Behind Creative Direction: Adam Bryce
Behind Creative Direction: Adam Bryce
Interview & Header Photo by Zayyar Win Thein
Zayyar: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview Adam. For those who may not know your background, could you give us a brief introduction into what you do and what you have done?
Adam: No problem. I’m a fashion photographer and Creative Director currently based in Auckland. My work as a creative director is often under the radar, but it’s probably what I have consistently done for most of my career.
I guess other than my photography people might know me best for having founded slamxhype and The New Order Magazine. I also used to own an agency called Post which did very well and worked with many of New Zealand’s biggest brands like Air New Zealand, Telecom - that sort of thing. We had another web magazine as part of this company called Post New. I think that magazine was the best I’ve had to be honest, slamxhype was obviously revolutionary and The New Order is very well known but Post New was great, people still ask me about it.
I’ve done a lot I guess, I also used to have a label called Nevermind which was myself, Fergus (Palace Skateboards and Aries) and Eric (Supreme) - that was great fun. I very seldom keep things going for very long, it’s really because my attention span is so short, but I like to pretend it's in tune with Hiroshi Fujiwara’s philosophy of quitting things when you’re ahead haha.
A selection of Adam’s photography work. Photos: Supplied
Zayyar: How did you personally become interested in fashion, design, culture?
Adam’s: I grew up in South Auckland in the 80’s and 90’s, we didn’t have any money, but no one did. I always felt that in South Auckland our aspirations were very different from those in more affluent areas. In our minds growing up we didn’t aspire to buy fancy cars or houses because that just wasn’t ever going to happen, the most important thing for us was how we looked, what we wore and what gave us street cred. We wanted to wear Jordans, Adidas Superstars and Air Maxes’ like every other kid around that time but it was different out south for some reason, having the shoes wasn’t enough, you had to really make it work head to toe - I guess our priorities meant we took our style more seriously.
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The difference between me and the other kids out south though was my Mum was very interested in culture, she had Vogue, and other magazines in the house from a very young age. She would take me and my brother to art galleries and into the city regularly - we couldn’t afford to buy all the things we saw, but we just used to look around all the time. The people at stores like Streetwise (later to become Workshop) and Zambesi ended up knowing us really well even though we were about 10 and never bought anything. Mum would let us choose magazines every time we went out though. I was the only 10-year-old kid I knew who wore Dickies head to toe with Jordan’s reading Vogue and Purple.
I guess the best way to explain how my career turned out the way it did is that 10-year-old boy reading Vogue, Purple, The Face who knew more about art than most adults, became a 14-year-old wearing Margiela knitwear, with pants that I had the staff at the Zambesi workroom make me out of a dress I thought was cool in their collection and whatever sneakers everyone wanted. I don’t know how I afforded it, I just know it had to happen. Culture and art were all I focused on, and so those skills thrived. It just kept going from there till there was a point where I remember thinking there’s really no other option in terms of what I would do for a job.
Zayyar: You bring up The Face, a magazine you grew up reading then you actually spent some time working for them in London, what was that experience like working for such an influential company at the time?
Adam: The Face was easily the most critical part of my personal journey. I worked for The Face during a time when I was confused to some extent as to what I was into.
I knew I was into fashion, streetwear, art and sub-culture - but I was equally interested in what Nigo was doing at BAPE. Likewise with art, I was into graffiti, but I also really thought artists like McCahon or even Warhol and Picasso had done. I felt very much like I was stuck and The Face let me believe I could be into all those things and it made sense. It gave me an eye into a bigger world, it basically made me see people who I thought were like me so it educated me, in a pre-internet world, but it also helped give me confidence and inform my views. It was basically my goal from an early age to work there, and I was lucky enough to. I only worked there for a short time before I moved to another magazine, but for me achieving that goal was enough of a lesson in itself, it has let me believe since that anything can be done - I was a kid from South Auckland working amongst the best fashion creatives in the world. I was fortunate Heathermary Jackson had just left her role as Fashion Director at The Face which I think was the key to opening that door. Heathermary is probably New Zealand’s most successful fashion creative - she’s been away so long I think people don’t even know she’s from here.
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To answer your question though, other than the belief it gave me, there were obviously very talented and professional people at that magazine who taught me how to turn what was probably a simple raw eye into a job. But most importantly it was a very significant time in London. The Face and i-D were massive, Arena Homme Plus was huge, Stussy Tribe was this very cool thing, Footpatrol and the Gimme 5 crew were starting to control things - and much much more. I remember around the same time before I got into magazines I was working at a store called Browns which I guess was like Dover Street Market back in those days and I remember the day Raf Simons first collection came in and us all being so excited, there just seemed to always be something happening and people on the rise.
I met so many people during that time that are still friends today and have helped shape my work. I remember calling Footpatrol one day because I needed to get the first HTM Moc Sneakers and Fraser Cooke answering the phone and we chatted for ages on the shop phone we ended up becoming good friends that day, 10 years on we were working together on Nike projects. It’s a story indicative of how important that time was I think.
Zayyar: Incredible insight, it’s crazy to think where things started from and stemmed on to grow. Like you said the relationships you built back then are still with you today.
