Concerts, Streetwear, Videos... The World Is Willo Perron's Visual Playground

By Adam Baidawi
20 March 2019
ITP Images
Perron’s work brings together disparate talents, platforms and mediums to make a new, dazzling whole

Right now, we’re living in an era of unparalleled eye candy. That much is clear. The great democratisation of art and design has led to an explosion of world-class work across every damn platform we come into contact with.

The coolest knock-on effect? The way different industries continue to intersect. The collision of music and design – particularly hip-hop and design – has birthed bigger and bigger things. (Just take a look at what’s going down with Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh, Kanye West’s former artistic director.)
Maybe you can call Willo Perron, the wildly talented creative director, one of the forebears of this modern movement.

After stops including American Apparel and Apple, Perron bumped into Kanye West at a party in Kuala Lumpur. He forged a relationship with the burgeoning star, and went on to work with him on a range of projects, including the 2008 Glow in the Dark tour and the album art for hall of fame slow-burner, 808s & Heartbreak. Since then, he’s gone-on to collaborate with artists from Jay-Z to St. Vincent to Drake and Florence + The Machine.

One of the remarkable things about Perron’s body of work is the sheer scale. He’s put his eye to everything from stadium concerts to streetwear lines, vinyl design to music video direction. The big question: When all the world is your visual playground, how can you hunger for more?

You’re a multidisciplinary creative director in the truest sense – the number of mediums you’ve worked across is staggering. What are the advantages and drawbacks of working across a portfolio that’s so varied?
All of the disciplines in which we work are personal passions and represent my interests. I built this studio in a way in which I’m able to indulge in the things that I love. I think the drawbacks are having to change the way you think multiple times a day; the super polish of interior design and architecture, the grandiosity and scale of shows and live entertainment, the impermanent yet enduring nature of graphic design, the subtlety of camera movement and lighting of video. They are very different mediums; some more temporary and the others more permanent.

What advice do you have for building trust and rapport with the talent you collaborate with? You started working with Jay-Z in a 2012 SXSW show, and then you created the visuals for his 4:44 album. How does that come about?
It’s about proving that you have an understanding of the person, the environment, and what people need, paired with the capability to make things work that leave people with trust. You start with one thing, and it continuously evolves to another. I think the really great collaborators realise that people don’t have a singular talent – taste is something that can circumvent mediums. You don’t have to just do a single thing. We are given mandates by our collaborators, and when the results are positive and we all enjoy the experience it leads us from one thing to another. The trust is earned by success.

Talk us through how a staging concept goes from idea to reality? How do you begin to sketch out the vision for a stadium?
Most of the time I think about these projects and insert them into my life while doing research. I immerse myself in the world of whoever I’m working with and bring their world into my daily life, trying to envision what it would look like in the form of a stage. I think about them all the time, in everything I look at, and eventually the beginning of something clicks. Most ideas come to me while I’m sleeping or in conversations. From there I go into the research and design phase.

It’s not easy to maintain a steady voice and soul in your work. How have you learned to balance a client’s needs with your own impulses as an artist?
We’re designers and design is problem-solving. We’re here to problem solve with an aesthetic opinion. We study our clients, their ecosystem, the world in which they live, what their fans like about them, everything. There is a big difference between The XX or Rihanna or St. Vincent, and we want each one of our designs to feel incredibly true to who our clients are. We are entering the artist’s world, working behind the scenes to create a lens and sequence in which things move. Of course there is an artfulness and intention behind everything, but we are designers first and then artists second.

Decades into a career, how do you ensure that you continue to challenge yourself creatively and ward off complacency?
I’ve never really had time to be complacent. Permit yourself to be curious and don’t have boundaries in your curiosity. Give yourself the capacity to be open. It’s important to leave all the pessimistic voices behind and have an unobstructed, clean internal dialogue and surround yourself with people who allow that freedom.

What do you see as the future of musicians collaborating with creative directors?
I think it gets more integrated as one thing. It’s taken on a role like producers or management has, where it used to be something you would step in and out of, and now it’s going to be increasingly constant. More media outlets need some form of visuals – it used to only be album packaging, photos and videos. Now, there is such a heavy demand for imagery from artists that it’s not sustainable to try to do it all yourself. You need a visual partner for all of those outlets, all of that output. 

Do you engage in any personal projects? Where do you find the time?
Yes, of course. My studio is starting to make furniture, and we’re working on a film. This year we’re focusing on the studio and people here. I have great staff, and we prioritise ourselves to find the time.

What’s your dream collaboration?
I’ve spent my entire career collaborating with people I admire and helping others get their dreams out. The future isn’t about collaborating as much as it’s about developing an ecosystem. Sometimes you meet people and a light goes off; those collaborations excite me.

A selection of Willo Perron’s clientele...

Kendrick Lamar
Kanye West
Florence + The Machine
St. Vincent
The XX