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02-02-2008
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Stefan Beckman - Set Designer
nytimes

Quote:
Making A Scene!

For someone who creates so much fashion-world drama, the set designer Stefan Beckman is one cool character.

BY ALICE RAWSTHORN

One season it was a fractured collage of New York City; the next, rolling hills with a river made from 600,000 pieces of candy, a homage to the late conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Then came a neoclassical villa plucked from Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie ‘‘The Conformist’’; and last season, a giant video installation with models trooping down the runway in sync to a film by the artist Charles Atlas that showed them doing so in lingerie.

Lusciously stylized and usually a tad surreal, the sets for Marc Jacobs’s shows are among the stars of New York Fashion Week. And this Friday evening, the audience at Jacobs’s presentation of his fall 2008 collection will discover the latest. ‘‘Putting these sets together has been so exciting, and the shows have been some of my favorites of all the ones we’ve ever done,’’ Jacobs says. ‘‘But we have put ourselves in a bit of a corner in terms of people’s expectations. If you give them something, they always want more, and then you feel compelled to top yourself again.’’

With him in that corner is Stefan Beckman, the man who designed those spectacular sets with Jacobs. For the last week, he has set up camp at the 26th Street Armory to supervise the construction crew that’s toiling round the clock to finish on time. Even if you’ve never seen one of his sets for Marc Jacobs, or even heard his name, you’ll probably recognize Beckman’s work, because he has created some of the most memorable fashion backdrops of the last decade.

It was Beckman who rustled up a snowstorm one rainy summer day on Fifth Avenue for Tiffany’s Christmas ad campaign, and it was he who tracked down the prettiest cupcakes in Palm Beach to pop inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s bicycle basket for an Estée Lauder Pleasures ad. He has created equally sumptuous sets for Banana Republic, Oscar de la Renta, Gucci and Prada campaigns, as well as for countless magazines, including this one. (He concocted the lunar landscape cum landfill on the previous pages out of hundreds of pounds of discarded clothes.) Beckman also dreamed up the elaborate exhibition recently staged in Paris by the crystal company Swarovski. One room had a fountain theme in a nod to ‘‘Eaux d’Artifice,’’ one of his favorite Kenneth Anger films. In another, mannequins in crystal- studded gowns swing above a surreal dining table. ‘‘It’s very Busby Berkeley meets Fellini meets Dalí,’’ Beckman told me, beaming. ‘‘Though only a little Dalí, you know — not so crazy and weird.’’

As a set designer who has become an artistic collaborator with alpha fashionistas, Beckman has created a unique niche for himself. ‘‘The way he brings everything together is pretty unparalleled,’’ observes the photographer Carter Smith, who worked with him on campaigns for Tiffany and Banana Republic. ‘‘Stefan is able to take an idea and expand upon it in a way that goes far beyond what you initially thought you wanted. Then he creates that world in such a thorough and complete way: down to the fringe of the ottoman you can barely see in the far background of the shot.’’

Loafing around his SoHo studio in his uniform of jeans and a sweater, Beckman doesn’t look like a man who’d obsess over ottoman fringe. A lanky guy of 40 with a shaved head and rollicking laugh, he seems more like a grown-up high-school jock than a member of fashion’s A-team. ‘‘On first meeting Stefan, you’re almost intimidated by his size because he’s built like a football player,’’ says the photographer Craig McDean, who shot several Gucci campaigns with him. ‘‘But once you’ve talked to him and worked with him, you become aware of how gentle he is, and how delicately he approaches everything.’’

Beckman admits that he never expected to work in fashion, not least because he isn’t really into clothes. He has always loved design, though, having been introduced to it by his father, a landscape architect. Born in Las Vegas, Beckman moved to Houston with his mother after his parents separated when he was 8. ‘‘I pretty much grew up in a suburb of Houston, full of little houses all the exact same, like ‘Weeds,’ ’’ he recalls. ‘‘I was really into theater in high school and took theater and film classes in college in Austin. We had to do everything ourselves, soup to nuts — including the sets. That was my passion. I loved thinking of the whole thing as a visual picture, and making it happen.’’

After graduating from college in 1989, he moved to Los Angeles, doing odd jobs in the film industry, before settling in New York. He waited on tables to make ends meet, until a fashion stylist who lived in his building took him on as an assistant. He then assisted a prop stylist and began building sets. ‘‘Ever since doing theater in high school, it had been in the back of my mind, but I didn’t know that such a thing as a set designer existed,’’ he says. ‘‘Back then, there weren’t a lot of people doing that stuff. It was mostly the photographer’s girlfriend bringing flowers or props to the shoot. I just sort of fell into it.’’

Soon he went into business for himself, beginning with sets for TV Guide covers, then moving into fashion by bagging jobs through friends of friends, like Fabien Baron, then the creative director of Harper’s Bazaar. Next he met the stylist L’Wren Scott, who was working with Herb Ritts. Then the photographer Steven Meisel spotted his work in this magazine — ‘‘this great ‘Alien’-meets-‘Blade Runner’ set we built from packing crates,’’ Beckman recalls — and hired him for Vogue.

At first, Beckman and his assistants made everything themselves on shoestring budgets. But he arrived in the fashion industry in the mid-’90s, just as luxury brands like Gucci and Tiffany were expanding internationally, boosting their marketing budgets and mounting global advertising campaigns. Beckman was given more money to plow into the sets, and he hired specialized contractors to construct them.

