Art + Music + Grrrl
Kate Moross is best known for her illustrative patterns that have been applied to t-shirts, trainers, sunglasses, retail displays and advertising. Although her work is now much broader, incorporating art direction, identity, packaging and music video production, her hand-drawn, colourful and upbeat style prevails.
‘Tribal’ print | Still from music video for Jessie Ware & BenZel’s ‘If You Love Me’
She looks relaxed in front of the London TYPO12 audience and begins by telling us that she often gets asked to speak on the issue of “women in the industry”. She expresses her unease with it, seemingly reluctant to become a feminist poster girl, stating simply “I think the issue is an issue”.
She goes on to talk about how growing up in the 90s post punk / Girl Power culture was empowering. Describing punk as male dominated and heavily sexualised, she found that the American underground feminist punk rock movement Riot grrrl enabled women to embrace their own identity by removing that male lens. She was too young to experience Riot grrrl first hand being now aged 26, but did live through the capitalist version — The Spice Girls. As a teenager she rejected the traditional ‘girly’ stereotype, but loved the Spice Girls who felt fearlessly individualistic, with each band member having their own distinct personal identity (Scary, Sporty, Posh, Ginger & Baby for those unfamiliar).
Riot grrrl fanzine | Bratmobile & Bikini Kill were two prominent bands in the Riot grrl movement | the Spice Girls
From 2005 she began to experience this punk ethic through the democratisation of the internet — and primarily defunct file sharing site Limewire. Her interest in fanzines then developed — easy to photocopy and reproduce, they were key to developing her own style and in discovering punk for herself. Draw Together was the first fanzine she produced, by using an old photocopier that her Dad’s office was chucking out. This led to flyer commissions and her first paid work as a designer/illustrator. The DIY approach that Moross loved has been a strong theme through her work, and is still clearly identifiable.
An early adopter of MySpace, Moross declares it as “The biggest thing that ever happened to me”. The status and opportunity that came with knowing a bit of HTML in the MySpace era is hard to get across to those too young to remember it. She became a mover and shaker — designing other people’s pages and building a network of connections, some of whom are now music industry clients of hers. She describes that period of early internet and bootlegging software as ‘DIY utopia’.
Business Grrrl — the Punk Rock Guide to Business
So of the business model that has helped Moross turn this DIY approach into a successful business?
It’s pretty simple—
DIY. If you don’t know how, learn.
Share your skills, swap and trade.
She talks about an early advertising commission from a big brand — Sony Walkman — for which she held the phone in one hand, and took the picture with the other. For another job, Topshop commissioned her to do a mural in their store window — live. She of course said yes, and then had to figure out how to make it happen, spending two days drawing the mural live in the shop front, but not before calling Jon Burgerman to find out which type of pen to use.
Sony Walkman ad | Topshop Mural
For a Red Bull interactive billboard, she had no tech budget and very little time to make it happen. The solution? A low-fi highly interactive half-tone image of singer Jessie Ware that the public obligingly coloured in themselves.
One of the strongest themes in her work is having no idea what to do, but figuring it out and owning it. Her work isn’t slick, and her process isn’t glamorous, but her authenticity and integrity are what makes it so appealing.
Interactive billboard for Red Bull & Jessie Ware
With all this talk of punk and DIY, is Moross who now runs a successful studio with clients including Universal Records, Nokia and Adidas, a sell out? Isn’t all this corporate work very non-punk?
She thinks not. Punk wanted us to make and sell our own stuff, which is exactly what she does. She makes everything in house with her team at Studio Moross, and you can feel her hand in every project. She states that her aim was to build a studio that reflects her personality and her work — comfortable, down to Earth, interesting and friendly.
One of the greatest appeals of her work is its honesty and imperfection, and that’s due in no small part to a very hands-on, candid and positive attitude. For many people the essence of a designer is someone who makes things, but also makes things happen. The early adopters, the triers, the figure-it-outers. And she’s got all that in spades.