Delicious : The design and art direction of Stylorouge
Edited by Jim Davies
Die Gestalten Verlag / Germany / 2006 / ISBN 9 783031 126490
A frustrating offering in some ways, yet a must-have for anyone interested in 80s and 90s record design. It’s tempting to say never put a design company in charge of their own anniversary book, as what we get is a rather over-elaborate publicity piece (complete with a rather naff padded hard-back cover). Just right for handing to prospective clients, but of much less use to anyone wanting to study the work therein.
Begun in 1981, Stylorouge have done some excellent work on album sleeves and as I’ve a few in my collection, I was looking forward to learning more about this side of their work. Instead the book is more an exercise in making each spread as decorative as possible. The imagery from the sleeves is what had been emphasised in the layouts rather than the covers themselves. That so much if it works taken out of context is a tribute to the creative quality, but I’d have liked to see the sleeves shown as they were as well.
Even when complete covers are shown they are not dated in the main body of the book, nor are formats given. Instead the increasingly popular trend of reproducing all the spreads in miniature at the end of the book (just because software makes it easy to do this now doesn’t mean we have to use it) turns out to be where the material is finally dated. This information would have easily gone on the relevant pages (which are captioned, albeit in a minimalist fashion), saving lots of going back and forth. I bet they wouldn’t have taken this option if it had been a website – people would soon have clicked off somewhere else.
Nor, when the page decoration takes over, do we learn whether this is new work based on the sleeves, or something contemporary to them. For example Stylorouge did a lot of the Blur catalogue, but is the page of postage stamps showing all these sleeves a promotional piece or something created just for this book? It works, it looks great, but we’re left in the dark. In the end you get the feeling that they wanted the end result to stress their ability to do design regardless of the medium. Hopefully Stylorouge will get a more thorough book devoted to just their sleeve work eventually, with more information about how each project evolved with the client (one of the few written pieces in the book is on the Blur sleeves and is fascinating).
The company was really just one guy, Rob O’Connor, who started out working for Polydor’s in-house art department. This grounding gave him some good contacts and he was able to carry on working for them freelance, as well as getting work from other labels. Some of the very early record cover designs perhaps lack strength typographically (or maybe the type just look a bit dated), but right from the start the images are almost always very memorable (and let’s face it, there wasn’t going to be much you could do with that awful Stranglers logo no matter how good the rest of the sleeve). It’s also good to see the collection of rejected or alternate ideas, though again these would have been better in context instead of all lumped together without any explanation.
The book cover uses an out-take from a Jesus Jones sleeve, Perverse, one of the few where inside the book does show some of the material which wasn’t used, and give fifty words of explanation. If nothing else it shows just how much work still went in to many record sleeves at the time; it’s hard to imagine many new releases getting this sort of lavish attention today.
Non-record sleeve material includes corporate work and film posters and if nothing else Stylorouge have reserved their place in design heaven for the publicity material they originated for the film Trainspotting. Most of my VHS tapes have long been charity shopped, but the two different versions of the Trainspotting video stay – both because they look so good and as a reminder that I should have bought one of the original posters at the time when I had the chance.
The book was originated by a German publisher, but distributed in Britain (at a retail price of £32) and elsewhere.