Y Design

Design Indaba interviews creative director Kassie Naidoo.

Part of the Project

First Published in

From Durban to Jozi - an accidental journey or was that always the master plan after ML Sultan?

A girl's got to have a plan.

You're both head of design at an agency and creative director on a magazine - a pretty unusual combination. How does it work?

It's complicated, but luckily for me I have multiple personalities (just kidding). It takes a lot of juggling, hard work, long hours and passion. I come from the publishing industry and when Y approached Nathan Reddy for help on their magazine he contacted me and asked if I would consider joining the agency, working on the magazine as one of my projects. I work from TBWA\Gavin\ Reddy and we handle the many facets of the Y account. As custodians of the brand it makes sense that the magazine too is done by us. The Ymag team is made up of about 4 of us, plus a whole lot of freelancers - writers, photographers, illustrators, stylists, even designers. The way we work is with constant communication via email, meetings once a week and often through chaos - but it usually all works out in the end.

Describe a typical day in the life of Kassie Naidoo.

Pure madness, sometimes. It's made up of emails, phone calls, meetings, crisis management, team-building exercises, brainstorming sessions and loads of fun.

Tell me more about Ymag.

It was created five years ago as a brand extension of the popular Gauteng-based radio station Yfm. Appealing to the young, urban mostly black South African. Initially, the magazine had a heavy music content, being the visual, tactile medium of its sister aural medium. Over the years, with a changing society, it has become its own entity. With a strong focus on entertainment, fashion, art and culture. Ymag's "youth" position is more about your state of mind than your age.

Your inspiration for the 2002 redesign?

I had to dig deep within myself to find the heart of the magazine. On the surface it seemed easy: put a face on a young, urban, primarily black publication - a visual dimension to an aural brand. For me it had to be more than that. A magazine rooted in Gauteng, conceived 4 years after the demise of apartheid, and appealing to the youth had much to offer a fledgling society.

Ymag's brand positioning was summed up by one line "We look to our past and celebrate our future". The CI had been designed by TBWA\Gavin\Reddy using the globally popular brand colours, red, black and white. Classic design colours of some of the world's most famous brands including a once-famous African magazine, Africa's biggest - the almost forgotten magazine of my youth - Drum. Visual memories of people dancing, laughing and celebrating life filled my head. What better reference is there in our magazine history to be inspired by? So Ymag developed in my mind's eye as the millennium version of Drum in the 1950s.

Why the logo as a masthead?

Ymag is an extension of the Ybrand - as are Yfm, Yworld and Ycares. It made sense to make that association because there was equity in the mother brand.

In a marketplace where copycat publishing is the norm, Ymag has a unique design aesthetic. Can you sum it up in a sentence?

Gritty and real with a hint of lip gloss and a whole lot of bling bling.

Ymag's fashion spreads are incredible. The AfroJap story in particular blew me away. How did that come about?

I sat through most of Cape Town Fashion Week and SA Fashion Week in Johannesburg last year and tried to make a connection that I felt was fresh, new and expressive of a local fashion trend. For me it was AfroJap. Jenny Andrew, the fashion stylist, was with me at SA Fashion Week and the concept evolved as we spoke about it. To push the concept I wanted it shot in a location that carried the same aesthetic. Kate Otten is one of my favourite local architects and as luck would have it she had just completed an AfroJap-type building in Soweto, an art therapy centre. So we got permission to shoot there. The models were chosen for the same reasons.

What comes first: the concept or the photo?

Concept. The concept informs the photography. Often the photography will evolve the concept.

Advertising is a lot about "big ideas"; is there such a thing in magazines?

I believe there should be. The magazines that stay top of mind usually are about "big ideas". Local magazine art directors take their freedom to express themselves for granted. I know this because I was no different about six years ago. They should all work in advertising sometime in their careers, then they will realise just how much creative licence they have.

Are you a control freak?

Yes and no. Ideas need an open-mindedness whilst crafting needs discipline.

