Interview - Amanda Henderson of Gloss Creative

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
26th of August 2011
Moet & Chandon 'L'esprit des Miroirs' Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival Marquee 2006.  Design and facilitation by Gloss Creative in collaboration with Emma-Jane Pilkington.
Sportsgirl 'Join Us' instore installation 2011. Design and facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Photo - Marcel Aucar.
Sportsgirl 'Join Us' instore installation 2011.  Design and facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Photo - Marcel Aucar.
Myer 'Spotlight' Autumn / Winter Parade Launch 2009 / 10.  Design and facilitation by Gloss Creative.

'Shells, Architects of the Ocean' Myer Spring / Summer collection launch, 2010/11.  Co-designed by Gloss Creative and LAVA.

Through interviewing some of the most talented Australian creatives every single week, I have come to realise that the very best of the best, in any field, almost always have one character trait in common - they're GENEROUS. Generous with their time, their advice, their resources and pearls of wisdom.  To be completely honest, I find it's usually the ones that aren't much chop(!) who squirrel their trade secrets away and are reluctant to pass on their wisdom.  Nine times out of ten, if you find yourself chatting to someone who truly is at the top of their game - they'll be humble, approachable, and genuinely helpful - although they'll also probably be very busy!

Amanda Henderson of Gloss Creative is the ultimate example of this rule.  The interview below is without a doubt one of the most genuinely insightful and generous interviews I've ever shared on TDF - truly!  It is an incredible resource for aspiring creatives in any field - I've even taken away a few pearls of wisdom myself!

Celebrating their tenth year in business this year, Gloss Creative is absolutely the best of the best.  Under Amanda's watchful eye, her core team of five staff work from a simple studio at the rear of her home in suburban Melbourne, and whilst they might be a small team - they're not afraid to think BIG!  This dynamic group is responsible for some of the very best event design, set design and visual merchandising this country ever sees.  No exaggeration!  Gloss is where creative meets commercial in the most spectacular fashion!

No brief is too tight (or too broad!) to shine given a little Gloss treatment - from spring racing marquees to Sportsgirl shop windows to high end runway shows.  Amanda's highly skilled team are revered for their most impeccable attention to detail - every Gloss Creative job has a certain sparkle, yet no two executions ever look remotely the same.  But perhaps the most admirable thing about the Gloss team is that they're not afraid to get their hands dirty!  Whilst a designers' role too often ends on a computer screen - at Gloss, once a design is finalised, the real fun begins.  The entire teams mucks in with hands on installation of each project, often into the wee hours during peak season.

Gloss is a truly special local creative company - and I feel super lucky to finally be interviewing someone I've looked up to for many many years!  Massive thanks to Amanda for her time, and to Tiffany at Gloss for facilitating this interview and supplying too many stunning pics to choose from!  Love your work ladies! :)

Tell us a little about your background - what did you originally study, and what path led you first to visual merchandising, and then to launch Gloss Creative in 2001?

I didn't study a lot! At school I spent my time doing drama, debating, public speaking and hanging out in the art room with the coolest art teachers making things! I spent a year at uni and quickly realised that my part time job at Sportsgirl was more like a 'university of fashion'.

I became VM Manger for Sportsgirl Nationally and then National Creative Concept Manager at Country Road. These roles gave me both a sense of creativity and commerciality that created a platform and skill set for my exploration of Gloss Creative in 2001. Both of these companies have an ongoing belief in visual merchandising as vital in business success.

Gloss Creative reaches an important milestone this year – it’s your 10th birthday! Congratulations on this incredible achievement! What have been the most significant changes in the way you run your business over the past 10 years? Are there any key 'lessons learned' you would love to share?

We have always been a small business working with brands that have big dreams that need to be put into action.

Early on it was just me, my graphic designer niece, fresh from uni Kimberley Moore, artisan friends and my bookeeper Albina. I have always worked on projects from inception to end and that has not really changed, I have more time to devote to 'whats next ' because our team is now larger and highly skilled, my belief in training people over time has paid off. We have the right people in the right jobs .

As well as our love of creativity, our practical, simple visual merchandising skill set has meant our consistency of delivery has been a major business asset and that only happened because we have developed an amazing in house team and network of collaborators and never failing suppliers.

What has changed is the diversity of projects we work on.  Early on event design was our main activity - that has expanded over the last five years to include set design (my personal love) and retail installations. In the early 2000's the event industry was the place where the creative freedom was and still is to a large extent, but we noticed a shift about 4 years ago of retailers wanting their creativity back! This lead to wonderful collaborations with retailers such as Sportsgirl , Paspaley, Mecca, Sussans, Myer and now our newest project, together with the amazing team at Fabio Ongarato Design, Melbourne's GPO -  Our first shopping centre!  Dangerous though, each time I go for a meeting I shop!)

