A/D/O by MINI | Random Studio fashions experiences

Journal

Installation

Random Studio fashions experiences

The research-based studio blends commerce and art in a range of inventive physical and digital interactive experiences for some of fashion’s biggest names.

A movement-controlled virtual bi-plane for Louis Vuitton, a sneaker-operated sound-and-light experience for New Balance, and a fashion look-book inside Google Maps Street View for Fred Perry and Raf Simons. These are just three of the unexpected brand experiences that are the stock in trade of Random Studio, an Amsterdam office adept at blending the digital and physical worlds in surprisingly artful ways.

Random Studio’s own space, filled with plants and cheerful employees, is a case in point. Here, founder and studio chief Daan Lucas demonstrated the “office sun” – a ball of artificial light that tracks across the ceiling, mimicking the path of the real sun outside; the light changes accordingly. “We use a light grid composed of about 1,000 LEDs,” Lucas told The Journal. “Each one is custom controlled to produce warm or cold light, according to the time of day and the movement of the sun. The idea, of course, is to restore our connection to the natural world and its rhythms.”

And this is only the start. “Next, we’ll add a 4D-sound system and create a scenograph of light and sound,” he said. “And we want to connect to the outside world to see how we can bring the outside inside.” So why are they going to all this trouble?  “Research like this is increasingly important to us – we don’t just want to make cool stuff for the sake of it. If we are designing an entrance, for example, we should really understand what an entrance is, what it means in specific contexts. That understanding adds layers of richness to a project which people instinctively grasp.”

Such choreographed effects are behind the poetry and simplicity (Lucas’s self-confessed favorite qualities) found in Random Studio’s best work. In the recently opened installation for a new Chanel watch in the brand’s Place Vendôme flagship store, for example, film screens show a series of short monologues in which people talk about their favorite time of day – and the lighting in the room immediately changes to reflect “noon” or “night”, or whatever time they mention. Image screens on the windows, showing Place Vendôme, also change to reflect the specified time, so it seems that the outside world changes too. Softly moving mesh curtains make the window screens less obtrusive and heighten the illusion. Rippling water displays showcasing the watches also move in the same seamless sequence.

“At Place Vendôme, we’ve embedded the technology in the infrastructure of the space,” said Lucas. “Effectively we’ve created a tech theatre, a space that can react as a single entity in real time. We’re assigning a behavior to the space. So with a space like this, you could create new experiences, experiences that are constantly changing – that’s where all our research is going now.” With frequent collaborators Naivi, Random Studio has created a software base enabling this kind of seamless scenography. But where do the products fit into this story?

In the installation that Random Studio created for New Balance’s new 574S range, the sneakers – placed on a glowing plinth – are transformed into interactive controllers for an immersive sound and light experience. Hidden sensors in the shoes change the brightness and color of the lighting, as well as the ambient sound, while visitors move them around. “There’s no marketing speak, no hard sell,” said Lucas. “Just the experience of playing and being surprised.”

He continued: “We’re inviting people to play, to connect with each other, and with the space they’re in. It’s not about just passively consuming whatever brands have to offer.” He points to the game Volez, Voguez, Voyager, which greeted visitors to the Louis Vuitton exhibition in Seoul, South Korea. In the game, players can pilot a vintage biplane flying around legendary landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, by moving their bodies. Simple and intuitive, yet playful and unexpected, the installation used heat sensors to detect the human body and its movement, using the positional data to fly the plane on a 90-square-metre LED screen wall in front of the players.

“Our work isn’t art,” said Lucas. “It’s in the commercial domain, yet it has an artistic side – and I really like the tension between these two things. We want to be a studio with a point of view. We want our projects to be layered experiences. It’s about creating spaces where, as a consumer, you don’t feel tricked or pressed into buying. The invitation should be to an equal, there should be an honest connection between brands and people."

Back in the 1990s, shortly after graduating from the University of Amsterdam with a law degree, Lucas could be found organizing dance parties – a background that he says he draws on more than you might imagine in running Random Studio. “In the studio, I’m essentially doing what I tried to do with the dance parties,” he said. “It’s all about creating a culture of safety: in this case, the safety to create. Which means not being quick to judge, staying open minded, pushing boundaries, keeping away from being cool, having fun… and so allowing people to open up and be aware of multiple environments.” 

Although a self-taught programmer who started up the studio building websites, he quickly gravitated towards trying to merge digital and physical worlds. “I was inspired by digital art, which made me curious about how we might interact with objects, so with a couple of artist friends I made this installation featuring nine psychedelic cats – it wasn’t really interactive by the way – and it was seen by Nike’s agency and next thing you know, we had a big job for Nike.” Random Studio was on its way.

Meanwhile, he was already assuming an orchestrating role. “I have a good eye, but I’m not that great of a designer myself,” Lucas said. “My job is to find interesting directions to explore, to bring people together, and to find ways to finance that. I’m good at pushing things along so I act as a kind of motor. We now have 30 people – creative technologists, coders and manual people for the electronics, UX and interface designers, plus strategic designers, an art department, installation builders, scrum people, back- and front-enders... We recruit people who are self-starters and who take a lot of responsibility.”

While interactive space is the “red thread” in Random Studio’s work – its main direction – Lucas doesn’t want “to be strangled by it – I want us to stay open.” The quirky look book that the studio recently created for Fred Perry and Raf Simons shows why. Transporting the viewer into a self-contained world based on Google Maps Street View, a functional and prosaic environment seemingly far removed from the spectacle of fashion, the look book challenges conventions of online fashion branding. Models become ghostly, blurry faced inhabitants of a surreal yet totally banal setting, (albeit in pastel colors and beside the sea). Exploring this strange yet familiar world via the Street View interface is about as far from the usual online shopping experience as you can imagine.

Random Studio is shortly moving to a much bigger space to create more room for research and collaboration. “I want to have a lab, a workshop where we build sets and store windows, and artists in residence in the new studio,” said Lucas. “It’s all about trying to look at technology from a more human perspective. That’s what Random Studio does. We are all using our phones for two and a half hours every day, or even more. We’re connected all the time, yet the more connected we are, the lonelier we become. Our work is trying to bring people back to the real world – not by removing technology from life, but by using it to facilitate real-world connections with spaces, and with other people.”

So is that his ultimate mission? He thought for a moment, then said: “Really, I want to inspire people to think – and I want to inspire them to want to make things too.”

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