SOME/THINGS and NOT JUST A LABEL

...an interview with Monika Bielskyte

by Nathalie Olah
NJAL handed over curatorial direction to creative innovators SOME/THINGS. The Paris-based biannual, gallery and creative consultancy brings the best art and literary talent from around the world and showcases it in ways that interrogate established norms; commissioning editorial content from advertisers and exhibiting the magazine to blur the boundaries between art and print. SOME/THINGS offers a beautiful, gothic and quintessentially French solution to the predicaments facing publishing. We speak to its creative director Monika Bielskyte to discover more about the project and to find out her most anticipated moments at the oldest fashion event in the world.

SOME/THINGS is a truly unique collective. Whose idea was it and how did it first come to life?

Creating a magazine/gallery/creative studio was my dream for a long time, but SOME/THINGS was really born out of meeting James Cheng Tan. In the beginning we were a tiny enterprise of 2 - James taking care of the financial aspect while I took care of the creative side. We shared all of the multitasking that goes along with that.

It was a very exciting moment; not knowing how ‘things worked’ in this business, we simply started with the idea that everything is possible. One needs to be a bit ignorant in order to counter the fear of not succeeding. If we had listened to skeptics - the critique, the warnings - we would have never been able to start this project, I believe.

We’ve been very lucky and since the first issue gained support from such talents as Michele Lamy and Rick Owens, Roger Ballen and Zhang Huan. By the 2nd issue our current deputy editor Raina Lampkins-Fielder (former associate director of the Whitney Museum and a truly brilliant contemporary art woman) joined our team, which has continued to grow ever since.

And why the title?

I always loved the word 'something' and the slash sign as a graphic element, so when we were deciding the title that just came up naturally and stuck. I like that it’s very open, one can imagine it being a lot of things, yet it’s something so particular.

SOME/THINGS prides itself on avoiding “conventional advertising” and instead creates “commissioned editorial content”. Is this the same as an advertorial and if not, how does it differ?

Commissioned content differs from advertorials insofar as it implies a much closer working relationship with the brands, galleries and individuals featured. We work on the concept together and adapt the brand’s needs to the subject matter of a chosen issue to create a coherent whole with the purely artistic content. I mean, we do not draw a line between what is our choice and what is commissioned, both things receive as much time, effort and attention and when the reader looks at the book they can’t see the difference in the quality.

Of course, to preserve that, we have a very clear position that the art direction of each issue is totally in our hands. That means that certain projects that do not connect with the chosen theme will be deferred to the SOME/THINGS agency and dealt with as a creative project there.

What has been the most interesting brand collaboration so far?

It’s hard to say which collaboration was the most interesting; they are all exciting in their own way. Certainly the most long-standing relationship is with the house of Rick Owens and Michele Lamy. We have worked on five consecutive issues together.

Our first issue featured intimate portraits of Michele shot in the Paris ateliers and the Palais Bourbon home she shares with Rick and was accompanied by an extensive interview; the second issue presented Rick’s architectural photographs, featuring images from Paris, Berlin, and Lyon and the third issue provided a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Rick’s alabaster furniture collection.

The most extensive collaboration however, was for the fourth issue, which features a very special look inside the world of Rick and Michele. It was shot over the course of five months in six locations throughout Italy and Paris and totalled 54 pages.

We have also worked with Aston Martin, El Bulli foundation, renowned chef Ferran Adria, Calileo Galilei, architect Claude Parent , concept designer Syd Mead, photographer Mick Rock and Intel. Each collaboration has been entirely unique and very important to us.

The bi-annual is one limb on the SOME/THINGS body. It is buoyed by wider revenue & invigorated by the input of other projects. Have single-faceted publishing companies come to the end of the road and is yours a model for the future?

I think it’s different for everyone. We have chosen a way to work that was not a beaten path, so it was really rough in the beginning— no one really wanted to take risks, but now all the initial effort is really paying off.

SOME/THINGS specialises in story-telling and creative strategy, engaging with our collaborators on a very personal level, in order to deliver something truly unique and qualitative at the end of the process.

We focus on developing our client's brand/creative identity and image over the long-term and provide sophisticated visual and conceptual solutions throughout. We interlink a diverse range of media and utilize our creative associations & background knowledge in photography and visual media to find the most consistent ways to explore the brand's— or a particular creative's— history and document the complex design, production, research and technological processes.

I feel that today, in communication, it is truly essential to have a fresh approach— hence creating new encounters. Finding a new way to see and new ways to present things is crucial.

The aesthetic is dark, haunting & poignant. Was this a conscious decision by you or a natural tendency in all of your contributors?

I think there is a lot of misconception about 'darkness'. I mean darkness is as relevant as light. To be serious is as important as having a good sense of humour. As soon as one does something different, something a bit on the edge, people are ready to label it as a dark, nihilistic, negative, rebellious approach.

I don’t like the negativity, but I am equally bored by blunt positivity. I’m interested in seeing things as they are, which is often a more complex picture than the one depicted in the mass media.

I like to believe that beauty lies in unexpected places— it all comes down to what you make of your experiences. Most of us contain inside ourselves more than what we tend to show to the outside world, and the most exciting people to work with are those who give something that you wouldn’t pick up on at first glance.

I love exchanging ideas with determined, bright people with strong personalities that are capable of making sharp decisions, demanding a reason on professional terms, but who are also genuine and good-natured at heart. It is essential for me to enjoy what we do and have a real connection to the people we work with.

Who are the most important designers working in the world today?

Rick Owens embodies the 21st century better than anyone at this moment in time.

Is fashion a celebratory form of art, one that pays homage to the higher experiences in every day life, or is it a form of escapism?

It entirely depends on the kind of fashion. I love designers who create something more than clothes, who create a world that is inhabited by the characters that happen to wear their garments. A personal language; a work that doesn’t go out of date. I’m talking about people like Margiela, Helmut Lang, Carol Christian Poell, Lee McQueen. These people have invented a universe of their own.

If I had to choose a preferred form of art I would say film— the interaction between words and sound. At the moment, technology and science have also become a very important element of the projects we are working on. Fashion is not the world I come from but it has embraced what we do at SOME/THINGS and given us a lot of creative work opportunities, and for that, I am very grateful.

I like the feeling of being an outsider to the mediums we are working in. It gives me a sense of distance that prevents me from being swallowed by, or in the constant change of, trends.

What characterises Paris fashion week & what experiences do you particularly look forward to with each season?

For the last six months, we have been working with Etienne Russo & Villa Eugenie, who commissioned us to create an artistic interpretation of the events and fashion shows they produce in Paris, Milan, New York and Asia. It has been very interesting to see the production that goes into these shows for houses such as Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Chanel, Dries Van Noten etc. So basically we are there to capture the essence of each show & what it takes to make the fashion magic come to life.

As for Paris Fashion Week in particular, I am always excited to see Givenchy Couture presentations for the attention to the craft and the exquisite sensuality of the garments. I also anticipate seeing Gareth Pugh for the uninhibited imagination and of course, Rick Owens because it is always the most impactful show of Paris Fashion Week.