Charlotte Rey and Duncan Campbell stood up when I met them, and the first thing that struck me was that they’re both of model proportions. Attractive, too. Duncan wore a pink shirt, two buttons open. His hair looked freshly coiffed, and his tortoise sunglasses matched Charlotte’s, who arrived wearing a classic black tee. While I didn’t expect to quote Jack Johnson’s ‘Better Together’ during our meeting, it’s a sentiment that fits. Thinking about their first meeting, Duncan said it wasn’t a “love at first sight, a creative explosion” kind of encounter, but the relationship they’ve built up over the past eight years is rather a silent, symbiotic partnership trading on intuition.
DUNCAN CAMPBELL: I was studying Law at Kings College London on the Strand, and my course was comprised of two years in London and two years in Paris. In my third year of studies, I moved there, but I soon realised that studying law in French probably wasn’t for me, so I decided to look for a job instead. I ended up as an intern at Acne Paper the year after Charlotte had been there, but we didn’t end up meeting until we were both based in London the following year.
CHARLOTTE REY: I had a similar path as I started interning for Acne, the fashion label, in Paris and then started working with the magazine just after that, as it was based out of the same office. The people there encouraged me to apply to Central Saint Martins, which I did and got accepted to the BA in Fashion History and Theory. I remember the interview in a haze, as it was during fashion week in Paris, and since I was the only intern in the office they could only give me one day off. So I was on the Eurostar early in the morning and had to go back the same afternoon. Luckily I got accepted and started studying there in the autumn, and then shortly after that, we met for the first time. We both worked on the magazine simultaneously while at university, and when Duncan finished school he became the editor and when I graduated a year later, I became the co-editor with him.
“We would go to school in the mornings, and then in afternoons we would work with people twice or our age – many of whom were at the top end of the industry – because of this amazing vehicle that the magazine was. Then you would come back and have conversations with your fellow students and it would be like, “Oh yes. Homework.” – Charlotte Rey
1 GRANARY: How was it to work alongside your studies? How did you dedicate time to studying and being an editor, because they are both quite full-on jobs?
C.R.: Yes, it was really full on, but at the same time it was great because I could apply everything I was learning directly to the things I was working on. Juggling my dissertation in the final year and the magazine was particularly hard, but I would have made the same choices today.
D.C.: I studied Law, which I decided pretty early wasn’t what I wanted to do for a living, so when I started working on the magazine, it was really a new world that opened up for me. I wasn’t one of these kids growing up who was reading i-D or The Face under the bed covers, so when I was exposed to it I was amazed that this was something I could make a career out of.
C.R.: Also, I think that, in a way, we were both quite mature kids. We were very young, but we would go to school in the mornings, and then in afternoons we would work with people twice or our age – many of whom were at the top end of the industry – because of this amazing vehicle that the magazine was. Then you would come back and have conversations with your fellow students and it would be like, “Oh yes. Homework.” It was great though, we learnt so much about the importance of being organised and working in structured way which is essential today, when [we] are often running ten projects simultaneously.
“Something we agreed on very early was that we not only wanted to make good work, but also to feel excitement about the projects and the people we were working with.” – Charlotte Rey
1G:Can you tell me a bit about setting up Campbell-Rey?
C.R.: When we started talking about setting up our own consultancy, one of our first discussions about it was, “What drives you? What is it that you want every day?” I think something we agreed on very early was that we not only wanted to make good work, but also to feel excitement about the projects and the people we were working with. Something that really excites us is applying our accumulated knowledge and experience to a project. It allows you to push your vision and thinking, and encourages you to be with people who are better than you are so you can be constantly listening and learning. Even if it’s something small, I think it’s very important always to look to expand your horizons and never for a moment think that you know everything.
1G:I read somewhere that you said “it’s not about being cool, it’s about being good”, and that’s something you guys are clearly striving for. It’s not so focused on being cool, but more about sharing a certain passion for a subject.
D.C.: I think, in our own work now, that’s something we carried through without thinking. There are plenty of people doing really great underground stuff and done well that can be very inspiring, but it’s probably not naturally our aesthetic or approach.
“The notion of luxury can be very cold, the word itself even has become a bit tired and it has become associated with some of the wrong things.” – Duncan Campbell
1G: What are you working on at the moment?
C.R.: We recently opened an exhibition at Museo Mario Testino in Lima, Peru that we curated in collaboration with Mario Testino. It’s the work of a photographer that we feel very strongly about called George Hurrell, who worked in Hollywood from the 1930s to the late early 90s. He really defined the look of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and he photographed all of the greatest stars of the time including Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable.
