Bridging the gap between graphic, industrial, fashion, art and environmental design, Vladimir Cherepanoff possesses an enviable ability to transform concept ideas into finished products. In an interview with Larissa Meikle, he talks about techno-socialism, soft cultural attacks on communism, political censorship, design contingency, and how to be original in advertising.
With new cigarette branding laws coming in to play on July 1, 2012, Vladimir Cherepanoff is gearing himself up for the challenge. To sell something near impossible to advertise, he says, is the ultimate creative confrontation. "It's like selling terrorism," he quips.
"The liberal world has thrown things out of proportion – are there health warnings on hamburger packaging for obesity? Our news on war is censored but we can put a dying baby on a cigarette packet.”
It may not be the most politically correct assertion, but it is indeed an honest one, which Cherepanoff stands by.
"I think tobacco companies will invest in alternative environments to advertise their brands, and by no means will they use a path to purchase," he adds when asked about what branding options he thinks will be available to this controversial product.
When probed about how he would get around the obstacle of cigarette branding censorship, Cherepanoff says he would resort to the age-old method of what the ad industry calls a "soft cultural attack" or in other words, 'brand association'.
"Just take a look at Hollywood, it's a soft cultural attack on communism – and that's the way to do it. The more grungy, warts-and-all the film, the more believable are the products that it is subliminally spruiking," he says.
Back in 2002, Cherepanoff was asked to create modular furniture that moved from club to club for cigarette brand Benson & Hedges. That was just one of the options open to the tobacco manufacturer, as long as there was little to no branding on the furniture, which stuck to distinct colours to project its ‘luxury brand positioning’. The campaign rolled out across Europe.
But regardless of your views on the consumption or advertising of cigarette brands, Cherepanoff agrees that all mass production needs a vehicle to help sell it. At the turn of the last century a vehicle was needed to sell industrialisation, but in today's world, the global economy is now fuelled by information.
"We live in exciting times," says Cherepanoff. He uses the term techno-socialism – high technology serving the people, via self-made distribution channels such as YouTube or Twitter.
"With access to so much information and so many voices, brands need to be original, which is not always that easy. Clients always want to look fresh, so how do you do that?"
Not looking at advertising to sell a product is his answer, because that's been done before,” he says. “Look at human activity instead, then you have a great rationale to sell you idea.
"You rip off a new space that advertising has never ripped off, that's how you do it. Now every big agency has a hand-drawn website – because the ad industry has been stealing from the art world for decades."
And Cherepanoff should know. He has worked in the advertising industry for more than 20 years, working as a creative director and senior art director both full-time and on a freelance basis for agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney, The Campaign Palace, The Cabana Boys, Ad Energy and Image Craft Advertising.
He has worked across print media, TV, social media and digital campaigns. He has also worked in-house for clients such as General Pants, Royal Elastics and sports entertaining licensing company VBM.
But his early artistic beginnings as a student in the ‘80s provide an interesting insight into this man of many talents. Just after 1984, Cherepanoff was studying life drawing with Steven Gordon at the Paddington Art School, preparing for a graphic design course at Randwick TAFE, when he was one of the first Australian graffiti artists to be commission to paint his own work.
The artwork went on to be presented in an exhibition at the Sydney Town Hall, which he says was unheard of those days.
During his college years, Cherepanoff landed a design position at Claude Neon. This was his opportunity to submerge himself in the newly created world of computer-aided design environments and after only six months, he was promoted to art director.
But more unusually was his chance encounter with Marky Mark and Donnie Wahlberg.
"We were the support act for New Kids on the Block, and during the tour our group's singer fell in love with their drummer," he laughs.
This was during his stint with Sound Limited Posse, which in fact was the first hip-hop band to be signed to Sony Music.
But with a further desire to expand his artistic career, Cherepanoff disbanded the group in 1993, leaving Sydney to follow artist Boris Koslov to China to study landscape and composition.
He returned two years later, taking up the position of art director at Image Craft Advertising, working on below-the-line campaigns for clients including Joyce Mayne and The Macquarie Bank.
He then moved on to become the creative director for the newly emerging footwear brand Royal Elastics in the late ‘90s, which was then sold to American footwear giant K-Swiss. Cherepanoff was offered the role of head of design, which he turned down due to another offer by General Pants to head and start an in-house design studio.
In this role he developed numerous men’s and women's brands, advertising campaigns and retail store concepts. After 12 months of working with General Pants, he was approached by King Gee to design and develop a sub-brand called 'Red Label'.
Although the label was not launched within the industry due to a corporate reshuffle, the brand designs that he completed are now incorporated into the King Gee brand.
Towards to end of 2004 Cherepanoff was once again retained by the original founders of Royal Elastic. This time his job was to create an upscale tailored men's sneaker.
Within eight months he not only delivered the logo, brand guidelines, packaging and finished product, he also successfully launched the FEIT brand in London, New York and Tokyo, including a series of co-branded events with key retailers.
For the next two years he conceptualised and developed the FEIT core range and retail stores in Sydney and Tokyo.
In 2006, Cherepanoff created the 3SIX9 design studio with VBM. In this role he worked on some of the biggest sporting brands in the world including the British Open, Rugby World Cup France 2007, V8 Supercars and Centenary of Rugby League.
He worked closely with the French rugby organisers to deliver a world class event graphic program. After leaving 3SIX9 in 2007, he freelanced as a senior art director with the Campaign Place and Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney, working with clients including David Jones, 3 and Ortori Pearls.
During this freelance period, Ad Energy snapped up Cherepanoff, initially on a freelance basis. Within two months, he was offered the second in charge of creative for Ad Energy's Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane offices, working with clients such as Meriton, BHP and Holden.
Currently freelancing as a creative director at Studio Unimail in Sydney, and working on his personal artistic projects, Cherepanoff is hatching plans to go to Russia during September this year.
"It's interesting in today's world because we have few emerging countries, which are Russia, China and India," he says.
"From a pure creative perspective, we will see something very original coming out of these nations. Countries that have been culturally starved will soon be hit with a tidal wave of western culture, but after this rush subsides the true creative expression of that country will shine through."
He wants to go to Russia to soak up this originality, hoping to translate it back into his own commercial and personal projects.
The main ambition Cherepanoff tries to accomplish when working with people, design, or on brands, is to find a reference point, ultimately arising from contingency – not from a corporate style guide but from the history of a culture.
"Russia is an untapped source of inspiration and prior to 1960, what we know of the country's icons are old and tired. What's really going on there now? Now that's original."