The are a lot more businesses working in this space now which is another major change - the financial crisis really mixed things up , it lead to us being really targeted about who we wanted to work with and became way more proactive about creating projects that suited our skill sets.

Sooo many lessons learnt, I feel like 'Yoda' writing this -

1. Keep as much freedom in your processes as you can - you don't have to be too flaky, just enough room to keep inspired.

2. Work with people you love and who love you, the best chemistry comes from seeing qualities in others you admire, and funnily those qualities you might not know you have that others see in you!

3. Get a book keeper. I have had one since day one. Can't live without.

4. The best ideas and themes are those from outside your industry.  Before you design look far beyond where you sit for inspiration.  Look at the way other industries respond to their challenges.  New ways of seeing existing material and techniques is the secret to creative renewal. I love looking at work that is so different and yet it looks so obvious, you think, why hasn't that been done before?

5. Don't copy. You can make something way better.

6. It's ok to show creative vulnerablity.  Remember you don't have the answers all of the time, if you're tuly making something original, you're making it up as you go along.  Embrace precious unformed ideas and teach those around you to be comfortable with incomplete ideas until they develop.

7. The two hour principle. Brilliant ideas can be achieved in two hours.  Not everything has to take days.  Some of the best ideas we had have been born in minutes, you just have to grab the time.

Sportsgirl ' Without the Rain' instore display, 2011.  Photography - Marcel Aucar.
What have been one or two favourite Gloss Creative projects / clients in recent years?

A client who collaborates is gold. Find cool, courageous, brave people who really want something new.  Sometimes the corporate world is risk averse. Do something new and exciting, but that moves their brand forward. Reward them, hold your project tight for them, and deliver something you'll all be proud of.

My favorite clients have been those who know what they want, understand how I think and allow me and my team the freedom to deliver.

Some of my favourite clients have also been collaborators : Rachael Ruddick, Amy Foster, Emma Hofstede, Barry Wafer and Simon Hayward, Kerry Nelson, Kate Rees Rowie Kelly, Alistair Thompson, Kate Jennings and Paul Bonnici have always come onboard with our ideas no matter how crazy they are!

I'm proud of our collaborations with Sportsgirl - an ever changing feast of freedom and creativity for their customers over the past 3 years. The Sportsgirl team really believe in VM and it shows.  And the Myer fashion launches - a great example of what big business can do when it gives creative freedom to its team. I love the way we have been able to combine design with a sense of theatre to create a brand experience that works on a couple of levels.

Sportsgirl 'Look Stop Shop' 2011.  Photography - Marcel Aucar.
Sportsgirl 'Look Stop Shop' 2011.  Photography - Marcel Aucar.
Your work is predominantly temporary in nature – runway shows, marquees and corporate events, magical environments that pop up for a short period of time then disappear forever. Does it ever frustrate you that so much incredible talent, energy (and budget!) is poured into such fleeting experiences? Do you ever crave a more permanent project? I love the temporary, it suits my skill set. I was the girl who could never finish knitting a scarf, couldn't read a long book. It took me ages to work out that smaller, temporary projects can be very rewarding. Temporary projects tend to have more emotional and visual impact because of that need to grab people's attention quickly for a limited period of time. It always feels fresh. We try to reuse elements on projects, we are not perfect but visual merchandisiers are the original recyclers. We put a lot more time and thought into reuse than we did 10 years ago and that's a good thing . I'm really proud of the fact that half of the MGPO spring orchard installation will be reused again!  although you'll never know it will be all cleverly transformed...)
BlueScope Steel 'Colorbond Garden' Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival 2007.  Design and Facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Graphic Design - Kimberley Witkowski.

I am sure many TDF readers will be curious about the inner workings of Gloss Creative! Can you give us a bit of an idea of how the studio runs?  ie where your office is based, how many people you employ, what significant tasks the studio outsources, and whether you still play a hands on role in every project?

We work in a studio at the back of our house, its relaxed but well organised. There are 5 of us on any one day and grow on larger projects to 20 people, mostly comprising of specialist artisans such as sewers, painters, jewellers, saddle makers, florists, lampshade makers, interior designers, graphic designers, visual merchandisers. We work with larger production, staging, print and signage companies as well as shopfitters, metal workers, builders, electricians etc. We have built an incredible network of people who just know how to make strange and wonderful things!

We work as a team on the top line ideas and then break down into smaller teams to make things happen, then usually coming back together to install our work.  I'm always involved with everything but try to let my team have freedom to show their considerable skills and style.

Myer Spring / Summer Parade Launch 2008 / 09.  Dancing with Architecture.  Design and Facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Graphic Design credit Kimberley Witkowski and Pamela Dale.

