What It’s Like Being: A Set Producer

Aside from showcasing the flawless collection of every designer’s new fashion pieces, all the runways are also about having a stunning decor. A terrific team consisting of creative individuals who ready themselves up from the simplest to the craziest ideas. Meet Hellen Sjuhada from Studio Sju, the set producer of french designer Isabel Marant.

set designer hellen sju (4)

Could you share us your job description?

“I’m viewing my creativity as something very fluid. On paper, I’m a creative director and set designer but personally, I see myself as a visual storyteller – I take on responsibility for a part – or often – entire visual aesthetic of runway shows, installations, photo shoots or video commercial. My role, ultimately, is to translate the most personal aspects of a designer or brand, the core of their identity, into multi-dimensional, moving and real-time spectacle. And to ensure that all individual elements of a fashion show tell the same story.”

How did it get started? Have you always wanted to be one?

“Early on, I developed an interest in photography, fine art and creative writing. I knew I have always been obsessed with the combination of creating precisely framed image and writing dramatic words — but I was too impatient to take a normal route, to say, be a writer or photographer. So instead of focusing on one field, I spent my early twenties jumping from one career to another. I worked in the media, I curated art for galleries and museums, I made my own art and did various creative directing projects.”

“In 2013, I was hired to create art installation for Isabel Marant’s pop up store at Palais Royal, Paris. And I had this idea to create a multi-dimensional, moving and real-time, show rather than just a static one. She said “Yeah do it, why not”. So I produced my first mini fashion/art show there. That day changed everything for me. I finally discovered the perfect medium to do what I had been wanting to do with all the artistic disciplines I loved in one perfectly controlled package.”

set designer hellen sju (3)

What was the most interesting request made by the client?

’Let’s make a movie about the movement of morning sunlight. A virgin embraced it like a queen wearing her crown, but instead of a crown it’s a sweater from my SS 16 collection. Can you make me something like that?’

Ever encountered a bad experience in your line of working? If so, how do you keep going?

“I think most of the time it’s more of a pressure to outdo myself, season after season, is both what drives me and my biggest source of frustration. My first thought after the show is over and I put down my clearcom headset is always ‘Oh shit, what are we going to do next?’ Especially if it was a success, because my job is to do it again, and better, or if not better, at least different.”

set designer hellen sju (1)

Being the person who works in the creative industry, what do you do when it comes to looking for new inspirations?

“I’m probably not like many of my creative-peers who go to set sail on exotic getaway to find inspiration. Most of the time, it’s on my bike ride to bring my kids to school, on my surfboard, when I go to dinner with friends, or sitting at the park feeding birds and seeing something random or out of context.”

Seeing from your Instagram feed, you go back and forth from Bali – Amsterdam – Paris, and you’re also a mother, so how do you juggle all of them?

“Designing for both my own agency and Isabel Marant, I do have a lot of work on my plate so my husband and I invented a system to keep our stress levels low. It sounds military and a bit ‘extra’ but I have been living with ADHD which means my brains are in total chaos without a perfect routine.”

“So I live like an élite sportive; early nights, weight lifting, meditation, no smoking, bullet journaling (what a lifesaving method!) and I don’t go to wild parties anymore. I also decided to focus on family life in Amsterdam and my work is concentrated in Paris. It feels good to give my family the priority and focus they deserve. So I work few hours from home every day and once a month I fly to Paris or somewhere else for a week – doing photoshoot or fashion shows.”

“It feels quite fabulous, and a good way to give my family some space from me (laughs). This year, we also finally decided to only travel to Bali once a year because to be honest, while it’s amazing to have this opportunity of living between the two continents, it’s also damn exhausting. My family also have adapted minimalism living since a few years ago, we don’t have many stuff – means less clutter in the house. We only wear black, white and grey – our closet is like a uniform – I could sleepwalk into it, and my right hand would pull out black jeans, and my left would pull out my grey sweater. Then do the same for my boys.”

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What’s your idea of a perfect me-time?

“While all of my project happens in Paris, most of the time I work remotely from Amsterdam. So every day I have my ‘me-time’, as in I work alone. So when I got time to unwind, I prefer to spend ‘us-time’ instead.”

“I love to go to a farmland or forest somewhere remote in the Netherlands or South of France with my husband and our two little sons. We would stay for a week in a cabin or a tent without electricity. What I love about it is that finally you realize you don’t need a lot to be happy in life. And that’s very reassuring to me. Fashion business often gives all that pressure, pressure, pressure and sometimes I’m crying because I cannot achieve things, but when I’m in my cabin in the forest I say, “Finally I’m so happy.” I really believe less is more. I think we have too many things. It’s just killing everyone.”

If you were a pattern, what would you be and why?

“Chiyogami Yuzen, a traditional small geometric Japanese pattern. It seems subtle but if you look closely it’s full of intricate details. It’s kind of feminine but also very androgynous.”

Photos courtesy of Hellen Sjuhada

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