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Lydia Turner

A conversation concerning Gumby, Star Trek, and dulcimers.

MONOGRAM: List your name, profession, and place of residence:

LYDIA TURNER, graphic designer, art director, and founder of Studio Scissor, Los Angeles.

MONOGRAM: You recently moved to LA after spending nearly 15 years in New York. Has the relocation influenced your design or dressing sensibilities in any way?

LYDIA: Yes, yes, yes. Everything in LA is more colorful and playful. New York can be so serious! I’ve gone from wearing mostly black to wearing a lot more color and prints along with my beloved black. I feel more inspired to experiment with design in Los Angeles—maybe it’s just a product of a new environment, but things feel somehow more open and creative out here. Life is more solitary here and I think that helps me to be more of my true self, now that I’m free of the panopticon of city life.

MONOGRAM: What’s the best part about being an art director?

LYDIA: I feel incredibly privileged to say that the thing that puts food on my table is also the thing that I love to do almost more than anything. My favorite activity is sitting in a quiet room and making things, and that’s what I do all day, most days. I love getting to build little worlds with my clients, who all happen to be intelligent, hardworking people who make creative, special things. A mantra I learned in design school is “typography exists to honor content,” and I am lucky to work on projects with content that I respect very much.

MONOGRAM: What’s the weirdest prop you’ve ever had to source for a photo shoot?

LYDIA: Thirty goldfish. Each and every one went to a loving home after the shoot.

MONOGRAM: In terms of graphics, type, and layout, what are some of the most inspiring journals / magazines (past or present)?

LYDIA: There are so many! Viva from the 1970s for its stunning art direction and feminist view of sexuality. It’s like a very upscale Cosmo but with Helmut Newton editorials. Colors from the 1990s for its fantastically playful typography and layouts. Its editor, the late Tibor Kalman, is one of my design heroes. He was an early mentor of my early mentor and boss, Richard Pandiscio, so I like to think of him as my design grandfather, though we never met. My favorite contemporary publication is Flat File, which discusses pieces of design from the archive of the Herb Lubalin Study Center. (Herb Lubalin is another hero, more for lettering.) Last but really not least, I need to mention Eros, from the 1960s, and Avant Garde and Pushpin Graphic, from the 1970s. Just look them all up and then try not to die of happiness and visual and intellectual pleasure.

MONOGRAM: If you could collaborate with any designer, past or present, who would it be and why?

LYDIA: Outside of graphic design, I’m really into the design of furniture and household objects, but I have done very little of that. I would love to have worked with the late Piero Fornasetti or the late, great, god-like Gio Ponti on some industrial or product design. It’s a good thing they are both deceased because I would probably be reduced to jelly if I ever met them, kind of like the time I met Paul Reubens, which is another story I’ll tell you sometime.

MONOGRAM: Tell us about your favorite vintage t-shirt. How and when did you acquire it?

LYDIA: My favorite vintage t-shirt was not vintage when I bought it. It’s your standard white child’s size large crew neck t-shirt, with a purple silkscreened graphic of floating woman symbols with “FEMINISM: THE NEXT GENERATION” printed in a Star Trek typeface. I bought it at a Riot Grrl event in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. the summer before my freshman year of high school—this would be 1996—I must have been 13! It was a little too big then, and it fits like a dream now. I was, and am still, very into both Star Trek and feminism. I’m also very into discussing both of those interests. It’s a great conversation starter, and a damn fine piece of clothing that has been a part of my wardrobe for 20 years.

MONOGRAM: What’s your favorite way to style a t-shirt?

LYDIA: I love to glam up a t-shirt with a necklace, some lipstick, or a belt. I don’t wear jeans so there is no “jeans and a t-shirt” in my life. I’m not Jane Birkin. I have not yet mastered the art of casual. But now that I’m an Angeleno I may come back in a year and tell you how to style a t-shirt with yoga pants. Or not.

MONOGRAM: Close your eyes. Now think of the perfect Lydia Turner graphic t-shirt. What does it look like?

LYDIA: I would love a t-shirt with a big simple graphic of a pencil on it. For me a pencil represents always making, always designing, always planning and scheming. Can you make me that?

MONOGRAM: Are there any graphic design trends you’d love to see make a comeback?

LYDIA: I would love to see the sense of play and humor that was popular in design and advertising in the 1960s through the early 1990s make a comeback. Everything these days seems to be about “taste” and “luxury,” which are nice things to have, but they get boring when they saturate culture. Speaking of design trends, I love that in our age where so much design is digital, people are focusing on making printed design more impactful and special because it is now more rare. I’m a voracious reader, and I love knowing that my entire library is on my Kindle app on my iPhone, and not a bunch of former trees. But I also cherish my ridiculously cumbersome collection of special edition illustrated books, children’s books (I have stupid amount of these for a person who doesn’t have children), and oversized art and design books. Printed matter should not be a throwaway—it should be something deserving of a place on the shelf whether or not it’s a book.

MONOGRAM: When did you first realize your hair is so fucking amazing?

LYDIA: My what? No, you know, I’m asked about my hair a lot because people seem to see it as an iconic symbol that represents me. I think it’s because I’m outgoing and loose, and so is my hair. (Literally “out-going”, get it?)

MONOGRAM: Lightning round: describe yourself in terms of the following…

COLOR: Rich emerald green and pure velvety black
ERA: Vienna, 1903
FETISH: Enthusiasm
SYMBOL: Infinity Symbol
LOCATION: The Metropolitan Museum of Art!
OBJECT: A very nice pair of scissors, recently sharpened
BEVERAGE: Bubbly water in large quantities
VEHICLE: My yellow bicycle–a sublime machine.
RITUAL: Playing my dulcimer. (It’s an instrument.)
TAGLINE: “I’m working”

PHOTOGRAPHY: Jason Frank Rothenberg