With so many hidden talents and an amazing portfolio of previous work, it is difficult to describe Alex Zabotto-Bentley’s job in a single title. The former magazine editor and stylist, is a born creative and with his thriving business AZB Creative, Zabotto-Bentley shows us there are no limitations in the world of design.
A friend of Thrive and master of his recent assignment for Aki Kotzamichalis (Saigon Street, Bali), we delve deeper into the mind of AZB himself:
Being involved in such creative and innovative projects, how do you continue to find new inspiration?
At heart, I have always been a researcher; my curiosity gets sparked and I need to find out more. These days, a lot of my research involves immersing myself in different cultures; travelling is like falling head first into the most incredible library of everything!
I do my research before I go somewhere new, I don’t just skim the surface. I find the soul of the place and hang with the locals. I believe you really need two weeks minimum in one city to get under its skin and for it to enter your heart. A creative eye has to travel.
What are your go-to sources for inspiration?
That’s hard to answer; I’ve built a huge reference library of experiences, knowledge and images in my brain! I spend a lot of time searching through old books and offbeat, old films – I don’t feel the need to follow trends. I love connecting with something and building a creative world around it…that spark of inspiration could come from anywhere: 1930’s Vaudeville, a Fellini film from the late 1960’s, a Rococo palazzo on the outskirts of Rome, a Mughal floor tile in India…a single element can inspire a project.
You’re incredibly immersed in the creative industry – any advice for new blood?
The industry is an industry: as much as it looks fun from the outside, the stakes are high and the work is intense. There’s no room for mediocrity or blind followers. You have to have a unique point of view to be successful; it doesn’t have to be wild or crazy, but it has to be you, an authentic creative representation of yourself…it will take you a very long way. Also, be respectful… everyone is doing their best and if you want a long, successful career you have to recognise and respect people who have been in the industry for much longer than you… memories are very long in the creative industry! Besides, you might just learn something valuable, if you take the time to listen.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been far too many to mention! Every new project feels like a highlight, but looking back, being hand picked by Nancy Pilcher to be Men’s Fashion Director at Vogue when I was starting out; my own fashion label Fashion Assassin opening MBFW to over 1100 guests; an International Design Award for our Masterchef Pop Up dining room and bar…and just last week winning GOLD at the Sydney Design Awards for both our interior design work with Trumps Spa and Intercontinental Double Bay Sydney and for Event Design for March into Merivale…ask me again tomorrow, there’ll be more!
Which design project of yours would you consider the most successful and why?
AZBcreative is a multidisciplinary agency. We work across a number of disciplines from interior design to event design and installations, signage, graphics through to full conference productions. One recent event we worked on, which demonstrated a wide range of our skills, was The Merivale Group’s March into Merivale. We worked across dozens of venues, entertained thousands of people, created unique themes, custom-made environments and installations…it had a big impact on Sydney. I also think working on such a major project as MasterChef Dining and Bar 2013 where we design directed the entire project…it was a wonderful experience and really allowed us to flourish.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? Would you continue your passion in the creative industry?
My work is increasingly taking me to projects off shore. I’m drawn to the exciting design possibilities and the chance to explore new cultures. I’ve been working more on projects in beautiful, exotic places like Bali and Flores, Malta, Rome… I’m actually designing my dream villa right now on the island of Flores, so am totally inspired and consumed with that during my down time…wait, what down time?
The design of your most recent project – Saigon Street, Bali (for Ku De Ta owner, Aki Kotzamichalis, whose team included Chef Geoff Lindsay) was a visual feast for the eyes, especially with its meticulous attention to detail. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
As I said, I’m like a sponge, soaking up everything from film to history, the details of villages in far-flung places, to the atmosphere of big cities like Tokyo and Barcelona. All these ideas and inspirations get interpreted in my own way, so Saigon Street is a wonderful mash up of underground Tokyo, the passion of Buenos Aires, authentic outdoor laneway dining in Vietnam and some classic David Bowie videos of the early 80’s…I love the soft colours and graphic design of old 1950’s Vietnamese travel posters and that beautiful green that you see on woodwork in downtown Saigon and Hanoi’s French Quarter. All of that came together in this space, that makes a space feel authentic and exciting, not clichéd.
In regards to Saigon Street Bali, were there any significant challenges you faced?
Saigon Street was an existing building and bar/restaurant that we totally transformed with substantial building work. We wanted to create a feeling of being outside, but protected from the heat and humidity, so we built an internal air-conditioned pergola, with an outdoors atmosphere. We also extended an existing small mezzanine to create an entire second level dining area. We ripped out the old bar and doubled its size, and I also wanted lots of shelving, beautifully finished with great architectural detail, reminiscent of the French influences in Vietnamese food. Then we designed a theatrical wrap and roll area. It’s like a fully air-conditioned box, where the wrap and roll specialists create the famous Geoff Lindsay rice paper rolls. So there were multiple challenges! But I enjoy working with challenges and pushing boundaries.
You specialize in many aspects of design, from installations to interior design to brand communication, are there any other hidden talents of yours?
Ah, my karaoke skills will have to remain hidden! But seriously, with so much travel, I’ve made some amazing connections with wonderful artists and creatives around the world. I want to curate large events, bringing together art, performance, installations…a happening! Stay tuned.
What kind of creative projects are you most interested in?
I love collaborating with artists and sculptors. I especially love the way they explain their passion, with their hands, their gestures and their expressions. Working with people who have true passion is always a rush.
Social media has been growing rapidly over the past few years and has a huge impact on business and society, how do you take advantage of it?
I think social media works when you are authentic. It’s a great way to be engaged with an audience, reveal some of your creative processes, take them behind the scenes. It’s ironic that mass communication can make business so much more personal and direct. I take people on the journey with me – from setting up our events, to my shoes on the road!
If you had to predict a new trend for the creative industry, what would it be?
Audiences and markets are so varied and segmented now, there’s no ‘formula’ that will work for everyone. We need to focus on creating custom experiences that really engage with individuals. Creative work is no longer about someone passively looking at a beautiful image; interaction and engagement, making the audience part of your team, will be the way forward.