Fred L’Ami
NZ Designer in LA

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R Can you tell me a little bit about your background in design?

F I’ve been doing this for ages, so twenty-three years now.

R How did you get into it initially?

F When I was at school I had a really great art teacher who made a point of bringing some of her pupils back into school to show us what they ended up doing. A few of those were artists and sculptors, but there was this one guy who was a graphic designer. He showed a bunch of work and that was the point where I thought, this looks cool, I want to do this.

R Did you even know that the job existed?

F No It wasn’t on my radar. I was doing art and technical drawing; I didn’t really know how those two things were going to come together.

R What about after school?

F I studied at AUT, which was awesome. I did a foundation year prior to doing the full course because I left school early. I was lucky enough to top the class, with another guy Tony who was more on the advertising side, Tony Bradbourne, who’s now at Special, they started a business which is hugely successful. I now probably speak more to his wife; (my wife) Emily looks great in her clothes, Mahsa, and she’s been sending them over and I’ve been taking a few shots of Emily wearing them around LA or in the desert or Palm Springs. So through creativity we have come back together, we used to all hang out in London back in 1999.

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Skateboard by The Interstate, a collaboration between Inhouse and NZ artist Rich Killeen

R You’ve moved around quite a lot: London, Sydney and now Los Angeles.

F I was lucky enough to get a job straight out of design school in New Zealand, with Design Works, who are a really strong branding company in New Zealand and I built up a portfolio over the six years I was there and then decided to go travelling, which made a big difference as I had a good body of work to show people. I landed some work in London, but didn’t really like London that much and ended up going to Amsterdam. I was trying to get all my friends who were pro-London to come and live in Amsterdam. I’m Dutch so I wanted to go back and live in and work in Holland.

R Plus there is great design there.

F Awesome design. It’s got a really deep design culture. Experimental Jetset has done some amazing work over the years, the most recent project that people might be aware of is the Whitney in New York, the rebrand they did, which was very controversial. That’s what they are about, challenging people’s perceptions.

R Which designers do you love?

F When I studied I was super into this guy called Massimo Vignelli who recently died. He designed the New York subway identity. I did my thesis on him and actually wrote him a letter and didn’t expect to hear anything back, from New Zealand, as a student, at school. He sent me a box of stuff, a book, all this stuff personalised. Shamefully I don’t know what happened to the book; I don’t have any of it anymore, which is a bummer as he was a legend. He was designing these super full on branding identity systems, that’s probably what got me into brand identity and that was the perfect fit with Design Works too, who are identity specialists.

In terms of local heroes, here in LA, Geoff McFetridge is someone I love. He used to be a skater. He’s an artist, but his work is very simple and graphic, which is probably the reason I like it. That’s the theme that runs through my work, everything is pared back to the simplest thing I can get away with without it being bland.

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Fred on the roof of his apartment, Hollywood, LA

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Synthesiser by Teenage Engineering

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Canyon Coffee packaging designed by Fred

R I’m looking at your packaging for Canyon Coffee as you say that, very simple, but not bland.

F This project is kind of special as it really pulls these guys (Canyon Coffee) out of the coffee space and into a luxury space. This is my most recent project. It’s based in Los Angeles, it’s started by Casey Wojtalewicz and his girlfriend Ally Walsh; they are an LA couple, he’s a musician and she’s a model. Throughout their relationship, they have been super passionate about coffee and it’s a little ritual they’ve had between them from day one, making each other cups of coffee. They’re really into the ritual, grinding the beans. They gave me a brief that was much more Californian, it played into the Californian aesthetic a bit more, when I was designing it I was like I’m going to design something that I would buy; it was kind of going out on a limb. They wanted to show that the beans are roasted in Los Angeles; it’s a Los Angeles coffee brand. I think the real difference here is the gold foil. I think people are suckers for a little bit of bling, used in a tasteful way. The gold really brings the concept to life, it’s like water reflected on a river. This is now sold in some beautiful stores here in LA; it’s sold in The General Store in Venice, it’s a fantastic shop. It’s in half a dozen stores and that’s just in the last two week; it’s been picked up by a few design blogs, The Dieline posted it last week, which is probably one of the top packaging blogs.

