Founded in 2007 by Thomas Subreville and Léonard Vernhet, ILL-STUDIO is a creative studio based in Paris and often described as a “multi-disciplinary platform”. The studio is involved in a range of various creative genres such as art direction, fashion, film, publication, curation, and design. For over 10 years, the duo has worked and collaborated with world renowned labels including Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Supreme and Chanel to name a few. Today, their work constantly receives critical acclaim and has been exhibited all over the world and even at the French National Collection. ILL-STUDIO’s new self-initiated project, “GENERAL_INDEX” and UNITED ARROWS & SONS’ first collaboration will be released on May 15th.
In this interview we unveil the whole picture of this mysterious yet inspiring creative unit as well as the story behind their UNITED ARROWS & SONS collaboration.
We both met through skateboarding and ended-up doing a skateboard magazine together with a bunch of other friends in the early 2000s. We then did another culture-oriented magazine for a year before we decided to start the studio in 2007. Most importantly, ILL-STUDIO is the result of all our past acquired experiences, personal world views, cultural environment, and visual obsessions since we were about 10 years old. That goes from the cartoons we were watching during childhood, our rebel days when we were teenagers, the many jobs we did before, etc.
ILL-Studio does art direction, consulting, publishing, design, and film direction. Since 2007, we have designed clothing collections, ran record labels, published art books, directed magazines and campaigns, created giant art installations, designed interiors and products, and established creative strategies for many internationally renowned fashion companies, music bands, and media. We are both self-taught and didn’t learn a specific job. This is probably why we ended up doing many different projects. More seriously, this freedom of action is extremely important for us and this is exactly why we started ILL-STUDIO.
Skateboarding, style, and design were always highly connected. It wasn’t like any other sport where the best player wins. Style was always as important as tricks. Some brands even became cult even though they were only producing apparel. Even if we stopped skateboarding, this sense of style has affected us for the rest of our life.
Every project has a different context so there isn’t one answer to be honest. But we’ve always made sure to not enclose ourselves in one style or “savoir faire“ and keep the lines blurry between all our activities. That way we make sure that brands contact us for our overall aesthetic rather than a specific application. This is how we ended up doing films, fashion, architecture, magazines etc. with such prestigious brands.
We are lucky enough to be able to work within quite different and interesting creative fields and through various mediums. Some people know us through our video work, some through fashion, others through music or architecture stuff. What counts the most for us is the overall vibe people get from our work whether it comes to a project or another. We like the idea of never being able to properly answer the question, “What do you do for a living ?“ We do not like to categorize things and we do not like to be categorized. That’s probably why we like to work in such a wide range of fields. We like to adapt our aesthetic and vision of things to many different projects. That is what makes our job exciting.
As much as we really enjoy collaborating with clients on interesting commissioned projects, we wouldn’t be happy at all if we were not constantly developing our own projects on the side. We created the studio for that purpose, and the personal projects feed the commissioned ones, and vice versa. We’ve been working with many brands and institutions for more than 10 years now but always had some self-initiated projects at the same time. ILL-STUDIO has always been a mix of both. It is very important for us.
Locations in general have a big impact on our work. We travel a lot which is really necessary for our work process. Of course, Paris has had a big impact in our development in terms of community, exposure, cultural education etc but any other place we travel somehow has an impact on our work even if not instantly. Like every creative we use our telephone as prosthetic visual memory for everything we come across and it happens a lot that something we saw in a foreign country gets revisited years later for a project.
We also use a lot of cultural references in our work. It can be anything from 1960 Polish conceptualism to early 80’s obscure music or internet junk. It goes from Jean Cocteau to Bart Simpson, Paul Virilio, Dj Screw, Issey Miyake, Reinhold Messner, Michel Foucault, Haruomi Hosono, Marco Van Basten, Carl Sagan… We like to not hierarchize inspiration, whether it comes from “high or low“ cultures. The best is when inspiration comes to you. Not when you look for it. And it is very important to keep some space for that in your daily life.
The exhibition was made of two new installations that we created for the occasion and a series of photographs that we curated from young talented people. It was very important for us to introduce the work of younger people who haven’t had big exposure in Japan yet. And vice versa, to give our Japanese friends the opportunity to discover new talented kids.
We just launched our own brand / label called “GENERAL_INDEX” which is our main focus right now. We launched it in December 2019 and we’ve been working on very different things since then. That goes from a book in collaboration with our friends from Soulwax, a T-shirt called Tree of (Un)General Knowledge which serves as the introduction to the whole project, we launched a cultural program ( Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program ) in collaboration with Slam Jam, a capsule collection with UNITED ARROWS & SONS including a suit, a shirt, a bag and a pair of shoes, a photographic Puzzle series. And there is much more to come. We love navigating freely from one world to another. Experimenting with various processes and practices.
We created this new venture as a way for us to spontaneously release new ideas and objects under one single entity. “GENERAL_INDEX” is the opposite of a classic brand project where products are the main purpose. Of course, we still like beautiful things but it isn’t what we’d like viewers to focus on. Each product from “GENERAL_INDEX” is the result of our own cultural expression. Design and products only help to support the narrative. Put it this way: “GENERAL_INDEX” is a subjective encyclopedia of all human knowledge and every item we produce is the merch of one of its entries. We like to imagine the clothes and objects we create as the gift you’d get from the souvenir store after visiting a museum.
We have a lot of friends in common and we naturally met last year when we came over for our exhibition in Tokyo. They asked us if we were interested in doing a collaboration collection and we said yes straight away. We are very happy about the way it’s going so far. The collection is about “Pale Blue Dot“, the name of a photograph of the planet earth taken by Voyager 1 from 6 billion kilometers away. It is also the name of a book written by Carl Sagan in 1994 about the vision of the human future in space. Despite the fact it was written 26 years ago, it is still extremely relevant in 2020. All pieces from the collection will be directly or indirectly connected to the philosophy behind Carl Sagan’s book. We look forward to be able to share it with all of you!