School/SS99 has created a new HQ inspired by Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 1999 collection.
Stepping from a bustling São Paulo street through the leafy trellis archway to School/SS99’s front door already instils a sense of escape. Walk through the door and this increases tenfold. A stark white interior decorated with eclectic, grandiose items, from ornate gold chandeliers to a white grand piano, create a space akin to an opulent townhouse or boutique hotel, or even an haute couture personal shopping suite – anything but a small office for a start-up brand design consultancy. And that is exactly the point.
School/SS99 comprises a seven-strong workforce, all branding experts who left behind long-held positions at top advertising agencies to try something different. Founded in 2012 by Victor Hayashida and Flávia Nogueira, the consultancy works with small to medium businesses that don’t wish to spend money on advertising, instead developing everything from brand strategy to art direction, interior design and digital products. Its aim is to design a complete, coherent brand package for its clients, so it was vital that its own brand, from website to office space, was equally seamless.
The agency’s entire identity is based on the work of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, specifically his spring/summer 1999 collection (hence the firm’s mouthful of a name), thus the brand colours are black, white and gold, and its aesthetic is a mix of contemporary and traditional luxury. Consistent with this theme, the founders initially set out to find an office setting that was far removed from the cliches of a traditional, corporate setting, instead seeking a small, intimate space that, Hayashida says, was more like a London home. They found this 1950s house and stripped back many modern additions in order to create a blank canvas with character.
Though it’s easy to forget once inside, the office is still within Vila Olímpia, a city district where Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have their Brazilian headquarters. It’s also close to Daslu, Brazil’s answer to Harrods and one of the largest luxury department stores in the world, allowing the consultancy to align itself with neighbouring high-end fashion brands.
When it came to decoration, they didn’t do anything by halves. Absolute dedication to their McQueen theme saw Nogueira travel to New York and London sourcing unique items, such as vintage chandeliers and other golden details such as taps, door handles and even keys, because they just couldn’t find them in Brazil.
“When we asked suppliers in São Paulo if we could specify in gold, they laughed at us”
“When we asked suppliers in São Paulo if we could specify in gold, they laughed at us. Everything here is silver and black. But we had to have consistency, because when clients come in we have to show what we could do for them. If the essence of a brand is London, we have to bring elements of London to São Paulo.”
Before founding the company, Hayashida and Nogueira spent time in New York and London, “to get inspired again,” according to Hayashida, and hoped to bring these nuggets of inspiration back to Brazil.
“Europeans and Americans are so advanced in design – you’ve been breathing design since you were born,” says Hayashida. “But that is not Brazil. Our clients want what you have, and even big agencies are trying to figure out how to be global.”
In the main entrance hall and meeting space, monochrome tiling covers the floors and brick-pattern white tiling covers one wall, an idea sourced from a New York subway station (this also had to be ordered specially, and a client has since requested exactly the same for its own office). The space is dotted with a mix of modern and classic furnishings, like Eames rockers from Vitra, a black Smeg fridge, a Chesterfield sofa that the duo reupholstered in white, and a coffee table made by adding ornate gold legs to a white cuboid top. The aforementioned grand piano, an original Diederichs & Freres from Russia, was reclaimed from a boat in São Paulo and revamped, creating an unintentional Liberace-style flamboyance, helped by fur rugs – added for much-needed cosiness.
The bathrooms are equally dramatic, with black tiles, gold finishes and a cabinet of beautifully packaged, far-too-nice-to-use toiletries, whereas the workspace is less ostentatious, with exposed original wood floors and three walls lined with idea-spurring high fashion magazines. Having said that, the design team does sit on Kartell’s Louis Ghost chairs, designed by Philippe Starck, around an antique Louis XV dining table adorned with Seletti candelabras. But that’s all part of the story School/SS99 is trying to tell. Its office exists as a working example of what the agency wants to achieve.
“One client said it reminded them of London,” says Hayashida proudly, “and another said that it felt like walking into our website. We don’t have much emphasis on interior design in Brazil, so they’re often surprised how an interior can be part of their brand. They come in, and straight away, they get it.”