Which other designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

In the world -

I love the scale and playful qualities of the work of Australian artist Sally Smart, the patterns and colours of any Dries Van Noten garments, Bram Bogart's work with giant impasto, Constance Spry's Floral work, Liberty of London's ability to combine old and new with so much cool I could cry when I shop there.  Any John Lautner house.

In my network -

Marcus Baumgart always says its important to state the obvious - I'm always inspired by the team that I work with everyday. They have shared my dreams and made them happen alongside me. Lucky me.

Architect Chris Bosse (LAVA), he's way ahead of his time .

Bruce Keebaugh (The Big Group) - party guru and entrepreneur.  I have learnt so much about business from him, he knows how to make creative links across different industries and he's a great story teller.

Sportsgirl 'Make Do & Mend' instore display 2011.  Design and Facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Photography Marcel Aucar.
Sportsgirl 'Make Do & Mend' instore display 2011.  Design and Facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Photography Marcel Aucar.

Can you list for us your current top 5 go-to resources for creative inspiration, across any media?

1. Lsnglobal network. The boys at the Future Laboratory give great Insight into new thinking not just new trends. Puts me in the right frame of mind before designing.

2. I love Yellow Trace blog, Dana makes mood boards to die for .

3. Trendhunter, I love their theme galleries. Always slightly weird

4. I still like magazines. I'm often standing in airport newstands - I buy the latest of whatever is looking the most interesting that month. I'm not loyal to any one publication. I love it when you find an image you cant stop looking at, you can tear it out and keep it next to you .

5. I'm inspired by Marcus Baumgart's eloquent writing style and love of the slow, his ability to express what he's thinking makes me jealous...

Circa 'The Prince' Restaurant interior.  Design by John and Lisa Van Haandel with Gloss Creative.  Photography Earl Carter, Stewart Leishman and Paul Mosig.
Circa 'The Prince' Restaurant interior.  Design by John and Lisa Van Haandel with Gloss Creative.  Photography Earl Carter, Stewart Leishman and Paul Mosig.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Talking, talking, designing by talking, scribbling in my notebook, I stand at my desk because I am literally walking around our studio talking all day with Steff, Tiff, Kim, Ross , Albina , Jan or Sam. I rarely sit down, except when we talk as a group. I think I need one of those standing desks.

We work on multiple projects all in different stages so my day is always varied.  A mix of designing with our team, talking with clients, site visits, installations at night, driving to find things and more talking. My day is busy, but I try to think slowly and find pockets of time for free thinking. My phone often runs out by the end of the day.

Sportsgirl 'How long is a piece of string' instore display 2010.  Design and facilitation by Gloss Creative.  Photography Marcel Aucar.

What would be your dream creative project?

A set design for Sydney Dance Company.

And... I'm already dreaming about Christmas at MGPO, so I would have to say our next project ...

What are you looking forward to ?

Putting up spring carnival marquees at flemington at the end of this month - big Melbourne celebrations just around the corner.

Hanging with my AGA cooker in my kitchen on the weekend.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Probably the city - anywhere that has such an amazing retail world and brilliant restraunts, beautiful buildings, laneways and gardens at the same time 12 minutes from my house must be good .

Your favourite Melbourne bookshop for gorgeous reference books and art / design publications?

Often I find inspiration in older books so I'm a fan of the library. I've borrowed and bought amazing books at second hand library book sales. School fetes are another great sources of out print inspiration. The Victorian Embroiders Guild library has an incredible array of textile and handicraft books - you have to join up to get access but its worth it..

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

That's easy - the new Vue de Monde at Rialto. There are not that many places in the world that you can have an experience that is both luxurious and still mind blowingly creative. Shannon's sense of creativity redefines what 'occasion' means.  Apart form the watching the day views turn into incredible view of Melbourne at night, the restaurant interior draws you into his world of dark but organic luxury.  The table is not set when you arrive - no tablecloth, a leather topped table, and a still life of handcrafted stone shapes and the burnt driftwood pieces on the table. As the meal progresses each piece's purpose is revealed. Ah beauty and function!  For me this is almost like modern theatre. I'm always inspired when a business has creativity at it's core - you can feel it!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

You would find me being slow. I've always been a slow person, so Saturday is my chance to go at a snails pace, whether its sleeping, walking, food shopping, coffee, I move at a "glacial pace" (quote from The Devil Wears Prada!)

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Its weather - no seriously, I love the fact that it keeps you guessing. My favourite melbourne page is Weatherzone, I love the watching the live rain radar!

Sportsgirl 'Understated is Overrated' instore display 2010.  Photography Marcel Aucar.

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