So what pushed you personally to start doing your own projects and be more creatively free? Was this always the intention for you?
Adam: I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision. It was different then, while The Face made me feel like there was a place for me, there was still a lot of gaps. That world, of fashion and culture, that seems so normal now was very new back then, there was probably less than a handful of stores worldwide that blended fashion and streetwear, there were no websites, no magazines (The Face had closed), the millions of t-shirt brands and the like we see today didn’t exist. I don’t think I made a decision to do it, I just always felt like I was doing it even when I was working for people.
Zayyar: And from that it's safe to assume one side is business and one side is creative, how do you balance the two?
Adam: I’m not so sure, to be honest, the business part is something I’ve had to learn and had to learn to appreciate. I come from a world that is very much anti-corporate and anti-the man. With slamxhype it started making money organically I didn’t really know what to do with it and how to make it work, I just felt a responsibility to do so. I very quickly had a lot of staff and was dealing with big deals for that website on a day to day, I just had to figure it out as it came about. I knew you couldn't trust anyone to help with that stuff, so there was no choice but to do it yourself.
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That said it was so early in the internet days that it was like the wild west out there, I have so many stories that would make Internet entrepreneurs these days laugh or fall over in shock. It also meant it took a long time for it to make real money - I remember my girlfriend and I were living in an absolute shithole and we had no food that night and we were pretty stressed, but I was on the phone being interviewed by The Wall Street Journal. I should have seen the funny side - but at the time it wasn’t so funny. It was around that time we started getting offers to buy the business, and that's when things went from learning how to run a business to learning very quickly how to deal with venture capitalists and very very rich people and terrifying situations. I’ve learnt a lot over the years but its still not in my gut to think business before creative.
A selection of The New Order covers featuring Kaws and A$AP Rocky. Supplied.
Zayyar: Who would you say are your icons and inspirations now just creatively but in a more general sense?
Adam: That’s a tough question for me because I am very much someone who tries to absorb as much information as possible to allow me to make informed creative decisions. So I admire a lot of people, and they all inspire me a lot. I wear so many hats that often I look to different people depending on what I’m doing at the time.
If I had to choose a person that I have always admired and have that feeling of ‘I want to be them when I grow up’ it would be Neville Wakefield. He taught me that you don’t need to be able to answer the question of ‘What do you do?’ it doesn’t need to be defined, and in the creative world, it very seldom is able to be. I still feel like I want to be like Neville when I grow up.
A screen capture of slamxhype. Supplied.
Zayyar: From slamxhype to The New Order to now being an established photographer as well as all the other things in between, what are your views on being formally trained with education versus the notion of just executing and doing it?
Adam: It’s difficult for me to answer this as I only know one way. Everything I’ve done in my career has had to be self-taught for one reason or another. There was no course in starting a magazine, there is no real way to learn to be a Creative Director other than to work your way up through traditional agencies, but given I’m a creative director who doesn’t believe in advertising that makes that very difficult also.
The biggest thing I learnt very early on was the idea that you can’t direct someone to do something you can’t do, being a Creative Director means you need to know how to do all the things you expect people to do for you, your technical ability needs to be pretty broad, but education never really ends. I am working with a client at the moment, and the concept we have created is based on a series of animated films. Even now after all this time, I still find myself in situations like this where we employ freelancers to make these films under my direction, but it’s challenging to know the boundaries and extent to which you can push someone creatively and technically without knowing how to do it yourself. I spent most of the weekend teaching myself animation programmes and looking at the history of animation and after effects - I just needed to know what’s possible.
I’ve given guest lectures at schools and advertising classes and seeing their approach was disappointing. I am more inclined to suggest not to go down that route, but on the other side - you’re going to have to do something pretty special to break into that industry and be in a position where you can dictate the way things are done if you haven’t come through the traditional pathway.
Photography, however, would be the one thing I would 100% advise anyone to train traditionally. The technical skills of photography are what inform your creative vision, you never want to be in a position where you are limited by what you can do as opposed to what you can see.
Adam’s work for Air New Zealand through Post New. Supplied.
Zayyar: Today you have many projects going on from consulting, photography, Staff and a few other projects. How do you balance the time accordingly to each as well as having time for family and rest?
Adam: I don’t find it that difficult just because it has always been like this to some extent. I enjoy working more than anything else, I would always choose to work over a holiday for some reason, balance isn’t exactly my strong suit. I can always manage projects because I work all day and most the night all the time. Since having my son the way my work works in terms of not being 9-5 means, I can spend heaps of time with him and still work. Living with me on the other hand as far as relationships go is probably not ideal, I work all the time, and my brain probably doesn’t function in a normal responsible adult way. I could give advice on how to schedule projects, but I just don’t do it. I am just all go all the time. I would say however, I have been very lucky to have almost always had people around me who enable that to happen, enable me to work the way I do, whether that be family, business partners or friends.
Zayyar: Finally, as always, what's some advice you would give to the next generation of creatives and entrepreneurs reading this right now:
Adam: Make something! Mistakes are the best learnings you will make, don’t be afraid to make things and do things - What can really go wrong? If you’re too worried about your reputation, you will never make the mistakes needed to learn how to be a success.
Interview & Header Photo: Zayyar Win Thein