25 September 2017

Lessons to Learn from Fabien Baron

In his role as art director, Fabien Baron was the man behind some of fashion’s most iconic campaigns and brand logos over the past 30 years. With his knack for instantly recognisable typography and striking imagery, Baron now wears multiple hats, including those of creative director, editor, photographer and designer — sometimes all in the space of a week. However, despite the disruption caused by digital media, Baron believes that the fundamental aspects of an art director’s role remain much the same, but must be reapplied to fit the needs of today’s market. Below, fashion's most famous art director shares five lessons for success today.

have an opinion, develop a point of view
“You have to be original. I look for people that have their own point of view. That’s the most important thing. That’s the key, because if you can take a stand and have a place where you believe ‘I like this, I like that, I don’t want this, I don’t want that,’ then number one you can make decisions and number two, you can have a genuine opinion on fashion. I worked that out very early on. I had a very clear idea of what I liked, I was very specific about what I liked visually, on an image level, on a design level and on a graphic level. And I stuck with that. What I’ve been doing over the years, is developing all the other necessary tools to make that voice more serviceable to each client.”

focus on the client’s needs
“When I work with a client, what I really want is to service that business and deliver what they need and what they expect. I can be at my office working out a campaign for Coach or doing the next campaign with Jennifer Lawrence for Dior. Then I can be looking at a book that I’ve designed for Calvin Klein, or designing a perfume bottle and the packaging to go along with that, but for each brand that I work on, the end result is very much what that specific brand wants or needs. My personal work is very ‘me, myself and I’, but when I work with a client I have to truly understand what they want, so I am able to manoeuvre my approach to fit their expectations and deliver the right work for their needs.”

embrace trial and error, new challenges
“[Junior art directors] need to acquire the mindset to be able to say that: tomorrow I’m going to direct a film, the next day I’m going to do this, the day after I’m going to do that. If you want to be an art director, you can do that, that’s what an art director should be. All the art directors working at Baron and Baron, even if they join and they’ve never worked on a film, I put them on a film. Because I believe they can do it. If they have an opinion, they should have an opinion on that too. It’s scary for people, but they manage. It’s trial and error, at the start they don’t know what to do, but they learn. An art director should be a maker, someone that has an opinion on everything, and has a very precise point of view that they can apply to different mediums. That’s what a good art director should be.”

don’t let specific skills box in your career
“At the beginning of my career I was mainly working for magazines, so my skill set was really specific. I would take materials, editorial, imagery, etc., and create a great magazine out of it. I was a packager of goods. But if you put yourself in a box too quickly, it’s very dangerous. I didn’t want to do that to myself. [A magazine art director’s] point of view is like a language, and that language can be translated into different mediums. I feel that is up to people to say, ‘I don't want to be in a box, I don’t want to be the guy in the office stuck at my computer all day, doing layouts and putting text here and there.’ I didn’t want to be the guy who just does the type on the package.”

keep learning
“I’m never bored because I create opportunities to learn all the time. Throughout my career my point of view has remained very consistent, I’ve stuck with it all my life but what I have changed is what I can do. I learned other skills — photography, copywriting — a lot of other things that allowed me to have that point of view in different mediums. The more you know, the more you learn, the more knowledgeable you are, and the better able you are to resolve problems."