Living in a Material World with Veronica Ditting

The influential creative director and graphic designer unveils ‘Folio Folio Folio,’ an exhibition covering decades of her work which raises questions about the potential of print.

A gallery is not an obvious place to find the work of Veronica Ditting, because she makes objects that people love to touch. Those familiar with the influential creative director and graphic designer’s work for cultural and fashion institutions, including The Gentlewoman, Hermès and Louis Vuitton, will recognize her style: playful and sophisticated, tidy yet surprising, and always considerate of what an object feels like.

Yet from June 8, visitors to kyoto ddd gallery, a Japanese gallery dedicated to graphic design and art, will be able to see (not touch) a vast selection of Ditting’s work. Titled “Folio Folio Folio” and curated by design historian Emily King, the exhibition brings together two decades of Ditting’s printed creations. It features magazines, fashion projects and myriad other printed designs, mounted on 155 specially fabricated display stands which transform her archive into a 3D landscape.

Born in Argentina, raised in Germany, educated in Amsterdam and now based in London, where she leads her eponymous studio, Ditting spoke to Mastermind about the forthcoming show, and what delving into her archive revealed about the potential of print, at a time where its future is far from clear.

Hermès women's ready-to-wear invitation.

I take it this exhibition has been a long time in the works…

Yes, I believe I was approached by Emily [King] and ‘ddd’ back in October 2023. We slowly started formulating the approach for the show, which took about two months: deciding what’s the take, whether we produce new work or show old work, also developing how to show everything. With my work, part of it is creative direction and image making, the other part is graphic design, and, strangely, sometimes the link between the two is unclear to people. Even in the context of graphic design, a lot of my design friends don’t know what I do when it comes to art direction or creative direction.

Given that ddd is a graphic design-based, non-profit gallery, we wanted to really focus on the printed matter and the tactility of my work. In a way, my process with graphic design work is, for a lack of a better word, quite physical. During the creation of, say, an invitation, we create an immense amount of dummies and test the exact scale, how you hold it in your hand and how you connect with it.

'Dummy Run.' Veronica created an over six meter leporello as a printed teaser for the Hermès Spring/Summer 2021 women’s ready-to-wear runway show. A blank dummy was an important part of the process behind this design, allowing Veronica to review the quality of the paper, its weight and dimensions, and the folding and gluing techniques. Significantly, this dummy confirmed that the pages of the assembled leporello would fold and align neatly. Poster by Qiu Yang, words by Emily King.

It’s one thing as a reader or an invitee to read and touch these objects. It’s another to observe them in a museum context. What was the appeal of recontextualizing your work in a gallery setting?

I never considered a solo show, so when the opportunity came along, I felt what was interesting was looking back at the full body of work, back to when I’d just graduated from the art academy in 2005, looking at my full approach and how to highlight it. Graphic design – I realized this through the whole process – is quite niche. It’s really a specialist audience that will be drawn to the show.

In a way, I had no idea what I was committing to, or that we’d be deep-diving into my archive. It speaks to how I often work: I fully commit to something. Exploring something from different angles is key to my approach. We thought it was interesting to see what was the potential of print, which is something I really value. It’s something that, due to the times we’re in, where things are reduced in terms of the scale of projects and, often times, budgets, it was a nice framework to really look at the potential of print.

For me, one really big point is the connection to the materiality of the project. I feel like nowadays a lot of people design something on their screen, but having a physical attachment to it is something else. The exhibition underlines the tactility and materiality of things – looking at the process of design and therefore also create something that is long-lasting. That is something that has always been important to me.

You mention “the potential of print.” In assembling the exhibition, what did you learn about the medium’s potential?

The connection to materiality is such an important aspect of the process and the quality of the result. And, also, the connection with printers. At the start of my career, I would even go to press pass a business card. Obviously I don’t have that time anymore, but I wanted to underline how important it is, as a designer, to have that connection with suppliers, printers, book binders. Because that’s the craft aspect that comes in which can make or break something. It can really enhance the quality of the outcome.

I like to study things, whether it’s from a formal perspective, like an invitation, or if it’s from a content perspective, which is more about image making. What we decided to do [in the exhibition] is show all of the different objects on custom built stands. It becomes a topography of printed matter. In a way this little exploration is a formal study of the pieces, it underlines and celebrates printed matter.

'The Beauty of Blank Pages'. Creating blank dummies with the correct papers and weights is an important step in the process of design for print. It is crucial to determine the weight and tactility of the final product through the iteration of dummy versions. In the case of the publications and invitations for Hermès Beauty, specific ratios relating to the beauty products themselves has become a central feature of the metier’s printed matter. Poster by Qiu Yang, words by Emily King.

I’m always interested in how arbiters of style form their own sense of style. As a student, who were you inspired by?

I was very lucky, I studied at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and a lot of the teachers of mine, I really looked up to. There was Linda van Deursen, who was the head of the graphic design department – an incredible book designer. Her work is modernist but there is always a lot of friction. It is bold and so is she. That’s something I always admired. Then, Julia Born was one of my teachers, and as I was really interested in language in particular, Julia was supportive in the exploration of it. I grew up bilingual, and with graphic or communication design being directly linked to language, something that’s crucial is thinking about how a headline or other information speaks on the page. So I was lucky, I had a lot of inspiring teachers in my direct circle. Dutch graphic design is very strong, and the community is quite small. Sometimes people will say, “Oh you know so-and-so?” And I’m like, “Yeah, it would be weird if we didn’t know each other.”

Who is your Mastermind?

Someone who I admire, just looking at their long-lasting career, is Karel Martens. He’s a Dutch graphic designer, he’s 85 years old, and he’s still very much active. He just released a fabric collaboration with Liberty and works on many other projects with brands, as well as his personal work. I went recently to see a talk of his and it’s just incredible to see how someone keeps the creative energy and creative integrity for so many decades. That’s something I admire. I think, especially in our industry, it’s easy to let go of that energy and integrity at some point. He’s one of a kind. I really admire someone’s work when it’s their own world, their own specific thing.

Folio Folio Folio runs from June 8 – July 28 at kyoto ddd gallery in Kyoto, Japan.

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