Learning from Malcolm McLaren, designing for Palace Skateboards and Marc Jacobs and overcoming creative block – Fergus Purcell on his career
While fashion is full of logos, the people who design them aren’t usually known. Fergus “Fergadelic” Purcell is an exception. The man behind Palace Skateboards’ infamous Penrose triangle logo, Purcell has – in the most literally way possible – left an indelible mark on this generation. This logo is everywhere, from your local skate park to Ian Connor’s Instagram. Aside from the Palace boys, Purcell has worked with designers including Marc Jacobs, Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley (Marc by Marc Jacobs’ former creative directors), Ashley Williams and brands including KR3W, with whom he’s collaborated on a just-released capsule collection.
As well as an acclaimed graphic designer, Purcell is an incredibly sharp thinker – something that comes across when you talk to him. He sees his craft within a much larger cultural framework and loves the idea that you can do something interesting or provocative and see it proliferate in the mainstream. Judging by the hoards of young people wearing clothes emblazoned with his handiwork, this is an idea that he’s not only put into practise, but succeeded in. Below, Purcell shares some of his experiences, as well as some practical tips.
ON GROWING UP IN SUBURBIA
“I drew a lot when I was a kid, to the point where it became obvious what I should do with myself. My mum bought me a subscription to the 2000 AD comic when I was 11 and lived in a little suburban town called Chesham – it was like a message beamed in from another universe. I really gravitated towards that. Strangely, that was my door into pop culture… It was comics that were the big start for me.
I went to Central Saint Martins. It was really fun to go there from a social point of view because it drew in quite a wide variety of people... Most days I'd be in the library, I would skip my course and tutorials and just go there. I’d always get the Richard Avedon book called ‘In The American West’ down from the shelves. It’s all pictures of Mexican gangster guys, carnie people, drifters, all that sort of stuff.”
ON GETTING ADVICE FROM MALCOLM MACLAREN
“The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given was from Malcolm McLaren. He came to deliver a lecture to a certain year group of fashion students. It was specific to them but I just gatecrashed it. Everything he said really made sense. He was just expanding on his whole remit where he knew that in pop culture you could do really subversive, really interesting things that would resonate with the mainstream.
I was so interested in that, and I still am – that idea that pop culture is a shared means of expression. A lot of the time it’s seen as one of the more dumb things in culture but actually, like with rock and roll music, under the guise of something that's ostensibly stupid you can put across quite a sophisticated or subversive sentiment. (McLaren) made it all make sense, and was a living example.”
ON DESIGNING THE PALACE LOGO
“I met Lev Tanju (of Palace) thanks to being involved with Slam City Skates, that was one of the many great parts of being involved with that scene. We became friends pretty quickly… He said he was going to start a skateboard company and asked if I would do his graphics. I just took that Penrose triangle with its optical illusion effect that implies infinity. It looks like it’s endlessly cycling, and so I wanted to take that kind of feeling; to make a logo that had connotations of the infinite and of constant flux and movement. The shape is kind of dynamic. It won’t sit still because it’s impossible on the flat surface, so it’s got movement built into it, that’s why I chose that specifically as the triangle.”
ON WORKING WITH MARC JACOBS
“With Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley (former creative directors of Marc by Marc Jacobs) they were really open to going for it, and really trusting from the off which was amazing. I’ve since worked with Katie because I've done mainline Marc Jacobs for the most recent season, just a couple of textiles in there. He pulls from so many different sources. I did a visual of Maria Callis, the opera singer that was based very heavily on a reference they sent. And I also did a couple of pin-up girls on the back of what became biker jackets, rodeo style pin-up girls.
Working with Marc Jacobs was very exciting; very high-octane. It was all through Katie and it was all very quickfire emails, with really succinct – clear but brief – instructions. I think he’s amazing. It was again stunning to work for, albeit a diffusion label Marc by Marc Jacobs, because I was such a fan of his career. I loved the Perry Ellis grunge collection. I think I bought that copy of Vogue when I was at art foundation school just to cut those pictures out. I’ve been a fan of his stuff ever since.”
ON HIS DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
“I try and view everything I do as something which is done with messages appropriate to the specific need of that graphic… Often that boils down to conveying feeling and emotion more than anything else. You can make a very clean, even stripped line, a digital kind of line, or you can instead draw that by hand with a biro. The two things would feel emotionally quite different. Graphics are made up of that whole language.”
ON OVERCOMING CREATIVE BLOCK
“If you have a creative block, there’s an amazing thing that Brian Eno devised called oblique strategies. It’s basically a deck of cards, and each one has a written statement on it that is a suggestion of how to work in a creative process. Some of them are quite abstract, so even to interpret the card is a bit of a puzzle. But that can work wonders.”
ON HIS COLLABORATION WITH KR3W
“For this capsule collection with KR3W, we really picked up on the crusty English kind of post-punk peace-punk movement, especially bands like Discharge. A very big aspect of it was very inspired by their very strong use of photocopy looking punk flyer 7-inch black and white screen-printed graphics. Again that wasn't a question of just the look, it was the idea of that punk sensibility, resonating for a whole new generation that would be listening to trap music wearing this stuff.”
KR3W x Fergadelic collection is available from February at Slam City Skates.