R Can I ask you about your work for New Zealand companies? You did quite a bit of work for The Seafarer’s Club?

F I used to work for Inhouse Design in Auckland when I left Auckland to go to Wellington to work for Ice Breaker, I kept in touch with Arch and we did some projects together. We did Caravan in London, which is in Exmouth Market and that got heavily blogged; that was a really cool project. Arch MacDonnell and I have always had a really great relationship. We just work well together, Arch just gets it. We collaborated on The Seafarers, I drove the identity and the system around it, a lot of the roll out was done by other people; I don’t want to make it sound like I did the whole thing! I was responsible for creating the graphic system.

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Fred's wetsuit

R What are the challenges for creating a brand identity for a new company?

F The thing with The Seafarers, is that they had a fantastic heritage and location obviously, in fact, it’s still used for the seafarers, there’s this hidden floor. They have this fantastic building, they have a great story, it was ripe for storytelling, all the nautical themes that came with the flags, the lighthouse, the diving bell. It just lent itself to a pictorial system. I think New Zealand has a really high standard of design.

R What do you love about living in Los Angeles.

F LA is very diverse, it’s the mash-up of stuff that’s going on here. LA itself can be a little hard to deal at times, it’s so big. You’ve gotta enjoy driving! But sometimes it’s amazing, you get into a real meditative space, you listen to music and there’s always interesting stuff to look at while you drive. I don’t know if you use Waze, but it’s an app that gets you from A to B, it’s a navigator but it’s all socially driven, so people will put alerts in when there're traffic jams. With that, you’re always driving through places you’ve never been and that’s amazing in LA. You can literally be driving through neighbourhoods you’ve never seen before.

R Where do you like to go out for a meal?

F Gjusta is a (profiled on Dispatch recently) it’s a bakery and kitchen in Venice and the secret is to go in the evening, they’ve been waiting to get a liquor licence forever but it’s notoriously difficult to get one in Venice, so go there for dinner and then go somewhere else for drinks after. Downtown is really exciting, there are these amazing movie screenings in old theatres. We will go out to the desert for the weekend, which is just an amazing place or go to the mountains for hikes. During the week we’re working, but during the weekend I’ll go surfing or hiking. I’ll surf in the mornings, my current fav is El Porto beach, which is north of Manhattan beach, there’s a nice little break there.

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Fred at home with Bodha products on the table

R What do you miss about New Zealand?

F It’s so hard to compare to LA; New Zealand just feels so pure. We were back there in March for a wedding and we went to Kawau Island, spending three days hopping on and off boats to get to the island was just amazing. The water is crystal clear, I’m in heaven when I’m in water, so any time to get in the ocean is the best thing ever. Visiting old friends and family. It’s that thing when you’ve all got the sense of humour, everyone gets the jokes when you’re dealing with people in New Zealand. There’s no bullshit.


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Repaired hand knitted jumper from Crane Brothers

Fred’s wife Emily owns a rapidly expanding company, Bodha Wellness, which makes high-end incense, with beautifully designed packaging by Fred. Emily tells us a story about Fred’s favourite jumper, bought from Crane Brothers.

E He was so excited about getting this jumper, he had it on lay-by at Crane Brothers. It was hand knitted by some old nannas and it was quite expensive at the time. Fred finally picked it up and we went back to my parent's house that night and he left it downstairs, we were all upstairs having dinner and we could smell this weird burnt skin smell. So we went downstairs and dad was drunk and he had moved the jumper onto a candle, which burnt a big hole. So we gave it back to Murray to see if there was anything he could do and he sent it back to the old ladies and they re-knitted it, they cut out the burnt bit and knitted it back in.