In the late Seventies, design-conscious Esprit co-owner Doug Tompkins put together a top-notch team to hone the brand’s image and reach a wider audience.

Tompkins consulted Ettore Sottsass and his Eighties Memphis Design collective in Milan for store designs, and iconic photographers Oliviero Toscani and Robert Carra for advertising campaigns and colorful catalogues that sought to raise social consciousness. To create a seamless image from advertising and packaging to store signs and hangtags, Tompkins hired graphic artist Tamotsu Yagi from Japan. “He was one of the principal figures” in Esprit’s design story, Tompkins said of Yagi, who has a namesake design firm in San Francisco.

WWD: How did you hook up with Esprit?
Tamotsu Yagi: I met Doug Tompkins through Shiro Kuramata [the experimental Japanese furniture designer who also created Issey Miyake boutiques in the Eighties and early Nineties]. Doug was visiting the Esprit Tokyo office to look for an in-house art director for the headquarters in San Francisco.

WWD: Why were you hired?
T.Y.: As a graphic designer, one of the first jobs I had at Esprit was designing catalogues using thousands of photos by Oliviero Toscani. However, the very first job I had with Esprit was redesigning the meal card [menu] for the cafeteria at its headquarters. When Doug asked me to do this, I knew that he was not your ordinary president and chief executive officer of just another company. As the years went on, I understood the meaning and importance of redesigning something as small as a meal card. One of Doug’s mottoes, “No detail is small,” is something I have adopted to this day and strongly believe in.

WWD: What was some of the inspiration behind shaping the company’s image?
T.Y.: Everything began with Doug’s vision and concept. We trusted each other’s work at Esprit. The image at Esprit we always conveyed was one of health, happiness, excitement, sophistication and originality.

WWD: What role did apparel play in the marketing and creating of Esprit’s design aesthetic?
T.Y.: There might have been some gap between Esprit’s fashions and the designs we expressed; however, we needed to be cutting-edge in both departments to attract people worldwide. We had some very talented people working there who understood Doug’s philosophy and I think we did a good job fusing the two together.

WWD: What graphics and advertising campaigns do you like to look back on for being bold and cutting-edge?
T.Y.: I particularly liked the “Real People Campaign,” which was basically to use real Esprit employees. This was genius and worked so well. Many other fashion companies have been following this campaign. Esprit was the original company that did this.

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