Ymag's fashion spreads push boundaries - how do you get the most out of photographers/stylists/models/etc?

When people love what they're doing they give of their best. I choose people who have a passion for what they do as well as an attitude of "anything is possible".

Who are your favourite photographers/stylists/models/etc?

Internationally - Paulo Roversi, Sarah Moon, David Lachapelle and Helmut Newton. Locally - this is a loaded question. Models - they come and go so quickly, a new face to watch out for is Sudanese model, Sonja Wanda (see her in the latest UK ELLE).

If you could work with anyone in the world…
In fashion, Dries Van Noten or Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons. In design, Shigeo Fukuda.

Your craziest behind-the-scenes experience.
That would be Ymag's Zambia trip. We went up to The Royal Livingstone Hotel in May last year to shoot a fashion editorial with Thato of The Fresh Breakfast Show on Yfm and Bridget Masinga and we created a scene on the streets of Livingstone that was almost riotous.

We were shooting on one of the main roads without a permit, which was crazy, but what caused the problem was that after hair, makeup and wardrobe, we had attracted a crowd of about 150 onlookers drawn by the outlandish clothes and hair. Then some politician walked past and decided he didn't like foreigners shooting on his streets and started yelling at us about permits and inciting the crowd to do something - saying that Zambians should be ashamed of themselves letting us on their streets indecently dressed.

Shaldon Kopman, my stylist, went off with a policeman to get a permit. The rest of the team jumped back into the kombie leaving Steve Tanchel, the photographer, his assistant and I stranded in the middle of a restless mob.

We had to grab the equipment and run off. Two police reservists rode in the kombie with us to the police station, accusing us of indecent exposure and inciting a crowd to riot. We didn't know what they were talking about. Bridget was wearing a full-length Clive Rundle dress and Thato was in a suit. It's only when we got to the police station that we realized that the dress had big holes made of netting in places and that her whole arse had been exposed to the reservist as she got into the kombie ahead of him.

Ymag really celebrates local style. How do you keep up with what's hot?

I stay informed by watching, reading, listening, speaking to people, and then I make connections between seemingly unconnected things.

Er… what is hot on the street?

Right now, all things Jamaican - music, models and food. Multi-culturalism is still big in food, décor, fashion and especially music.

Local artists I need to know about?

Trinity Sessions, Thandiswa Mzwai's solo album, Marianne Fassler's latest collection.

Has Ymag influenced your personal fashion sense?

Cat's famous campaign line sums it up for me: 'We shape the things we build - then they shape us'.

By the way, where did those fabulous killer heels you wore with the black lace dress to the British High Commissioner's do come from?

A girl's got to have some secrets.

Is there such a thing as an indigenous magazine culture in South Africa?

I think there is one forming but we're still in the early stages of a fully integrated South African aesthetic. We should all be patient and enjoy the process as it unfolds. After all, how much do we expect from a 10 year old?

Back to advertising, what's your favourite project at the moment? And why?

As an agency, we are currently working on a range of South African greeting cards in the 11 official languages, which we see as a way of raising awareness and respect amongst the many culturally diverse people of our country, through language.

Work you're proudest of?

This is an ever-changing process because I'd like to think that what I was proud of before has shifted to what I've done recently and will keep changing as I grow and evolve as a designer and a human being.

Techno-tools - what's your passion?

I love gadgets; after all I'm Mom to a 10-year-old. The techno-term of the moment is morphing, one gadget, many functions. My favourites for now are Nokia's 7600, apart from all the regular phone functions it has a built-in web browser, a video and digital camera and it can also store and play 30 minutes of MP3. The LG GRD-267DTU is an Internet connected icebox with a 15inch screen. It has an MP3 music player with stereo speakers, TV, videophone and digital camera. Cool stuff.

Finish the sentence: South African design is …

…coming into its own and will soon be, if not already is, shaping a new world aesthetic.

What's next Kassie?

There are a few things in the pipeline, a few ideas I am exploring.

Watch the Talk with Nathan Reddy