As a child, designer Allie Hughes dreamed of being a professional football player. Alas, it was not to be, as artistic tendencies overtook her soccer skills. But though she’s hung up her football boots, she hasn’t lost her kicking skills - but these days it’s all about creating kick-ass work. We caught up with Allie to find out about her work on Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey and American Eagle and her recent move to San Francisco.
LBB> How would you describe your work?
AH> Hmmm. Fun and playful. I always try to experiment with new techniques or styles – partly out of necessity but also so I don't get bored! I've always had to rely on myself due to the work environment I was in, so I had to teach myself different tricks to keep it fresh. I don't think I have a specific style because of that.
LBB> What kind of child were you, and what were your childhood dreams?
AH> I know this sounds cliché, but I was always, always drawing, painting, or making something. I wish I could say that I was a brainiac who randomly discovered creative talent, but that's not the case. I tended to be on the shy side until high school where I ‘blossomed’. I was – and am - a very sociable person but definitely need ‘me time’. I played a lot of soccer and was socially involved but was constantly doing something art related. I was voted ‘best artist’ in middle school and high school, haha. I was probably nominated just by default – high schools always needs their ‘token art student’. Art was an outlet for me my whole life. I'm not sure how or why, but my mind was really active and constantly had something it wanted to make. I'd stay up until 3am painting or drawing, go to school the next morning and spend a good portion of my day in the art room.
My childhood dream was actually to be a professional soccer player. I wanted to be Mia Hamm! I actually carried that dream all the way through college until I came to terms with the truth that my real passion had always been art. Oh and there’s the fact that I'd never be that great a soccer player.
LBB> On your website, you describe yourself as a ‘living contradiction’ – what do you mean by that and what do you think this sort of personality trait adds to your work as a designer and art directors?
AH> Writing about myself is very difficult. For example, answering these questions has been a bit all over the place in my head. I have to always re-evaluate almost everything I say and do at all times. It's annoying. I feel very strongly about a few things and the rest is just a constant tide of change and evolution. Earlier I said I was shy and super social... explain that?! Both are very true.
The ‘living contradiction’ is something that I've struggled with and appreciated (see what I did there?) my whole life. I struggle with it because it makes it very hard to articulate my thoughts, likes and dislikes. I hate a colour one day and then it becomes my favourite the next. It’s the same with music, fashion, food, movies, design, type... just about anything. I appreciate this trait because it makes me more open minded. I think it allows me to really try to see the beauty in everything. Cheesy; yes. Helpful; totally. I sound like I have a split personality; I don't think that I do... although I always say "Allison and Allie are two different people". Koo-koo!
LBB> You studied fine arts – what do you think a fine arts education provides that perhaps a more functional ad school route or straight graphics route doesn’t?
AH> Going to art college was great. It was like a giant playground for the imagination. You could learn all sorts of different ways to express and create what was in your head. I think design is just another medium. It's a medium that uses a computer as its end artwork; but you can use all the other media to create the final piece. I think I picked the best field to create in - I can use my photography, my drawings, paintings, hand drawn type or do 3D modelling whenever I want. The other bonus is that I'm not a ‘starving artist’. Going to an art school allows your mind to explore and learn all different ways to create. When you go to a more focused school (which isn't a bad thing, by any means) you just tend to come out knowing one specific formula. A certain way of thinking in one field. Less exploration.
LBB> You lived and worked in Boston for ten years – what is the city like to work in as a creative? What’s the creative scene like? And where are you from originally?
AH> I'm an army brat. I didn't move around as much as most brats did, but I was able to spend half my life in the south and half in the north. That, right there, might explain a lot! As a child I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. After my dad retired we moved to Bath, Maine. I identify more with Maine. Always have, always will. Maine has the slow, outdoorsy, small town lifestyle that I always imagined myself being a part of. I finished middle school and high school in Maine and then took off to Boston for school.
It took me a while to adjust to the city. Everything in my body repels that lifestyle. Fast, furious, loud, anxious... blah! But eventually I made it work and got use to that pace, which in retrospect was great prep for the advertising world.
Boston is interesting. I didn't feel like it had a strong art community, unfortunately. But I also didn't try to find it. When I think of cities like DC, Chicago or San Francisco, the art is everywhere. People appreciate it. Whether its statues and memorials or graffiti and sculptures, I felt like I’ve never had to go far to see those things in these cities. In Boston there's a ton of history, which is awesome, but I always think of it as the young, sports-enthused, party city. And that's exactly what I let it be. It didn't have to be artsy for me. It was what it was and I appreciated it for that.
LBB> You’ve recently moved to San Francisco - why was it the right time to make a move?
