There are some people that learn how to be creative, whether it's from school, their environment or personal inspiration, but there are others, a chosen few if you will, that are born with a natural creative inclination that can not be contained no matter what paths others have laid before them.
Recently, I visited the Soho offices of G-Star RAW to meet Global Brand Director Shubhankar Ray who was visiting from the UK. I knew very little about him before then, but what I did know was quite impressive. Many of the original, experimental and groundbreaking concepts that come from the brand, such as the RAW Gallery, a pop-up installation that houses gallery style exhibitions of the runway collection as well as highly conceptualized pieces from the design team, come from the mind of Shubhankar. He is also responsible for creating the RAW Icon program which has seen superstars like Dennis Hopper and Benicio Del Toro participating as the first and second RAW Icons respectively. Another program he has facilitated is G-Star's involvement with the UN's Millennium campaign, a cause committed to ending world poverty. According to Shubhankar, social responsibility is not an option, but a condition of doing business today and he has committed the brand to the UN mission until 2015. The list goes on and on and it would be easy to rave about his accomplishments, which he graciously credits to the members of his team, and are numerous enough to fill several pages of any magazine. However, what I found most impressive was his far from ordinary backstory and a novel concept he liked to call "Mindstyle".
Armed with a Chemistry degree from one of the top five Universities in England, Shubhankar worked nights for UK band New Order which exposed him to London underground music and culture. Eventually, becoming disillusioned with his day job, he went on to get an MBA and was moved to the marketing department. The disparity of being a scientist working in the Marketing department would eventually kick off a creative philosophy of juxtaposed elements, unexpected combinations and changes of context that can be seen throughout his work and most prominently in G-Star RAW programs.
According to Shubhankar, there is no selling of a lifestyle when it comes to branding —an idea which is in direct contrast to the philosophies of mainstream companies— but only the offering of styling possibilities. To expand on this idea, he regards the G-Star design team, not as product designers, but as product engineers who offer styling solutions to consumers. This all is incorporated into a term which he's coined called "Mindstyle."
Mindstyle, is the opposite of lifestyle. It is more of an intellectual concept that gives consumers more chances to engage with the brand. As an outsider, his creative philosophy of contrasts combined with the concept of Mindstyle, at first, might seem confusing, but when talking to Shubhankar it all made perfect sense. Case-in-point, G-Star's current campaign features the world's number 1 chess player and youngest Grandmaster ever Magnus Carlsen as the face of the brand, alongside the beautiful and soft spoken Liv Tyler. It's the perfect example of fashion meets IQ, and the programs surrounding the campaign, such as the Raw World Chess Challenge, are interactive and engage the public intellectually while still promoting the G-Star brand. As Shubhankar also points out, it's the juxtaposition of eliticism and democracy as the world collectively (by vote) will decide on a chess move against Magnus with the help of three of the top grandmasters of chess.
I asked Shubhankar if he thought his background in science was the source of his unique approach to fashion and branding. His response was both surprising and uncomplicated. He explained that science is about simplifying complex processes. When considering trailblazers like Einstein, who utilized abstract thinking when developing new theories and experiments, it's actually quite easy to see that there is a very fine line between the creative forces of science and art.
My meeting with Shubhankar went over about 30 minutes as I was wholely absorbed in our discussion. I'm around creatives all the time in my business and many have abstract ideas which, I sometimes find to be esoteric and…well…out there. It's a rarity, and quite refreshing, to meet someone who is dynamic, inspiring and frankly, makes sense.