Set design, the creation of environment, served to the public for routine feasting. Simon Costin's work is offered up as a personal experience to those it surrounds. While your lips pout in pronouncing his name, he looks to lining the walls of galleries and manifesting self-inspired museums. Dodging hungry minds, he's rewriting his own handbook. His industry counterpart, Gary Card, need not ask what the protocol is in the creation of everlasting atmosphere with work spanning from editorials and illustrations to exhibitions and designer collaborations with a strong sense of his own style sewn into every strand.
"Lee [McQueen] wrote to me. He was just a student then, I didn't know he was destined for greatness. We just got on, more than anything else"
Hard-drives lost, or drowning laptops are the stuff of any writers' nightmares, yet Gary Card is in constant embrace of the loss of his work "I find it very calming, get rid of it. I absolutely positively despise it by the time the jobs come down". It's all in the beauty of transition. A temporary product transported to life through the bottling of a moment as the essence of the 3D set is flat packed into a portable 2D image. Gary Card delivers the goods, his currency lies in the display of imagination, not its archive. When the end is nigh, "it's yours if you can hire the van!" But the beauty of a double ended interview reveals itself in Simon Costin's counteracting romanticism, "it's like a butterfly, it glitters for that moment and then it's gone. There is a certain liberation in that".
"I want to hear about when it was an absolutely cataclysmic balls up"
If loss of work is embraced, how does one have a hold over all that is in circulation? There is an obvious war between the corporation and creative as Card notices elements of his work in association with certain companies "who shall remain nameless", going on to say, "I often say this to myself, "isn't it nice we've had such a huge cultural effect?" When, actually, I'm just seething". A simple trip down to the shops seems to invoke an unsolicited regurgitation of his own portfolio, whether his pockets have been paid or not; "why not just employ me? It would be far nicer". The battle of Card versus conglomerate is fought and finalised in a case of rock, paper, scissors. A literal cut and paste from glossy to glass.
From club to catwalk, Gary Card remembers his band of brothers, a trio and more lead by himself, Gareth Pugh and Henry Holland. The group who aired plans for projects the friday night before the monday morning tutorial while shuffling across sticky nightclub floors, toppled treacly spirits over fancy dress. "I have a theory that it's because we give so much to so many people, all the time, that when we have an opportunity to dress up, we just go nuts. It's our rare occasion to make it all about us". Working visually doesn't birth from routinely sitting behind a desk. Instead, the Card clan bring moments of magic to society whether atmospherically (in their profession), or in these flashes of fancy. "The pace at which people consume things now seems to be a tricky thing", better master the quick-change then.
"We all clubbed together and all worked together; now, none of us go out and we all stay at home wondering what the hell went wrong".
As our eulogies over the noughties seem far distant towards the right side of the New Year, this brotherhood continues: "as set designers, we've got used to working in the wake of the Tim [Walker] effect and the huge significance he's had on the way everybody views set design". Gary Card seems proud to follow in the footsteps of the photographer who demands that opulence is constantly in fashion, but prouder still to be lead by one of the first celebrity set designers, Simon Costin.
Another use for brotherhood ballasts? Student stress. Now a legend, an untouchable, it's hard to imagine Alexander McQueen as anything but. Simon remembers his friend and their first connection: "Lee [McQueen] wrote and asked if I had any pieces left for him to borrow for the degree show. He was just a student then, I didn't know he was destined for greatness", thus cementing the fearful bond between friends at Central St Martins - no one wants to let go of greatness. "He drew to him this whole group that was creepily named "the family"… there was no money, we all sort of banded together to make the shows". While McQueen thrived from his graduate collection, Costin turned his talents to set design; both added their skills and out of the melting pot came the "Golden Chalice" collection. "I'd look at a collection, draw out threads for it and then work out extra layers of meaning to that; there's a thin line between overpowering what is being presented, and adding to it". Supporting the clean black lines of the first half, Simon Costin's stark white wall and clear water runway was injected with ink to mirror the clothes. Health and safety? While the models had sandpaper stuck to the soles of their shoes, Costin took to measuring the spray of water: "[we] decided it wasn't going to destroy anyone's Manolo Blahniks… Lee had the "Jaws" music playing" a comedic precaution for any soaking soles.
"The irony of it is, is that all of our jizz is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art"
Post McQueen, Simon Costin is an organiser of folkloric fetes with spilling guest lists (he's the only man who can bring Tilda Swinton and Siouxsie Sioux together on a muddy field). This fixation with oral Britannica made the display of bodily fluids a credible one, with juices flowing from the story of the Incubus and Succubus (a tale to explain away the unwanted predicament of a pregnant nun), something else was conceived: "as far as I was concerned, it was a beautiful piece of work, it wasn't graphically shocking… yet, the irony of it is, all of our jizz is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art". Don't mistake that dew drop jewellery to be any incarnation of the innocent.
Whether packing Hunter wellies for the woods or burrowing away tonnes of glitter in Paris, the pull towards hibernation seems unheard of to Simon. Before exiting the world of fantasy, he slipped into something slinky with the help of Sonia Rykiel who drafted him in for her lingerie launch with H&M. "They decided to go all out and do this massive event inside the Grand Palais in Paris…I just sort of scaled up a normal job, to the nth degree, in order to
"We measured the spread of the water and decided it wasn't going to destroy anyone's Manolos"
In conversation, each part in our pair serves the role of industry idol to one another, but neither takes it for himself. Each man carnally resigns himself to the bottom of the food chain: "nobody wants to hear about the wonderful time you did something wonderful. I want to hear about when it was an absolutely cataclysmic balls up". The tension between would-be competitors is lost in the presence of Card and Costin. Camaraderie is alive and well here.
If industry horror stories lie in dwindling budgets and swindling the look of expense, payoff, editorially speaking, is in the pages. Which must make our pair a duo of very wealthy men.