Paula Scher has designed countless record covers, defined the brand identity for some of the world’s largest companies, and changed the landscape of graphic design in no small way over the course of her 40+ year career. Now she’s trying her hand at something a little different: t-shirts. In collaboration with Uniqlo’s SPRZNY line (an art-focused project of the mega popular retailer that has also featured works by Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol), Scher lent some of her iconic graphics—like the poster for Broadway hit Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, as well as her hand-painted maps series—to the masses.
In a recent conversation with MoMA curator Luke Baker (the museum, which has several of Scher’s works in its collection, is also a sponsor of the line and works closely with Uniqlo), Scher spoke about her design ethos and how she feels about being a new part of the retail scene. Since arriving in New York in 1970 “with $50 and a portfolio,” Scher has lent her talents to mega corporations like CitiBank and ShakeShack, arts institutions like the Public Theater, and The Metropolitan Opera, and was the first female principal of Pentagram design studio. Known for her bold typographic designs, Scher told Uniqlo fans that she got inspired to “give type spirit” after she found herself unsatisfied by simply layering text over other people’s illustrations.
It turns out that there’s some significant overlap between the worlds of graphic and clothing design—like packing as much as possible into a small space (something Scher said New York City inspires her to do), conveying attitude with color, and making a bet on the future. “Designing,” said Scher, is dealing with the personalities of people… essentially getting everyone to wear the same set of clothing.”
At the end of the day, it was the designer’s love of challenging herself to engage in project’s she’d never done before that inspired her to sign on to the SPRZNY collaboration. When Baker asked her what makes a good t-shirt, Scher simply laughed and said, “If I knew what made a good t-shirt, I’d become a clothing designer.” Don’t look now Paula, but it looks like you just did.