Studio Crême is a young London-based studio that, like its Francophile name, boasts a certain, well, je ne sais quoi. The story behind said name is as charming as the studio’s work: “I grew up in France…” explains co-founder James Earls. “And I really love crème fraîche.”
Earls founded the studio, based in south London’s Bermondsey, around a year and a half ago with Jack Featherstone. The pair, now joint creative directors, had met having shared a studio for a while, and eventually decided to make the leap into setting up shop together. They wanted to combine their skills—identity and graphic design work for Earls, motion graphics for Featherstone—to push their projects into exciting and innovative new directions. At the moment, it’s just the two of them, flexing the team up and down with freelancers as needed for various projects. Oh, and the studio dog—an impossibly adorable whippet, who in a stroke of utter genius, has been named Devo.
“We teamed up from a desire to open more doors with our different skillsets,” says Earls. Featherstone adds that the intention was to “combine the kind of design we’re into with motion—we don’t feel like there’s that many people doing that combination well, or properly.”
Surely it’s quite a high-pressure environment, setting up a studio, just the two of them? Apparently not. “The key to working well together is that we talk about things a lot. We’re very open and transparent,” says Earls.
“Transparency is key for clients as well: there has to be a level of respect, and for them not to just see us as an executioner of a service. We’ve turned away projects before on gut feeling, that might have a big budget but weren’t right for us.”
It seems that gut feeling thing has served Studio Crême well: its portfolio is already incredibly strong, showcasing bold and beautifully executed work for clients including Google, London Design Festival, Dekmantel festival, World Minimal Music Festival, Twin magazine, and Three Hills Brewing.
The pieces that made me especially drooly were those for Dekmantel and World Minimal Music Festival: the merging of clean aesthetics, uncanny retro-leanings, and deliciously disorienting motion graphics feel a perfect fit for the sort of boundary pushing music both events showcase. On a personal level, those clients and what they stand for are fascinating to me. My own love of weird bleeps is shared by Featherstone, who’s long worked on the design side of electronic music, working previously with labels like Warm and Warp (and others that don’t begin with “w”). He started out designing for them right after college.
“For me personally, electronic music is my number one passion, maybe even before design,” says Featherstone. “That’s where I learned my trade, as [those sort of clients] allowed me to do the sort of work I wanted to do, and gave me a bit of independence. Electronic music is fertile ground for letting you create work that’s interesting.”
Studio Crême’s work for Dekmantel, which is based in Amsterdam, is certainly a testament to that: the “after film” for this year’s event is a sublime AV collage that merges documentation of artists like Helena Hauff with eerily disembodied speaker shots, rigging footage, and VHS-style text interventions. The aim of the piece, according to the studio, was to “evoke the strong feeling of nostalgia one can experience after attending a festival” through VHS degradation techniques. It’s heavily informed by ’90s rave culture, and set to the tinnily brutal, yet strangely poignant, industrial techno of British Murder Boys. There’s a feeling not only of nostalgia, but of placing the piece in a wider lineage of video art with foundations in rave. Artist Mark Leckey’s much-loved short Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore springs to mind.
Studio Crême’s teaser film for the festival, however, is a different beast entirely: doggedly futuristic, in a sort of post-internet way, it showcases a “virtual world in which various artifacts are captured going through a process of digitization.” The machine-like music meets its match in the robotic components at play in the visuals, which are built up in front of our eyes. “The film explores various objects of antiquity as their outer surfaces begin to recede, giving way to scan lines and other analytical processes,” explains Studio Crême. “The artifacts are being archived, perhaps protected for future generations. As this process is taking place the film goes on to depict the exterior hardware in which the digitization process [happens].”
The aesthetic feels incredibly of the moment and fit for the client, yet also timeless in the vein of AV artists like Aïsha Devi or Holly Herndon, who manage to create thoroughly emotive virtual microcosms where computer-born realities manage to massage very human emotions.
“Working on those kinds of projects allows us to keep on pushing and exploring visual language,” says Featherstone. “We like classic design too—not all of our work’s crazy avant-garde stuff—but to keep up with the contemporary image-making world, usually you need a client that’s willing to let you do something a bit weird.
“It’s fun to play with something that causes a reaction with people. We enjoy playing and experimenting, but it has to stem from something that’s robust conceptually.”
A rather different recent project is Studio Crême’s redesign of the website for London Design Festival, a mammoth (and much needed) rethink of the annual event’s previous, and rather confusing, online presence. The studio won the pitch against other far more established agencies in February of this year, and managed to turn the whole thing around impressively fast—no mean feat when you consider the vast amount of content and stakeholders involved. The idea was to make a site that highlighted editorial content, as well as introducing a “festival planner” functionality so that users could easily demarcate the exhibitions and events they wanted to see.
But whether working across the LDF site, Minimal Electronic Music, brewing, or anything else, what unites Studio Crême’s work is a considered framework and thorough exploration phase—that “robust” conceptual foundation Featherstone spoke of—and a clean, equally robust end result.
“We’re really trying to not pigeonhole ourselves,” says Earls. “We’re keeping a diverse range of work, as it keeps us on our toes—with every project we’re trying to learn something new.
“From an aesthetic point of view, we never want to do the same thing twice.”