Building the visual world of Adele

Following the release of Adele’s latest album, creative director and long-time collaborator Phil Lee discusses what it’s like to help create a brand for one of the world’s biggest artists

Adele Adkins’ journey from born and bred Londoner to monomynous megastar is astonishing even by musical hall of fame standards. Brought up by her mum mostly in south London, she began singing when she was just four years old. By the time she turned 18, she had graduated from the prestigious Brit School (which had already helped launch music careers for the likes of Amy Winehouse) and bagged herself a record deal with XL Recordings, the record company behind everyone from FKA twigs to The xx. Fast forward just over a decade, and the singer has topped charts in countries around the world, headlined Glastonbury and received an MBE for services to music.

In an age where album sales are plummeting, Adele has sold more than 120 million records globally off the back of her first three albums. While her universally relatable songs of heartbreak and redemption clearly strike a chord with fans, another major part of the singer’s success is her refreshingly down-to-earth persona both on stage and off – a kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get charm full to the brim with cackles and expletives. She’s also demonstrated an impressive savviness when it comes to the inner workings of the music business – from taking control of her public image in the press to surrounding herself with a trusted group of producers, managers and collaborators, many of whom have been with her since the very beginning.

Creative director Phil Lee is one of the Adele’s longest-standing creative collaborators. Now creative director at Untold Studios, where his music-focused projects have included creating the album artwork for Kano’s album Hoodie’s All Summer, he first met Adele during his tenure at XL, where he oversaw the visual output of the label and collaborated with artists including Radiohead, Dizzee Rascal and countless other music visionaries.