StudioSmall on its ten-year partnership with fashion designer Margaret Howell

For the past 10 years, StudioSmall has worked with fashion designer Margaret Howell, creating the brand’s calendars, communications, exhibition design, show invitations and in-store graphics. Creative director David Hitner talks us through their collaboration

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StudioSmall was founded by Hitner and Guy Marshall and works with fashion brands from Comme des Garçons to Fred Perry. Margaret Howell first contacted the studio a decade ago, after spotting its design work for Anglepoise lights, which had held an exhibition in her shop on London’s Wigmore Street. “Our first project was a calendar design based on Span Housing, the subject of their next exhibition [pictured below],” explains Hitner. “Following this, they asked if we would work with them on a more formal basis to produce all of their communications.”

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Invitation for AW08 mens presentation in Paris. Lead image (top): invitation for AW15 womenswear presentation in London
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Invitation for SS16 womenswear presentation

The identity is based on two key components: the regular weight of typeface Gill Sans in capitals and a grey and white colour palette, a look that reflects Howell’s love of British Modernism. Seasonal campaigns and invitations for mens and womenswear shows use a range of paper stocks and finishes, and reference fabrics, patterns or production processes used to create Howell’s collections.

“We put as much thought into the format, material and production process as we do the design layout and imagery,” says Hitner. “With the show invitations, the quality of the card should reflect the soft or crisp quality of the collection and the design is always applied in a tactile way; debossed, foiled, screen printed, to make the invitation a physical object in its own right. Another example of this is a promotion we designed around products in [one of Howell’s collections] which were produced with sheer fabric – we printed this onto very lightweight bible paper,” he adds.

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2013-14 look books
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Invitation for 2008 menswear presentation in London

Invitations for Howell’s womenswear shows often feature enlarged versions of patterns used on clothing – from tartan to tweed – while menswear invitations use abstract photographs of the show’s venue. “This is often visualised as an abstract image of the location which we shoot, [which] then makes sense when the press and buyers arrive at the show venue,” says Hitner. Each year, StudioSmall also produces a calendar to send out as a gift to customers, which is based on an interest or passion of Howell’s. Last year’s calendar presented a showcase of Howell’s favourite buildings, packaged as a spiral bound collection of personal photographs.

While fashion brand’s collections are often ephemeral and constantly changing, Hitner says there is a need for visual identities that can withstand shifting seasons and trends. Fashion branding must be flexible, but rigid enough to ensure consistency over time – an idea that has informed StudioSmall’s work for Howell over the years, says Hitner.

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StudioSmall’s first project for Howell, a calendar for customers inspired by the Span Housing project of the 1950s
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Website design for Margaret Howell

“Compared to, say, the telecoms industry, fashion is incredibly conservative when it comes to the application of [a company’s] logo and branding,” says Hitner. “The brand application is the constant that allows the other creative expressions to change whilst still delivering brand consistency. When you think of Chanel, you think of the logo as much as you do the collections and perfume, [and] this has remained pretty much untouched since it was designed in 1925. Margaret Howell is exactly the same: it has its core set of identity elements which are a consistent logotype, Gill Sans Regular typeface and a colour palette of grey and white. The art is keeping this consistency of brand whilst evolving the visual identity within these perimeters to keep it fresh and to reflect how the brand evolves,” he adds.

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Invitations for AW14 womenswear show (left) and AW13 menswear presentation
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SS07 show invitation
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AW08 show invitation (printed with matte black foil) and AW15 show invite

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its partnership with Howell, StudioSmall has published a book showcasing some of its work for the brand to date. The colours and imagery used in each project varies, but the  end result is always a classic, quiet and understated design, which Hitner says references Howell’s approach to fashion design.

“The collections are never trend led and Margaret prefers to refer to herself as a clothing designer rather than a fashion designer,” he explains. “With Margaret Howell it is about evolution rather than revolution … as such, we have identified certain communications that are consistent from season to season and others which are specific to a season, these allow us to evolve the visual identity keeping it current and interesting,” he says.