Making sparks fly

Ideas are woven together in this seamless ad for wool

This is about fashion and the lack of it in the best art direction. Take this magazine ad for Woolmark from 1985 for instance. Timeless. (Unlike the shirt.) It formed part of a menswear brand campaign, with the lovely line ‘Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It was designed to keep wool at the forefront of fashion, emphasising its superiority over cheaper man-made fibres. In fact wool’s purity, naturalness and the emotional response we all have to it lies at the heart of this wonderful work. Let’s face it, nylon has no soul.
But does this art direction have soul? It has so much I really don’t know where to start. Pretty much every detail on the double-page-spread makes me jealous.

Perhaps we should begin with what isn’t there. Yes, the liberal use of white space. Imagine these ads whispering loudly amongst the screaming, ugly clutter of beer ads, car ads, hi-fi ads, computer launches and utility sell-offs. It’s incredibly rare to find quite so much white space. And even rarer to find photography uncontaminated by copy. Especially on the editorial pages.

It’s also pretty rare to find one of the best logos ever created nestling at the bottom the page. But there it is, expertly positioned, just the right distance from the edge. In fact, such was the attention to detail with this ad, that the client was persuaded to pay the extra cost of full-bleed ads for every insertion even though nothing bleeds off the page. This is because the framing of the elements went critical millimetres beyond the magazine’s recommended type area. Less enlightened clients would of course have said “HOW much? Stuff the aesthetics.”

And to further demonstrate the strength of the client relationship, this 1987 campaign ran across an incredible 12 fashion seasons. But it never won a D&AD Pencil. Crazy. The closest it came was a nomination for photography for this very ad. It’s a great image – created entirely in camera by photographer Brian Griffin.
It’s great because it clearly shows the clothes but it’s also intriguing, with countless interesting details for the eye to dwell on. We seem to be looking at some kind of dandy safecracker or perhaps an East End sculptor. Griffin was certainly aware of the drama of welding through his personal series on construction workers entitled Work. And both photographer and art director doubtless possessed Andreas Feininger’s monograph featuring a famous 1955 black and white shot called Welder – the head and shoulders of a masked welder plus sparks.

It can’t be a coincidence that the stream of amber sparks match the flecks of wool in the Paul Costello tweed jacket. The sparks were actually produced by an assistant armed with an angle-grinder cutting through a locked-off scaffold pole, all just out of shot, top right.

And it can’t be a coincidence that the peacock feathers in the background match the colours and pattern on the wool shirt. A surreal yet relevant addition to the image. What better symbol of male fashion than peacock feathers? Every single detail in this photograph seems to have been carefully considered. Even the tubes feeding the oxyacetylene welding torch are colour matched to the garments.

But the detail that really blows me away is the way in which the light penetrating the welder’s mask highlights the model’s eyes. It’s in the same shape as the eye section of the identikit illustration on the facing page. Genius.

And what an illustration. By Tony McSweeney. A great way to illustrate the notion of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rendered in ink and gouache after studying the ID apparatus at his local police station. But hang on a minute. There are two visuals here. A photograph and an illustration. Radical. Works perfectly though. So why not?

And we haven’t even mentioned the typography yet. A beautiful piece of setting. A simple justified block of text, and a perfect choice of typeface.

Okay, that’s logo, photography, illustration and typography covered. What about page layout? The main photograph is on the right-hand side because that’s the first thing the viewer sees when they turn the page. So the striking image grabs our attention. And it’s glued to the rest of the ad by the white border. So in a millisecond, the viewer knows that the two pages are related.

And if we have a big picture on the right, it makes sense to have a small picture on the left. For balance. In fact there really is no better way to arrange the elements on the left-hand page. Proving that truly great art direction never actually goes out of fashion.

Paul Belford is founder of agency Paul Belford Ltd. See and @belford_paul

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