For the June issue of Dazed & Confused, Ben Toms and Robbie Spencer worked with long-time collaborator and set designer Janina Pedan to create a surreal world that blurred the boundaries between fantasy and minimalism. Creating the set entirely from scratch, Pedan took reference from the modernist design ideals of Bauhaus and created a rigid context for the garments to exist in. The Ukrainian-born designer also created custom-made animal masks, which were a direct reference to the iconic Bauhaus photo of a woman sitting in a chair designed by Marcel Breuer and wearing a mask by Oscar Shlemmer. After spending time in Sweden, Pedan moved to London to study fine art and now works from her studio in Shoreditch. We caught up with the designer to talk Bauhaus, inspirations and the ephemeral nature of her work.
Dazed Digital: What first attracted you to set design?
Janina Pedan: I have a background in sculpture so the creation of environments has always been a big interest of mine, but the short time span on each project, and the possibility to work in such a wide range of materials is also very attractive to me.
DD: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Janina Pedan:When I get free hands and there is no obvious direction I like to take the properties of materials as my starting point.
DD: What were some of your references for the Animal Haus shoot?
Janina Pedan: Myself and Ben Toms have done a few stories together reflecting our interest in modernist ideas in architecture and design. I think he had just seen the Eileen Gray exhibition in Paris, and I have had a long term interest in the design ideas that were developed in the Weimar Republic so Eileen Gray's house "E.1027", and the Bauhaus built "Haus am Horn" were two clear references.
DD: And you built the set entirely from scratch…
Janina Pedan: Yeah, I guess I am interested in the modernist architectural idea of creating a complete environment but also the attempt to create standardized everyday objects before mass-production was fully developed. In the Bauhaus movement there was an attempt to overlap craftsmanship with the potentials of machine production and I find that transition really interesting. The chairs that I made for the shoot are inspired by the way standard sized wood would be used to create very simple and easily reproducible pieces of furniture. One of the teachers at Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer, developed many furniture designs in this fashion and I am a really big fan of his work.
DD: What role did the masks play in your vision for the shoot?
Janina Pedan: The ideas of masks actually came from Ben and Robbie, but the modernist environments that I was looking at often had ethnographic elements in them. Masks and so-called tribal art had a great influence on artistic movements around that time, so the connection seemed to make sense. I think we all also really liked the eerie effect that a mask can so easily produce, and it brings to mind the famous Bauhaus photo of a woman sitting in a chair designed by Marcel Breuer and wearing a mask by Oscar Shlemmer.
DD: It is quite an ephemeral process working on the set design of a shoot. Do you ever archive any old sets in your studio?
Janina Pedan: No, not really. I don't get attached to sets that I do, but I have a hard time throwing away things that I consider useful, which is pretty much everything, so I have to be really careful about hoarding stuff. The photographs that come out of the shoot is the main way of archiving, as I see it.
DD: Does the ephemeral nature of your work ever influence the way you approach a project?
Janina Pedan: I think I have had to get used to the ephemeral nature of it, actually. Doing a chair for a set with proper joinery does not make sense if it is just used for a shoot and not as an everyday object. But it also opens up a lot of possibilities as things really only have to work then and there, and there is an interesting way in which one can negotiate reality for a two dimensional documentation. For me that is a very exciting potential that I am sure will make me think quite differently in the way I create something.
DD: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Janina Pedan: I'm not sure. Every project I have worked on has been challenging in its own way and I feel like I am still learning a lot. I was asked to design and manufacture a couple of chairs in just a few days for a Fendi shoot last week, and it was really interesting since the designs had to be created in the making. To create without plan in that way really puts one face to face with whatever one would call personal style I suppose and those moments are always exciting. Otherwise I guess it is shoots like Animal Haus which are my highlights since I get to work with very talented people that are also my friends, and that makes me feel like I must have done something right.
Photography Ben Toms
Styling Robbie Spencer
Hair Mark Hampton at Julia Watson using Toni & Guy Hair Meet Wardrobe
Make-up Thomas De Kluyver at D+V using YSL Youth Forever Liberator
Models Frederic Meijen at Ulla, Louise Steyaert at Ford
Set Design Janina Pedan
Photographic assistants Catherine O’Gorman, Tean Roberts
Styling assistants Coline Bach, Frances Knee
Hair assistant Mikey Pearson;
Set Design assistant Leslie Lebvre
Digital operator David Beech at Studio Private
Post production Studio Private
Casting Noah Helley for AM Casting