It should come as no surprise that in-demand set designer Janina Pedan takes the word “weird” as a compliment. Pedan’s work – which appears frequently in Dazed & Confused (she was also responsible for the landscape in our 'A First Look' shoot) – is boldly sparse and has a beguilingly eerie quality. The Ukraine-born, Sweden-raised designer showed us around her London studio to talk about her cerebral approach, and how she draws inspiration from everywhere but fashion.
Photography by Retts Wood
What do you do?
I work as a set designer, mostly in fashion. A lot of the time that involves building an environment and providing some sort of visual context for a shoot – but it really varies.
How did you get into set design?
It was a bit random. I studied sculpture and a photographer friend knew I was good at building stuff, so asked me to do something for a shoot. It was quite small but a bit later he came back and asked me to do a full-blown editorial. It kicked off really quickly from there.
You resist the urge to be overly theatrical in your work. How would you describe your aesthetic?
Considered. I come from an art background, where you learn to become very aware of what objects mean and their impact in a room, frame or composition. I’d rather a set is stripped back but has a visual strength, rather than having loads of things in it. I like to curate what actually passes through.
Who or what inspires you?
Most of the time I look outside of fashion for inspiration, if you look at my shoots you’ll see quite a lot of nature, animals and plants. I did a Japanese-themed shoot with Ben Toms and that came from our mutual interest in bonsai trees. At the moment I’m working on some masks and they ended up being vaguely related to this book I’m reading about Agrarian cults in the 16th and 17th centuries by Carlo Ginzburg. I like to find something interesting and then do the visual translation myself, rather than looking at how other people have done it. That’s what makes things fresh and interesting.
What’s the best compliment your work’s been given?
As soon as anyone praises my work I get really embarrassed. Someone said my work was “a bit weird”. To me that was the biggest compliment!
Who are your role models?
I have so many. I saw a lecture at the Architectural Association with the set designer Peter Pabst, who did some of the famous sets for Pina Bausch. He’s a great set designer, but what makes him a role model is how humble he was about the things that he did. The people I admire don’t puff themselves up and take those around them for granted.
How would you describe your personal style?
I guess my style icon is the Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy, who was in charge of the metal workshop. He was a professor so he’d wear a nice shirt, but he always had his working clothes on over the top. I think that’s my style: always one foot in the workshop.
Someone said my work was “a bit weird”. To me that was the biggest compliment!
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I get to learn so many new skills because each job varies so much. It’s such a Renaissance-man profession! I also like it when I’m actually in the studio making things – especially furniture.
Finery is a London brand, born and bred; what are your favourite spots in the city?
I’d go anywhere in London with water. I like the central fountain at the Barbican, and the Thames Barrier – the park there is so gloomy and weird. I’ve walked the Thames in sections all the way from London Bridge to Gravesend; that stretch from Greenwich to the O2 Arena is so bleak, yet so beautiful. You really feel like you’re in London, but it’s a different kind of space and much closer to what I wish the whole city was like, rather than these monoliths that are popping up everywhere like mushrooms. Just seeing the water makes me feel relaxed and less claustrophobic.
I’m working on an exhibition based on a trip to Japan, and will hopefully make some more costumes for the performance group New Noveta. I’m also doing a small publication about a modernist convent. Aside from that, I don’t really plan projects. I have a problem of doing too many things at once!