Manchester has much to answer for according to one of its beloved sons. It is where the world’s most popular football teams play. It is where the Hollies, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, James, The Happy Mondays and countless other bands came from. It was in Manchester that the Hacienda, that notorious club was based and of course it was home to Factory Records the indie label that gave me and many others so much pleasure during the eighties and beyond. Manchester: a city whose name is synonymous with modern music and the city that gave us Peter Saville.
"I spent my time in school painting stuff and my art teacher said, “You could do graphic design.” Basically it looked like I could get a professional job doing what I liked doing in my spare time. I didn’t understand what it really meant. I grew up in Northern England and the cultural horizons were very, very limited. The only interesting, avant-garde visual information I was receiving in the mid ’70s was on a record sleeve. So, you know, you’re 20 years of age and you say, “I want to do that!”
What first caught my imagination was the record sleeve Peter created for Joy Division’s 1979 release “Unknown Pleasures.” The stark image with the undulating lines was, and still is, mesmerising. It was one of those LP covers that piqued the interest without even having heard the music. The cover artwork captured the imagination of the times following as it did hot on the heels the fading punk scene.
"Roxy Music introduced me to the idea that somewhere out there was something called a demimonde, what history books referred to as a café society. I remember thinking, “I would quite like to find that place.” I began to listen to classical music because of Kraftwerk. Then, whilst I’m at art school punk happened and in ’76 there was a kind of coup d’état in youth culture."
Peter was born in Manchester on 9th October 1955. He learnt his craft while attending, as it was called then, Manchester Polytechnic from 1975 until 1978. His rise to fame came after meeting Factory Records maestro, journalist and TV presenter Tony Wilson at a Patti Smith concert. Wilson commissioned Saville to design the first factory poster. The design of the poster perfectly captured the name of the company whilst reflecting the urban thrust of the music it featured. After this, Saville joined Factory records as a partner along with Alan Erasmus, Rob Bretton and of course the now legendary and sorely missed Tony Wilson. It was to prove to be a fruitful and exciting partnership.
"Stephen, Bernard, and Peter Hook became a kind of triumvirate. After Ian died, nobody took control of New Order until the ’90s. All songs were written and performed by New Order; they were nobody’s group. And by virtue of being nobody’s group, there was no reciprocal ego for me to address in the imagery of the group – it wasn’t for anyone and they didn’t really want to discuss it in person. It was a completely unique situation in the context of communications design."
Following his success with Factory Records Saville moved from Manchester to London. His modernist take on art caught the eye of Virgin, specifically the labels offshoot DinDisc which featured the likes of Wham! Roxy Music and Duran Duran. He became DinDisc’s art director. It was to prove to be another successful collaboration. Peter then went on to form the design agency Peter Saville Associates. The agencies prime focus was record labels and musical artists. In 1990, following an invitation to join the partner-owned Pentagram, one of the most respected multidisciplinary design consultancies in the world Peter closed his London office
Peter Saville left Pentagram in 1993 and England for America to join Frankfurt Balkind at their Los Angeles office. There followed a series of moves including working for German advertising agency (Meiré & Meiré) where he founded the Apartment producing work for Smart Car and others.
He returned to freelancing and London in 1999. Shortly after re-opening Peter Saville Associates. The company has since been renamed as Saville Parris Wakefield. Further success followed with commissions from Stella McCartney, John Galliano, Yohji Yamamoto and Christian Dior.
From walking the humble streets of Manchester and from being influenced by Herbert Spencer’s “Pioneers of Modern Typography”: Peter Saville: the man who refashioned Rock and Pop art.
"As a designer, you think you know about art, but that rigorous process of who you are and “why do you want to do this?” is not incumbent upon you as a designer. You know about art by looking in through the window, but you don’t know anything about art at all. I realized that if the work was going to stand alone in its own right, I had to understand myself. I did work which I never had to answer to anyone about – but I also never had to answer to myselfabout it."
mORe pAiNt SpiLlEd iN tHe PUdlLe.