Nick Egan is a visual design artist and director of music videos, commercials and film. While at London's Watford College of Art and Design, he created cover art for The Clash and a T-shirt design for The Ramones. His first chart-topping album cover was Dexys Midnight Runners' 'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels'. He collaborated with former Sex Pistols manager and fashion entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren, for whom he designed the album cover for Bow Wow Wow's 'See Jungle - See Jungle.'
In the early '80s, Egan designed much of the graphic material for Vivienne Westwood's 'Worlds End' clothing line and later art-directed her fashion shows in London and Paris. Upon relocating to New York, he created cover art for legendary artists like Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop. Egan also art directed books; John Lennon Listen To These Pictures by Rock-n-Roll photographer Bob Gruen and Bob Dylan's 'Drawn Blank.'
Nick's exploration into fashion continued in New York in designing the label for the first collection by Marc Jacobs - 'Sketchbook.' In addition to art directing Jacob's early shows, Egan's collaboration with Jacobs continued through the designer's meteoric rise in the fashion business.
IN PROFILE | FASHION, MUSIC, RESURRECTION & DESIGN: THE NICK EGAN INTERVIEW
1. Nick, I can't think of another person whose collaborative work - in the past 30 years - has connected art to music to fashion in as culturally significant a manner as you have. Not only have you worked with some of the most iconic fashion designers of the era, but your collaborations occurred early on in each of your careers. Take us a little bit into what it was like to work with a young Vivienne Westwood - on her 'World's End' campaign - in the early 80's both in London and in Paris. Illuminate that experience for us. Put us there. How did you all come together?
I had been working with Malcolm McLaren on the Bow Wow Wow, 'See Jungle! See Jungle!' album cover. Malcolm realized the cultural importance that style and fashion has with music - better than any person I've ever met. He understood it from a street perspective, not from the trendy design houses of Paris, so to ultimately be part of Malcolm and Vivienne's 'World's End' conquest of Paris was one of great moments of my artistic career.
Paris is to fashion what Hollywood is to movies - it's the benchmark for the rest of the World. It's where all the traditional design houses are: Chanel, Dior, St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Chloe, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton, Pierre Cardin and Hermés. Malcolm and Vivienne were the first ever British designers to be invited to the prestigious 'Prêt-à-Porter.'
We were like nothing they had ever seen before. They were institutions of luxury and wealth with hundreds of staff and manufacturers all over the world. They used the most expensive models and photographers. Their shows were attended by royalty, presidents, industrialists and the rich and famous from all over the World.
The Designer's Ball at Le Palace is one of the most extravagant events I've ever been to. It was attended by Prince Rainier of Monaco and his wife Grace Kelly, Rudolf Nureyev, Bianca Jagger, Grace Jones, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Diane von Fürstenberg, John F Kennedy, Jr. and Federico Fellini.
Cristal Champagne was flowing out of fountains, women were dripping in diamonds. The whole thing was a visual overload.
So now add Vivienne and Malcolm; no formal training in design or pattern cutting. They were the first use models who had never modeled before - paying them with samples from the show.
One year, I both art directed and modeled in the show; designed the invitation; drove the collection in a tiny cube truck with Tom Binns and Gene Krell; laced the shoes the night before the show; and worked on the music with Malcolm - all for that first show at the Salon de Thé Angelina.
Vivienne did things on a whim, but her knowledge of history - particularly in clothing was second to none, especially 17th and 18th Century. She also was an encyclopedia on ethnic and tribal clothing and patterns.
Malcolm used those first shows as demo for his music - mixing and matching various styles. His inspirational album 'Duck Rock' came from putting together music for the Buffalo/Nostalgia of Mud Collection (1982) and the Album 'Fans' was from the 'Witches' (1983).
Malcolm and Vivienne were the Jagger/Richards and Bonnie & Clyde of fashion. A partnership fraught with tension; a love-hate relationship that was both creative and destructive at the same time, but that redefined fashion and style forever.
2. I'm wondering how that experience may have differed a little later when (after relocating to New York City) you once again found yourself collaborating with a young Marc Jacobs on his 'Sketchbook' collection. Tell us a little bit about working with him at that early stage of both of your careers. Did you notice any similarities in the approach of both designers? What were the differences? How did you adjust to each of them?
Most artists (including myself) have that mix of madness: incredible self-belief and fits of insecurity. I don't think I've ever met a musician, painter, writer, photographer or fashion designer that doesn't have degrees of each of those maladies - and if they don't, they're probably no good - so, in that respect they were similar.