D.C.: When you think about these legendary actors or actresses today, more often than not it’s a Hurrell image you’re thinking about. We came across his work and were instantly drawn to the technical skill that his photographs employed, not just the fact that they were of famous faces. His way of lighting a subject was really unique, and the flawless complexions and dramatic contrast seen in his images have gone on to define the notion we have of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He is not hailed as a great photographer in the way people favour Avedon, or Newton, and part of our thought behind doing this was bringing him back into the public’s consciousness.
1G: You have worked with several heritage brands in the past, is this a world you were consciously drawn to, or was it something that just happened?
C.R.: Last year we creative directed and designed a book for the 250th anniversary of Baccarat, the French crystal house. Baccarat has created masterpieces in crystal for Kings and Queens, Tsars, Shahs and Presidents, which is really remarkable. We spent a month in their factory in France photographing many of their archive pieces, which was truly an exceptional experience. I think the allure of the handmade is always something that has fascinated us.
D.C.: I think what also draws us to these kinds of companies is that they all have a humanity to them. I think the notion of luxury can be very cold, the word itself even has become a bit tired and it has become associated with some of the wrong things. But when you have the privilege of working with history, it’s often about bringing it to life and allowing it to manifest its true value as an expression of contemporary culture.
“We try to stick to a no drama policy in our office. If something breaks, then we fix it.” – Duncan Campbell
1G: It seems like you put a lot of value on history. How important is it? Everyone really looks forward; people hardly look back, but you bring the old back in a new light, things that might have otherwise been lost.
C.R.: I think it’s vain to think that anything is a completely original idea; nothing exists in a vacuum. Having an awareness of history and knowing what has come before means that you can peel back the layers that make up our experience of modern life. I think the idea of layers and making connections and juxtapositions throughout time and creative practices is something very intrinsic to our practice, and also something that very much interests us.
D.C.: At the same time, we are not nostalgic. It can never be about, ‘what has gone before is better, let’s get back to that,’ because the past is in the past. However, the point that we are trying to convey through much of our work is about how can we use what has gone before, and how can we let it inform us in the future. When we started out, we worked primarily with heritage brands who came to us who liked the way we had presented the quality and integrity associated with having a heritage and a history, but in a contemporary way. Often those companies had been doing the same thing very well for a hundred years, and suddenly the world around them has changed. Everyone is on their iPads and communicating with film, and this new world can be perceived as hard to navigate for a brand that trades on being traditional or crafted by hand. A lot of our work in the beginning was trying to tread those boards very lightly and ask how do we distil what makes them special and find new ways to tell their stories, often to a new audience. I would love it if someone considered what we do timeless; in that it transcends a moment.
“I think it’s vain to think that anything is a completely original idea; nothing exists in a vacuum. Having an awareness of history and knowing what has come before means that you can peel back the layers that make up our experience of modern life.” – Charlotte Rey
1G: Do you think you have to be obsessed with what you do to make good work?
C.R.: Yes, I think so to an extent. I would say that we are both fairly obsessive people. We take in a lot of what see and experience, and put that into what we produce.
1G: In your work, you frequently interact with older generations; do you get a sense that they really enjoy teaching the younger generation how to go forward?
D.C.: I love when that is the case, and there’s nothing more charming than when people have success, and they want to share their experience and advice. I think it’s all about feeling secure in your own place.
C.R.: But I think that’s also very individual in what type of person you are. Throughout our lives, we have always been lucky and had amazing teachers and I have always valued their time as mentors. In regards to starting our own company, we have had great mentors especially on the business side. Without the advice of some really incredible people, I don’t think that transition would have been as smooth as it has been. Also, the fact that we have each other means we can bounce ideas around. I think that’s one of the greatest benefits of being two rather than one. One of the companies we work with a lot now – it’s a really successful and interesting company – when you walk into their lobby, the biggest poster they have on the wall says, “Work hard and be nice to people”. For me, that’s so essential to living a good life, and doing good things, and good work. You help people on the way up and they help you back.
D.C.: For us it’s the only way to be. Of course you work in an industry where there are always going to be deadlines and there are always things going on that need to be fixed, but we try to stick to a no drama policy in our office. If something breaks, then we fix it.
C.R.: We’ve been lucky to work with some really remarkable people and what really strikes me every time you meet people who do something they love, and that they have worked hard for, is that they reach 60 years old and they’re like children in a way. They are curious, open minded with open hearts and they’re so excited about every day, always meeting people and enthusiastic about what their work involves. I think, for us, if that’s who you are and how you have lived your life – waking up every morning, ready to have a good time, and produce really brilliant work that keeps you excited – then, wow, you are living a good life. And what could be better than that?
Photography by Casey Brooks
Interview by Jorinde Croese