Studio profile – 3 Deep

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Published:  September 5, 2011
Denise Whitehouse
Studio profile – 3 Deep

A studio filled with literary tomes, a dark horse and a taxidermy raven is the home of 3 Deep. Founded by Brett Phillips and David Roennfeldt, 3 Deep is a growing global presence experimenting in the worlds of art, design and fashion.

So 3 Deep, I think as I make my way off the streets of Footscray, up through the darkness of the black stairwell into the light filled, renovated factory space. Large windows letting in the morning sun, five designer stations, a kitchen, vast library, camera equipment and a long table with rows of exquisite packages and publications, while nearby a full-sized, black horse stands draped with a fabric saddle created by the luxury fashion house MATERIALBYPRODUCT. Black, white and minimalist, this detailed space playfully draws you into the design vision of 3 Deep’s principals, Brett Phillips and David Roennfeldt. As Phillips explains, “This is not just a space; it is who we are and who we aspire to be. It is our world of obsessions – our research and ideas, our passion for that which is vanguard and our experience of luxury. It reflects our obsession with objects and the materiality of things.”

Six Scents Series Three, 2010

Six Scents Series Three, No. 3 - 'Can't Smell Fear' by Juun J & Nathalie Garcia-Cetto, 2010

Phillips begins the interview with his infectious intensity. “What do I want you to know? We are now getting to a stage in which we understand what we do. It’s a particular way of thinking, of looking at design as ideas and cultural artefacts with a high level of craftsmanship being inherent in every aspect of what we do.”

I think back to when the pair were studying graphic design at Swinburne and their obsessive conversations about “the space between type, between the words” that led them to collaborate with Melbourne poet TTO, crafting an experimental typographic expression of his sound poetry, which won them a Victorian Design Award. Even then, they had an uncanny singularity of vision setting up their business while hungrily absorbing everything the Swinburne experience could offer. “We had the best of both worlds,” Phillips recalls. “We had that craft-based experience of design, hand-drawn typography, printmaking, drawing, photography. We were also the first to experience the ‘computer lab’. And it was the Industry- Based Learning program that helped us work out what we didn’t want to do. We take that history with us wherever we go.”

From its first manifestation in St Kilda, 3 Deep has been entrepreneurial. Cutting its teeth on art and fashion festivals, it sought out opportunities for experimental image making and design with clients such as the Chamber Made Opera, Dance House, The Fringe Fashion Festival and BalletLab to name a few. It fearlessly embarked on creating its own projects, setting up 3 Deep Publishing and working collaboratively with young artists, photographers and designers to shape award-winning publications, including Bird: the first publication of Kat Macleod’s quirky illustrations.

SCOPE Markt, 2010

Then there was the ambitious ‘Everything in Between’ that brought students together with national and international creative thinkers in a series of workshops, talks and collaborations. The vision behind these initiatives being to bring people from diverse creative fields together in the exploration of design, culture and ideas. “I look at it now,” says Phillips, “and think how did we do that? Plus Man Woman Girl Boy magazine and being on the boards of BalletLab, AGDA and Helen Lempriere. It was incredibly ambitious and sowed the seeds for what we do now.”

Today, 3 Deep is flourishing as a creative agency within the performing arts, fashion and young luxury markets, with a growing international presence that includes Tokyo, New York and London. Its work for, among others, the Australian Ballet, BalletLab, the fashion houses of Toni Maticevski, MATERIALBYPRODUCT, Harrolds and Louis Vuitton, and the New York fragrance series, Six Scents, is characterised by sophisticatedly intriguing imagery and a restrained yet playful and poetic beauty grounded in highly formal, meticulously finished design.

Six Scents Series Two

3 Deep, Phillips explains, is immersed now in every aspect of a project, including ideas, art direction and production. “While I concentrate on the bigger picture, David makes sure our creative output is well-crafted and expressive. We work collaboratively with our clients, searching out projects that cover ‘a lot of ground’ and optimise business and creative opportunities. This includes championing ideas that might not include design, seeding an idea or creating an experience. With the Louis Vuitton launch in Japan, for example, it was about coming up with an idea to engage and sell, shaping an event around the photographer Steven Klein and his work with Madonna. “With Six Scents, we are immersed in every aspect of the project that annually teams six of the world’s leading perfumers with six leading fashion designers to create a set of fragrances. We are across every visual and strategic manifestation you can imagine – the aesthetic language, the objects and creating the different stories and allure of the scents. And then there are art installations, artist videos, all sorts of things that visualise the fragrances and support the ideas and endeavours of the artists involved. Now entering its fourth year, it’s an immersive project of expanding opportunities.”

Collaboration affords 3 Deep “the luxury of working with people who are creative and understand what it is that we do and then afford us the luxury to do it,” says Phillips. Many, like 3 Deep, are young cultural entrepreneurs seeking to break down cross-disciplinary boundaries and initiate collaborative enterprises that play with the history and the future of the creative ideas and processes in order to revitalise the experience of the object. At this luxury end of the market, the idea of bespoke design is driving the meticulously crafted ideas and objects that are evident in 3 Deep Publishing. As Phillips explains, 3 Deep Publishing enables them to take a curatorial role working as artistic collaborators with people they respect and admire. Working with the German artist Robert Knoke on Zero Zero, for example, they were able to realise a visual and material narrative in a set of sensuous, tactile objects, which, through a play of blacks, whites and surface finish, gave tactile form to Knoke’s idea that black is not a colour, but a material. “We do not produce books,” Phillips states, “we produce objects and experiences.”

He pauses to stress that the “notion of time” is paramount to their work. “We seek to slow time down, ask people to pause and engage. To understand the value of time as part of an outcome or object is important to us. Everything is imbued with ‘time’, including the exacting detail and craftsmanship inherent in our work. In a world obsessed with collapsing time, we seem to work in opposition. I think that our work demonstrates the relationship time has in the reading or making of an object or experience. You can literally see this in the publication we designed for John Wardle Architects’ 20th year. We worked solidly for nearly two years on that project, at times obsessing over sections for hundreds of hours.”

3 Deep’s concern with detail and crafting also drives its method of conceptualising and delivering projects. The conceptual process, led by Roennfeldt, for example begins with a bold, blank canvas approach, gathering ideas and materials from seemingly irrelevant references, including art, poetry, sculpture, photography and architecture. A process of sorting then allows fragmentary groupings and chance connections to emerge – patterns, geometry, movement, emotion, cultural themes. Ideas are then generated using an intensive process of sketching and refining by hand until the client can be shown ‘one right idea’. Moving into production, every element is meticulously worked through using a system of thumbnail sketches, dummies, constant critique and refinement, with no detail too small.

With the Australian Ballet, small models are even made to ensure correct lighting and set construction prior to the shoot.

“It is about mastering the craft of what we do,” reflects Phillips, “and a particular way of thinking and approaching design as a conduit to amazing experiences. After 15 years, we know that people and relationships are at the core of what we do. Business and projects are one thing, but relationships and surrounding ourselves with like-minded people are another. Toni Maticevski, for example, is a long-time collaborator and friend while our collaboration with BalletLab is now entering its 15th year. We have enjoyed nearly 10 years of partnership with the Australian Ballet and recently acquired an equity stake in MATERIALBYPRODUCT.

“I know it sounds corny, but we have deep relationships with these people, great relationships, we respect and enjoy the same things. It’s intensely satisfying. We love what we do. It’s literally 24/7 and most days it doesn’t quite feel like business. We are excited by the future, intent on expanding our international footprint and taking our knowledge, relationships and experience with us.”

3deep.com.au

Images copyright 3 Deep.
Thumbnail image: Paul Barbera.

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