Marc was one of the Children of Punk Rock, and in particular McLaren/Westwood, so I was a generation ahead of him. He was one of the many people I knew - and worked with - who saw Malcolm and Vivienne as pop culture deities: people like Boy George, John Taylor, Michael Hutchence, Lauren Hutton, Bob Dylan, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, and Afrika Bambaata just to name a few.
Marc was a kid when I met him. He had just won the prestigious Parsons Young Fashion Designer of the Year Award and his eyes were wide-open and enthusiastic like any fan. So, for Malcolm and I to walk into his life at that time must have been a huge inspiration to him - not in his design's, because Marc always had his own style - but more in his attitude. It made him more street-savvy.
Marc and I were very close. My girlfriend at the time (Ellen) and I lived with him and his boyfriend (Robert) for 6 months. I saw both a young kid who wanted to have fun, but I also saw a dedication and a maturity that most 30-years old's don't have. He was never driven by fame or money.
He was a pop culture junkie whose fix was music, style, gossip, art. The irony of all of that is that was all he ever needed to get high. He was vehemently anti-drugs then which is why it was sad to hear of his abuse later in life. He would have hated that person when I knew him.
But, he is (and forever will be) one of the greatest American fashion designers of all time. I still have a lot of love for him.
3. Your 1981 'See Jungle-See Jungle' album cover for the English new wave band Bow Wow Wow was recently ranked #10 of the 'Top 100 Best Album Covers of All Time.' It's a beautiful homage to the classic 'Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe' by the French painter, Édouard Manet. It's also one of your most celebrated collaborations with punk rock impresario Malcolm McLaren. Now, the early 80's were marked by a return to a conservative socio-political landscape in both Britain and the US. I believe that Annabella Lwin, the band's lead singer, was only 14 or 15 at the time. How did you and Malcolm ever manage to pull that off? Manet's piece itself created quite a sensation in the art world during its time, how was your own tribute to it received in 1981? And, do see any similarities between that social, or cultural, landscape and the present?
The truth is morals don't really change that much - they go through peaks and valleys. It's more a question of tolerance, how far are people willing to go at particular point in time. I think the 1920's were a much more daring time, culturally and sexually, than it is now. And if 'The Great Depression' hadn't arrived, who knows to what limit that generation would have taken it.
It's always more exciting when there is a low tolerance to things and then something left of field happens. It takes people by surprise and it upsets the status quo. Generally, you either have cultural upheaval or political upheaval, very rarely do you have both at the same time like it was with the Sex Pistols and The Clash at the end of the 1970's.
The country was devastated by strikes, the three day working week, and rationing, which had never before happened in a time without war. It was then that the youth of Great Britain created a movement which changed the landscape, culturally and politically, and it resonated around the World.
The main issue with Manet's painting was not because there was a naked woman sitting in a wooded area with 2 fully clothed men. In fact, Paris was full of naked women, artist's muses, the Folies Bergere, La Belle Epoque and Cabaret's were all part of the scenery. It was only Napoleon who found the painting "an offense against decency."
It was Manet's technique that was criticized. People felt the painting was lacking in structure; sketchy; and unfinished - which is what Manet intended, but to most, it was 'c'est diabolique.'
In London in 1981, it was an offense to have a minor naked in a public park, so in that instance it was considered a sexual deviance, even though nothing sexual was occurring, but in truth, nobody really cared that much.
We had just come out of Punk with images like the Destroy t-shirts; with Jesus Christ upside-down on a cross with a swastika printed over him; two naked cowboys standing facing each other with their penises touching; a 12-year old boy standing naked with a cigarette in his hand; and anthems like: 'God save the Queen, she ain't no human being, Anarchy for the UK, it's coming some time, maybe' and 'London's burning with boredom now'.
This was nothing compared to those, so by 1981, at least in England, people didn't bat an eyelid, especially if it was done in the name of art or music. As in most cases, it was the media who jumped all over the salaciousness of it all, turning it into something it wasn't: salacious. However, the morals of 1981 were nothing compared to today, which is even worse. Some have accused it of being borderline child pornography, which is preposterous.
I do feel we are in the grips of a conservative, morally judgemental society with people ready to jump on anything without really looking at it with any context.
That's why I was pleased to hear that the new CEO of American Apparel, Paula Schneider, did not intend on turning her back on AA's 'sexy' image. She rightly said "I think it's fluid. We will have some sexy ads, we do have lingerie and that is sexy, and it's obviously a part of what we do here."
