Commissioned to create St-W #106’s cover image, London-based set designer and art director Sarah May teamed up with photographer Kate Jackling to highlight today’s tailor-made approach to hospitality.
What was your interpretation of the brief?
SARAH MAY: We saw modern luxury and hospitality as having a stripped back, considered and simplified aesthetic. Our take on ‘redefining luxury’ was to work with the human hand, as this immediately draws you into the personal, the sense of pampering and the tailor-made approach to contemporary hospitality. The hand and its gesture signify the consumption of experience and harbour the idea of the everyday becoming extraordinary. A hand displays the gift of sharing and of giving, of the host and the guest. We wanted to play on the idea of illusion and to present a different view of hospitality.
How did you approach the making of the image?
I start my process with material, whatever it may be. I respond to that material and use the textures and surfaces I’m working with to build up a feeling about the final image.
Kate and I talked through the ideas together. Our conversations formed new ways of creating, and an energy grew that assisted us in the making process. As we knew we wanted to work with hands, we researched gestures, the human body, and the movement of a hand and its ability to express a certain theme or thought.
How does your definitive image reflect the theme?
The hand echoes the idea of offering a spa treatment, a hotel stay or a personal hospitality experience. The mirror encourages viewers to reflect and project their own experiences into the image.
Can you explain the process that led to the cover image?
Kate and I developed the concept together by discussing ideas – by leaping from one idea to the next. We wanted to keep our materials to a minimum and to come up with a clean, simple image.
With a few fabric options for the backdrop, we worked out the right colour to go with whichever one we chose. Should the fabric be textured? Smooth or rough? We tested reflective surfaces and selected mirrors as well as 50/50 beam-splitter glass, which has a magical two-way surface.
As I said earlier, the cover image represents the gift of sharing, to which we added the notion of display, alongside the ongoing theme of illusion. We considered having the reflection of another fabric or coloured curtain appear in the small mirror, but in the end decided that keeping it all white was the right way to contain the picture and to produce a stronger image. We played with many hand gestures before settling on the final one.
What developments do you see in the hospitality scene, and how did they inspire your concept for the cover?
London seems full of new ways of dining and of having an ‘experience’. Knowing what’s going in the ‘scene’ seems to be the only way for me to get involved in the numerous developments – I’m not actually part of the action. London is always inspiring, especially the immersive events and those with a personal touch. We’re seeing more and more of them every day.