AH> After 10 years in Boston, I needed a change. A change of scenery, pace, job and lifestyle. Although Boston was great, it was beginning to wear on me. I was frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm for anything and felt stunted in my growth as a designer. I needed to be recharged and inspired again. There was always a reason not to leave Boston and for the first time in my life... I didn't have one. I'd always talked about moving to California one day. I'd never been and wanted so badly to experience the west coast. I got an awesome opportunity to work for Goodby in SF and there was only one option for me and that was to take it. Regardless of whether I was actually ready to move across the country away, from everything I've ever known or not… YES was the only answer I could give. So here I am, fully engaged and excited again! Though totally missing my friends and family.
LBB> How do you think your work has evolved from when you started out at Mullen to your time at Arnold Worldwide and your move to GSP?
AH> I think every time you move you have to prove yourself all over again, which forces you to challenge yourself to create more interesting beautiful things. You know your old styles so you push yourself to do something totally different or challenge your skillset. I also think that the opportunity to work with new creatives and to learn from them has helped my work evolve. To be exposed to different ways of thinking or creating is also such an awesome thing. Each agency has a style and it's interesting to try to figure out how you fit into that and then adapt. Thirdly, over time you just become more confident with yourself and what you can do. I think having some confidence to try new things without worrying so much about who is working above or below you really helps!
LBB> Which pieces of work are you proudest of and why?
AH> Hmmm. Well, I really loved the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey stuff. I felt like it became almost like a child of mine. I think of it as separate pieces, though I'm very proud of all of it. The print specifically was something that I did solely with me, myself and I - oh and Nathan Fox the illustrator. The clients were extremely happy with the outcome.
I'd also say that I’m proud of the American Eagle project. I don't think it's the best work I've done by any means. It lacks in almost every area, but the amount of blood, sweat and tears that my partner and I poured into it is something I'll never forget. Between my partner and I, we came up with the concept, shot it (yes we personally shot the footage), edited it, found the music for each cut, and colour-corrected in an almost unreasonable amount of time. That's something to be proud of. Too bad it's not exactly what we wanted...
LBB> The American Eagle Outfitters campaign relishes in the great American outdoors – how do you balance working with that sort of amazing scenery and allowing the personalities of the individual subjects shine through?
AH> This was a challenging assignment for several reasons - most of which I will not mention. American Eagle is in a time of transition right now, which is exciting and difficult. Evolution never happens quickly, especially in a brand that’s been known for a specific thing for so long: ‘the outdoors’. They are getting further away from that and trying to get closer to their consumers and what they are into. They want to be more involved.
Personally I never find it hard to work with scenic backdrops. I tend to be a sucker for that. What's hard is taking a skateboarder or a singer and putting them into the wilderness. How do we create something that other peers will find interesting or cool and not cheesy? I’d say it's still under construction.
What I really wanted wasn't just a model but a real kid. Someone who has more to offer than their looks: an incredible talent, a freeing outlook on life, an incredible thirst for life or passion for something. Something that connects us to these people. Forget the clothes or where they are. If you like these people, everything else falls into place. American Eagle says that they are a company that includes everyone. Seeing a skinny blonde chick who looks absolutely perfect in skinny jeans instantly makes me hate myself! It turns me off shopping, because I think "oh I won't look that good in those" or " I can't fit into that". If it's about just being you and being ok with that, then clothing just becomes an expression of one's self. I feel like this age group should start thinking and feeling that way. I'm happy to hear that AE is happy to be that brand. Now, we just need to solve it creatively!
LBB> We’re also loving the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey work – in terms of the art direction what were you trying to achieve with the look of the campaign? How did you balance the need to incorporate something of the traditional Jack Daniels ‘look’ with the need to create something playful and different?
AH> That was challenging for sure! I was trying to stop the new honey from being too sweet – I wanted it to be more badass. Honey with ‘tude. That's what Jack’s all about. It's an attitude and lifestyle. We couldn't ruin it by making a girlie product that was super fluffy. In general JD as a brand stands for strength, pride and patriotism. I wanted to create a look that reflected something different and new but had the same foundation as the rest of the JD family. Badass, attitude, confidence but a little wit. A honeybee that can kick your ass sounded about right.
It was fun to think it up with my partner, and then to see it come to life was even more amazing. The actual animation was created by Pete Candeland, who is incredible. Figuring out how print and digitial executions looked was the challenged I faced. Taking the Candeland version of the king bee never seemed to have the same energy, so we decided to work with another illustrator, Nathan Fox, who has more of a comic book style. He got all the attitude I wanted in each pose. Very simple (like Jack) and subtle but it came together.
LBB> Where do you want to be in ten years’ time?
AH> I want to be happy with what I've accomplished. I have a feeling that won't be the case. I hope to either be a CD or an owner of my own company. If that's the case, hopefully I’ll be somewhere in Maine. Full circle. Whatever happens, I hope to still be growing, learning, teaching others, traveling and creating. Always creating.