And she is absolutely right. But, there will always be those that will shoot anything with any 'sexiness' down in moral flames. Those people never want to focus on the positive. It is they who are obsessed with sex. They refuse to look at the causes this company champions like 'gay rights' and ending 'bullying,' which really are the important socio-political agendas of the day.
4. Let's bring it to the present. You've directed over a hundred music videos and collaborated with some of the more stylish musicians of the past few decades. Your most recent work (with Duran Duran) saw you collaborating not only with the band, but also with Nile Rodgers and the very chic Janelle Monáe. Isn't this your fourth or fifth video with Duran Duran? What's the secret to the success of this creative partnership? And, how has that evolved over the years?
I think more than anything it's because we have exactly the same references. We grew up watching and listening to the same things: John Peel on the radio, Top of the Pops on TV, and then as your musical tastes grew more sophisticated, The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC 2.
Back then, the only way out of working in a bank was football or music. And in both cases, the chance of success in either was remote. Of course, punk changed all of that. The decade of the amateur began. This was an important moment for all of us because things literally changed overnight. It meant we didn't have to be virtuosos. It was more about ideas and enthusiasm. So, this amazing wealth of talent evolved in areas that would probably never have had a chance pre-punk.
We were the children of the NME, (New Musical Express) Melody Maker and Sounds; raised on Glam Rock which introduced us to the music of Roxy Music and David Bowie. Looking back on it they were gods to us. They showed us that boys could dress like girls; that glitter and eyeliner could brighten up even the drabbest of British days.
They taught us about William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Surrealism, Dadaism, Jean Renoir, Joe Dallesandro, Lou Reed, The Factory, the French New Wave, Roman Polanski, Fellini, Drag Queens, Performance Art. Our entire aesthetic - that we still carry with us today - came from that. It's a kind of a language that we communicate with from time to time."
The great thing about Duran Duran (and the reason I love working with them) is that they stay ahead of the game without embarrassing themselves by diving into trends. I don't think there is another band like them (besides the Rolling Stones and U2) who have had such longevity.
However, unlike other bands (who have pretty much remained in the upper echelons of the music hierarchy) Duran has plummeted a few times. Many bands would have thrown in the towel, but they've resurrected themselves more times than Jesus Christ.
I like to think that I've had a hand in their longevity as the music videos I've done for them - 'Perfect Day', 'Ordinary World', 'White Lines', 'All You Need Is Now' and 'Pressure Off' - re-launched them each time.
5. Finally, share with us what summons your attention or interest these days? What (or who) is currently inspiring you? And, how is that making its way creatively into your current (or future) projects? Who would you most like to work with in the future?
That's a tough one to answer. My interests are really so broad. So, to pin it down to one or two specifics feels weird. The last three projects I've worked on - though similar in that they're all in the arts - were three completely different types of work.
In the summer, I worked with Tim McGraw and his wonderful Creative Director, Kelly Clague on the 'Damn Country Music' album cover with Photographer, Danny Clinch. I was really happy with it. The concept tied nicely together with Danny's photographs (which were fantastic.) That was a collaborative effort between, myself, Kelly, Danny and Tim (who was very much part of the concept.)
Straight after that, I flew to London to work with Duran Duran on the first music video from their new album 'Paper Gods' for the track 'Pressure Off.' That was the fifth video I've done for Duran Duran. It's the longest and most successful creative collaboration I've had with anyone.
Then, Senior VP of Marketing Cynthia Erland and Creative Director Benno Russell from American Apparel approached me about designing a signature t-shirt as part of their rebranding effort.
That was followed by the very hip Japanese retailer The Pool Aoyama, who asked me for three designs for their summer collection. So, I've had to wear three creative hats as each one of those takes a completely different type of skill set.
Tim McGraw was a person I wanted to work with as I had never ventured into the world of country music and it was something I had always wanted to take on. As far as I'm concerned, you couldn't start higher than with Tim McGraw. More than anything, it was his obvious affinity for style that drew me to him.
As far as, 'is there anyone I would like to work with in the future?'
Well, let's see... I think it might be interesting to work with Jack White at some point. I'm impressed with the highly stylized precision by which he expresses himself. We've never met, but he seems to mix and clash sounds, styles and visual elements with the same energy (and unbridled curiosity) that Malcolm used to employ.
In fact, Jack reminds of Malcolm a bit - both are phenomenal artists; extraordinary business acumen; each intuitive, inspired and unstoppable.
I can't specifically think of anyone else at the moment, but it could be anyone, I suppose. Anyone to whom I can bring something uncommon, unexpected inspired, or interesting. I've been lucky enough in my career to have worked with some of the greatest names in music, art, and fashion, so there really aren't too many people left.