END. sits down with London graffiti kingpin, Pref, to talk typography on his own terms and reworking logos for YMC.
Tapping graffiti artist Pref to rework their iconic logo, London-based streetwear stalwarts YMC unveil an exclusive collection which places mind-bending typography front and centre.
Having garnered critical acclaim for his distinctive approach to typography and lettering, Pref's work exists at the intersection of street-level graffiti and studio-based graphic design. Using his days as an art director to learn every rule in the typeface-book, and then putting this knowledge to work subverting and rebuilding words and letters in his unique graphic style, perhaps no British artist is better placed to rework an alphabet-based logo than Pref.
Catching up in his design studio, Pref breaks down the process of reworking brand iconography for the fashion-arena for END. and talks typography, finding his love of graf, and why London is the greatest city for street art.
You're a long-time friend of YMC, what made now the right time to work on a collaboration together?
I had recently worked on a collaboration with a luxury fashion brand and was interested in doing something on more of a streetwear level. I’ve worn a lot of YMC over the years - its simplicity has always appealed to me. I'm excited to have the opportunity to be part of something new for a London-based brand with such a long and storied heritage.
Your style sits at the intersection of graffiti and graphic design, making you the ultimate candidate to revise the YMC logo. What did the process look like and what were you trying to achieve with the rework?
The process for me was first to look at what kind of wording and lettering there was to work with. Most brands have sayings or slogans that can be used, but every different word and letter combination offers different opportunities in terms of how they might all fit together and interact. The first phase for me was to spend a few days doing nothing but sketching; brainstorming what might be possible with the given lettering. A bit like a visual puzzle that needs to be cracked. Then, once I’d mocked up the most successful options, they went to the client to make a decision on which ones they wanted to develop. What I was hoping to achieve with this process was to create something that's innovative and technical but readable. Above all, I hoped to create something completely new.
Typography and lettering sit front and centre in your work; what is your go-to font on Microsoft Word?
I spent a long time as an art director pouring over fonts, but have little to no interest in them now. I tend to just go with something classic and minimal if I’m designing. I think my current Pref work in a lot of ways is a rejection of formal typography and all the boring rules associated with it. I spent so long being concerned with the minutiae of lettering design that now I prefer to just draw them however I want. Using them for their basic shapes, often the wobblier the better.
Why has working with words versus symbols or imagery characterised so much of your work?
In traditional graffiti murals there is always lettering and characters or 'people' of some sort depicted. No matter how good the graffiti lettering is, if a member of the public walks by they will always say, “I like the face,” if there is a portrait. Or, "I like the person or the Mickey Mouse." or whichever cartoon character has been painted. People can relate to or understand the characters, but can’t really even ‘see’ the graffiti lettering for any of its merits, mostly because they can’t read it. I experienced this a lot when I was younger panting with friends who were really good at characters. I was terrible at them, but I always believed that it would be possible to get the same reaction from the general public with lettering if they could read it a bit more. I set about exploring that idea really early on and began pushing what might be possible with legible lettering in the graffiti world. I like the limitations and framework that letterforms offer. A set of rules to break and bend. I like that on the one hand lettering can be mundane, everyday and functional, but at the same time so expressive, dynamic and abstract.
What initially attracted you to graffiti as a medium for creative expression?
I was born in 1981 and was really into skateboarding as a young teenager. I loved the whole thing; doing it, but mainly the graphics. They were subversive, anti-establishment, occasionally rude, but above all just looked so cool. Around the same time, I was also introduced to Mad Magazine - a comic which did a similar sort of thing as skate graphics in terms of making fun of popular culture. They were my first loves and also the first examples of design and graphic art that were specifically for teenagers and young adults that I had come across. They were risqué and exciting. When I was about 13, I found a copy of Spraycan Art (the graffiti bible from the 80s) at a flea market and it completely blew my mind. It had a lot of the qualities and the same attitude of skate graphics and Mad, but also had the illegal element so it was like a logical progression. I think a lot of people from my generation who were into those subcultures had the same sort of experience.
Does the subcultural element of the art-form mean as much to you as the art itself?
I’ve always been more interested in the artform and the way it looks. I have always been fascinated by how new it is as an artform and how much potential there is to push and evolve it way beyond what was done in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Best city in the world for graffiti?
Hard question: I haven’t seen them all and it definitely depends on what you want to do. I’d have to say London of course, because it has a bit of everything.
What is your go-to piece from the YMC collection?
I'd say probably the socks and the patterned shirt.