He’d stumbled into a role that matched his gifts, one of which is a vivid visual memory. Beckman loves scouring vintage decorating books, movie and theater sets for intriguing details, and he remembers them all. He’s also fluent in the visual shorthand spoken by fashion types: ‘‘1940s meets 1970s,’’ ‘‘Escher-type patterns’’ and so on. And he can unearth the exact movie still or photograph to illustrate what he’s envisioning. Jacobs says: ‘‘When I’m planning the show, I need someone with a bit of patience and flexibility, and who’s nonlinear, to respond to random thoughts of mine. Stefan’s great at that. I’m usually in a panic because I don’t know how the clothes will evolve, but I’ll tell him colors, fabrics and moods, and he’ll bring me pictures and references. It kind of goes back and forth.’’

Having hit upon a concept, Beckman then realizes it immaculately, down to the tiniest details. He once replaced the ‘‘too gray’’ sand on the beach of a Tom Ford set with a paler shade, and he still groans at the memory of using two (imperceptibly) different types of candy for Jacobs’s ‘‘river’’ runway. ‘‘I hate the ‘It’s just for a set . . . ’ mentality, or, ‘You can’t see it, so it doesn’t matter,’ because it does,’’ he says. ‘‘Maybe it’s a tiny detail that the camera won’t pick up, but it can still be inspiring for the models, or the photographer. Everything makes a difference.’’

Equally useful is his can-do spirit. Beckman’s favorite modifier is ‘‘super’’ (as in, ‘‘superinspiring’’ and ‘‘superexciting’’), and the best jobs are ‘‘superchallenging.’’ ‘‘He’s always positive, always inspiring, always pushing you to go further,’’ Carter Smith says. ‘‘And that’s great for a photographer or filmmaker, because you need the people around you to spark your creativity.’’

Beckman has taken on a number of new challenges over the years: he designed the Greenwich Village restaurant Jane; he was a part-owner of the SoHo furniture store Property for seven years; and he worked on Smith’s first film, ‘‘Bugcrush,’’ for which he scoured Salvation Army stores for props and converted his studio into a climate-controlled laboratory to rear the ‘‘cast’’ of giant tobacco hornworms and Madagascar hissing cockroaches. ‘‘We’d spent weeks with the noise and smell of the bugs while they grew to the right size,’’ recalls his assistant, Matt Mazzucca. ‘‘By the day of the shoot, they were perfect, but the set was so cold that I took them back to the truck to warm up — and they died.’’ Nonetheless, ‘‘Bugcrush’’ won best short film at Sundance in 2006.

Still, one of Beckman’s favorite challenges has been creating the Marc Jacobs set. Jacobs first called him in 2006. ‘‘I kind of remember looking out over the audience one season and thinking it’s time we made it more of a theatrical spectacular,’’ Jacobs recalls.

Despite their high profile, Beckman’s Jacobs sets are constructed on a hairily tight schedule. (For example, Jacobs and Beckman had their first meeting to discuss the Feb. 8 show just after the new year and exchanged ideas until construction began three weeks ago.)

‘‘Working with Marc is superinspiring, but the sets are superchallenging,’’ Beckman says. ‘‘The sightlines are crazy. The photographers have got to get a great shot at the end of the runway, but the editors sitting in the middle have to see, too. You’ve got to think about lighting, because you can’t have moody girls in darkness just to make my set look beautiful. And the runway mustn’t be too treacherous. Though, knock on wood, the models haven’t fallen yet.’’

All this for a show that lasts seven minutes. But Beckman isn’t burdened by a desire to create something that endures. ‘‘Years ago, part of me was sad that we’d build these crazy things just to tear them down,’’ he says. ‘‘But it’s so liberating doing something on the fast track, then going on to the next thing.’’

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10-07-2008
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^^^ thanks for the article! Its super interesting

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10-07-2008
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Stefan Beckman - Set Designer
He is a truly inspiring person - Beckman does the sets for Marc Jacobs each season (at least from 2006 and onwards) and he designs sets for various ad campaigns and magazines.


International Herald Tribune

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10-07-2008
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Some examples of his work from his website [stefanbeckman.com]




stefanbeckman.com

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I loved what he did for Marc Jacobs Spring 2007. The set was amazing and an homage to the Cuban artist Félix González-Torres.

The blue sea was full of lollies!!!!



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12-07-2008
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wow i love the shots @ his website.. it's so great to get to know who these people are.. i wouldn't have appreciated the set as much if i didn't see it in person or on his site--there's a lot more emphasis in those shots there
thanks DoS

& that's interesting to know about the lollipops, H.N

he seems to have a thing for optical illusions.. i never know if what i see has been drawn, is a flat structure or if it's actually 3-D.. and then you see the models walking on things that look 2D.. really awesome !

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12-07-2008
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^^^^^ true. The Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 sets were perfect manifestation of this pseudo 3-D aesthetic.

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US Vogue December 2014
Amazing Amy

Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
Stylist: Grace Coddington
Stars: Amy Adams & Tim Burton
Make-Up: Aaron de Mey
Hair: Julien d'Ys
Set Designer: Stefan Beckman


vogue.com

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