Daniel Jackson is a founding member of global design collective Surface To Air and the Creative Director of BBlessing, the Lower East Side menswear boutique and clothing label. He’s also a super nice guy. I first met the Tacoma-bred, New York City-based designer in 2003, when I helped organize a Surface To Air art show in Vancouver. The show’s pièce de résistance was a twenty-five foot battleship made of cardboard, conceived and designed by Daniel. The sculpture, like S2A’s iconic jewelery and BBlessing’s interior, clearly derive from the mind of someone who understands three-dimensional design (he has a Masters I.D. degree from Pratt). Daniel kindly took some time out from making awesome shit to answer a few questions.
Photos: Jennilee Marigomen
Tell us a little bit about Surface To Air’s origins. Are you an original member? What was the founding vision for the collective?
I’m actually the one that came up with the name, and along with a few good friends I helped create the foundation of the brand as it exists now. We were squatting in our loft in Union Sq. around ’96 until about ’99, and the space gave us the opportunity to throw some crazy parties, art exhibitions, things that gave us some initial exposure and established us in the alternative art scene of downtown New York at that time.
What’s the relationship between the Paris and New York studios?
Right now the two studios divide the work between specific collections and creative work. The main men’s and women’s collections are done from Paris, while the accessories are done in New York. We travel between New York and Paris several times a year for Rendez Vous, the fashion trade show organized by S2A. It’s a positive relationship that allows us to really have a global impact.
A lot of iconic S2A imagery (not to mention the name) has to do with weapons and war. The dagger and gun jewelery that you do, for example. Why the obsession with violence?
I always see it as being in that precarious place, the tension between peace and violence, of calm and hectic. Basically those moments of tension are the spark or space where real moments of beauty happen. I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with violence; in fact I’m pretty morally opposed to physical/psychological violence for any reason, except for self defense. However, I think experiences that force people out of their comfort zones are really good for drawing true emotions out of people.
Hanging in BBlessing is a beautiful chandelier made of crack pipes. Where did you come up with that idea? What are people’s reactions like when they first see it?
That piece was one of those works that designers wish could come about every day. Creating that piece was a direct result of one of those silly brainstorming exercises you do in design school that actually wound up working. The combination of the dizzying highs and the crashing lows is what makes for a splendid existence.
What are the future plans for BBlessing?
Moving forward with the collections, and some good curatorial projects that you will undoubtedly hear of. Right now we’re reorganizing the company to respond to some of the changes in the economy, and are positioned to do some really amazing shit for 2010.
What was growing up in Tacoma, Washington like? Did you live there during the grunge era?
I think that the Pacific Northwest is an amazingly unique part of America, and I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised there. Tacoma is an odd place where beauty and ugliness clash in a strange and dynamic way. The city has a rich and bizarre blue collar history, and I feel as though it is experiencing a renaissance of sorts on many fronts. That said, there were many reasons why I moved away and continue to live in New York. Oddly enough, when Nirvana (whom I had seen locally probably 6 or 7 times) broke out huge, I was living in Nantes, France and experienced a really weird fish-out-of-water scenario. It was truly surreal watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit” battle it out with Bryan Adam’s “Everything I Do, I Do it for You” on the French pop charts, and watching a culture that was at one time so local develop into a worldwide phenomenon.
What were you into when you were 16?
Punk, general contempt for America, and art in some form or another. At that age I also moved to France on an exchange program, and spent a couple of years going to French high school in Nantes and traveling around when I could. I suppose my beliefs and feelings at that age were pretty typical, but I’m very happy I went the extra mile to channel my rage and discontent into something creative and positive. At that time I was listening to various UK punk bands like Crass, Conflict, Subhumans, and US bands like the Misfits, MDC, and Bad Brains, and trying to go to as many local show as possible.
What do you listen to when you want to relax?
I’m a huge fan of dub/reggae, so any Lee Perry/Trojan Records/On-U Sound/Blood and Fire stuff is good for that. Otherwise, I love shoegazer stuff like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, that kind of stuff. I actually have been listening to a lot of NPR (National Public Radio), which is good for a soothing voice, but I guess the content really isn’t so good for relaxation…
Music has always been a vital cornerstone of my creative interests – I think that discovering most of the bands that made an impression on me without the aid of the internet gave me a much stronger connection to them. We had to search in every record shop and back page advert in ‘zines to find the LPs and cassettes that I still treasure to this day, and I feel that this impact is so much more profound.
What’s your vital daily ritual?
Coffee, absolutely and without a doubt first thing. Then some sort of Asian food (NYC Chinatown has some insanely good hole in the wall spots) at midday, then….? My daily routine tends to put me in my studio for most of the morning and afternoon, working between the computer and more manual hands-on types of projects.
Who’s your favourite writer(s)?
I’ve recently been reading some H.P. Lovecraft stories, which are pretty dark. I generally tend to stick with nonfiction, recent enjoyable reads have been by Tibor Kalman and Edward Tufte. I like Hakim Bey quite a bit…
What’s the last thing you saw that blew your mind?
My friend Matt Clark made a short film about the true story of a coyote in Portland, Oregon, that got on the MAX public transit system at one of the street car stops, and rode around for a bit. The idea that an animal would do such a thing, and how we as humans perceive and personify this, is quite mind blowing.