often subverting the classics. The brief was really to create a new identity that would focus on the key aspects of the restaurant and hotel.
The focus for the interiors was on the communal spaces. Rather than it just being a hotel with a restaurant, it’s almost more like a restaurant with rooms. We wanted to create an atmosphere - you might come in the morning for breakfast and end up staying through the whole day; from breakfast to lunch, dinner, cocktails and then stay in one of the supper rooms upstairs.
A key part of the identity is the illustrations on the menus. How did you go about creating them?
Tom uses seasonal, classic ingredients, but in very unexpected combinations and flavours. It’s very difficult to reflect that visually, but there’s something about illustration that makes it possible to suggest some of those strange juxtapositions of different foods that I think only illustration or even the food itself could hope to communicate. It allows a more creative approach to presenting a menu. It gives a spirit or flavour of what the restaurant is about.
We wanted everyone that comes to the restaurant to be able to take a part of it away with them. Each year there will be a new illustrator commissioned to do a series of illustrations that work across the menus. They reflect the seasonal ingredients that are inspiring Tom at that moment.
How did you select an illustrator?
We were looking for an illustrator that could use the ingredients but in a more surreal or contemporary way, as we didn’t want the illustrations to feel too traditional. Their brief was to take some of the elements of traditional, straightforwardness and honesty of the kitchen, but to subvert them. We chose to work with George Mellor, who is also known as Sister Arrow. Each illustration displays a set of ingredients sitting within a jar. They're quite botanical in composition but are then printed in bright neons with the Riso printing process. It meant that it felt very fresh and contemporary and was a nice balance to the more classic typography.
What is the typography like?
The typography feels quite classic in some ways, but it has elements that make it feel really warm. So the little serif details and the fact that it’s centred rather than hard left aligned are a nod to more traditional typography. The simple lettering of the menus is a reference to Victorian recipe books from the late 1800s in Britain. The logotype is set using a typeface called Barcelona, which was originally based on a wrought iron signage, and it’s really well suited to classic painted lettering. We used a sign writer to paint all of the signage on the exterior and interior.
How did you look at creating uniforms for the hotel staff?
We suggested Eldina Begic from the clothing brand Comradettes. Her approach to the uniform was based on traditional, utilitarian workwear. The hotel does a working lunch, so again it was about subverting some of those classics of the British workers kitchen.
What was the process for maintaining control over such a broad project?
In the beginning we focused on the values of the place and began developing the visual identity in close discussion with Tom Harris: putting together all the pieces. It's great to have a creative team who all know and talk to each other: it’s a bit of a family affair, from the kitchen to the uniforms and flowers, so the dialogue can be a continuous one. And I think overall the identity doesn’t feel too brand heavy or too logo centric, it’s more about the spirit, it’s all coming from the heart of what Tom’s about in the kitchen and that also influences the approach itself.
It wasn't so much a case of APFEL maintaining control - the working process together was very natural. Everyone has their own specialism but the whole team sits together very well and compliments Tom’s kitchen.