Pioneering and visionary – two words that sum up our mission here at Heist. And they’re also two words that perfectly describe Es Devlin.
She’s the world’s most sought-after set designer. Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve definitely seen her work. She’s designed sets for (deep breath): Adele, Jay Z, Kanye, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, The Pet Shop Boys, Miley Cyrus, U2, and Beyonce. When Kayne fired his set-designer ten days before the start of a tour, it was Es who got the call. She had Adele tour the world in front of magnified projections of her own eyes; she had Jay Z and Kanye perform on top of giant video cubes; she’s even sent Miley Cyrus down a bubblegum-pink fibreglass slide of her own tongue. Set-designers can go bigger, wilder and more extreme because she went first.
And yet. ‘I can’t actually think of a day when I haven’t felt like I’m failing,’ she admits. ‘I’m am very, very rarely satisfied with anything that I make. And I think that’s probably what drives me to continue. Trying to fail a little better the next time I fail.’
Her work isn’t all pop & rock. As well as designing for Adele and Beyonce, Es works in theatre, opera, dance and film, with performances spanning Shakespeare, Mozart and Bizet. But she claims a common thread runs through all these performances. ‘I might find that I create a very similar shape for a Rihanna performance as I might for a Wagner performance. And I might find that I create a similar line for Beyonce as I might for an 18th century opera, that will then re-surface in a piece of work for Kanye. There’s a purity at the heart of what most people do.’
Why so many projects of such hugely different tone? Her philosophy is to make the most of the time that she has. ‘If you’re Don Giovanni and you’re fucking 2,675 women, are you somehow getting more hours out of life? In the Lars von Trier film Nymphomaniac, Charlotte Gainsbourg says this thing which I cannot get out of my mind: my only sin is that I want more from the setting of the sun…’