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Behind the Bugs: We Chat With Rhea Thierstein, Uniqlo's Insect Creator

Screen shot 2012-08-21 at 11.48.02 AM 1.pngAs you may recall, UNIQLO recently released the look book for Uniqlo Undercover, their new collaboration with Japanese designer Jun Takahashi. The campaign was shot by famed photographer Tim Walker and designed by the up-and-coming London-based art director Rhea Thierstein.

Thierstein has been on the rise ever since she started working for prominent set designer Shona Heath about four years ago. She then broke out on her own and developed a strong relationship with Walker, collaborating on a ton of projects -- including the design for Walker's film premiere dinner at Claridge's and work for Vanity Fair, British, Italian and U.S. Vogue and Blow Up magazines.

In addition to being known for her crazy-genius creations, like flowers cooked in gelatin and massive pirate ship ice sculptures, Thierstein also dabbles in video work; she art directed a UK McDonald's commercial, the video for Jessie J's "Pricetag" and was nominated for awards for her work on both videos. She has also done multiple bug-related projects in the past.

We recently got a chance to talk with the insect-obsessed Thierstein about the inspiration and concept behind the UNIQLO campaign...

Screen shot 2012-08-23 at 11.37.39 AM.png
What was Tim and your inspiration behind the look book?

We were inspired by some French illustrations from the 1830's. They were rather hallucinatory, opium-induced depictions of animals and insects as people, so we took those as a starting point. We have a very strong creative relationship due to our previous collaborations. To work on a project creating these creatures on this scale has been amazing. It is also a nice evolution in my work. Two years ago I created giant wasps for my Selfridges "Bright Young Things" window and then later followed that with another insect-inspired project with Tim which we did for LOVE magazine called "The Origin of Monsters."

Screen shot 2012-08-23 at 12.21.44 PM.pngThierstein's "Bright Young Things"  window display for Selfridges. The wasps were made out of chicken wire and paper maché.

Why are you fascinated with insects?

I personally find insects incredibly creatively inspiring! When you take a closer look, they are some of the most beautiful and fascinatingly formed things on our world. So when Tim had the initial ideas for the UNIQLO campaign, he came to me to work on it with him, as he knew it would be a project I would personally find very exciting.

Screen shot 2012-08-23 at 12.25.49 PM.pngWalker and Thierstein's "The Origin of Monsters"

Explain the process in constructing the insects...

This project has been one of the longest in preparation that I have worked on because there were so many different aspects that went into the making of them. After Tim and I decided on the designs I found the best model-makers I could to do the fabrication because sadly my studio doesn't have the facilities to do the technical side. For example, the hairs on the bee were done by someone with 20 years of experience!

From there, I spent my time with the model-makers overseeing and helping with the sculpts and casts. Then my studio took on the final painting and detailing on them. We also found and made their costumes to give them their final fantastical flourish.! It was a long and at times challenging process, but ultimately it was one of the most exciting and satisfying jobs I have worked on yet.

So what's your favorite image in the campaign?

The double bass playing bee!

uniqlo3.jpegThe double bass playing bee.

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