"The train that goes under the sea," is how South African born Christopher Jenner describes Eurostar, the high-speed rail service linking London to Paris and mainland Europe. At the age of 42, the founder of London-based Christopher Jenner Studio was recently named the first-ever creative director for the rail company, following in the shoes of past Eurostar consultants like Philippe Starck.
Jenner is a brand master known for mixing elements as diverse as classic Edwardian architecture with Japanese Manga to create compelling storefronts, events, and global identities.
As creative director, Jenner is charged with corralling the multifaceted rail brand and creating a seamless experience for travelers. For Jenner, who first traveled Europe by train when he was 18, it’s a dream job. "I literally took the train everywhere," says Jenner, "it’s this practical, evocative way to get from A to B."
The new position also shows that Eurostar is serious about luring travelers to choose trains over planes or new low-cost bus services. The company, which saw a passenger boom after 2012’s London Olympics, just announced plans for direct service between London and Amsterdam starting in 2016 that would make travel time between the two cities about 4 hours total.
Here, Jenner offers a few pointers on how best to tell a brand’s story.
TALK ABOUT YOUR PASSIONS
Eurostar trains may be built for speed, but it was a good old-fashioned, slow and in-person exchange that got Jenner hired. His position came about after a conversation with Eurostar CEO Nicolas Petrovic at an event. Jenner took the opportunity to explain his take on the relationship between emotion and brands, something he has executed successfully for companies like French luxury perfume and candle brand Diptyque, and a topic that he is very passionate about. This conversation led to a longer lunch, where "I obviously said all the right things," Jenner says, "and the rest is history."
DRAW FROM EXPERIENCE
Jenner is no stranger to global travel, spending much of his time on the road talking with craftsmen and drawing inspiration from unlikely places, while emailing sketches or inspiration to the designers back in London from his iPhone. His own experiences make him an advocate for better design within travel infrastructure. Most aspects of travel are mass-produced and impersonal, but Jenner looks to inject a level of refinement to enhance the journey. Jenner’s specific plans for Eurostar are not yet public—he does hint at four initiatives in "experience realms" that will "bring love to the experience and cultivate the anticipation and joy at the end of a journey"—but Jenner has toyed with a "blue sky," (read: daydream) scenario for a Eurostar carriage where the passenger is king.
The design, "pays homage to the golden age of travel while firmly capturing the spirit of the future," he writes on his site, with an interior finished in hardwood, brushed brass, and carbon fiber. Individual seats clad in tufted fabric include armrests with personalized controls for air, power, wireless connection, etc.
KEEP IT SMALL
For Jenner, a small studio of no more than 10 people is key to seeing projects through from start to finish without losing site of the overall strategy. His goal is not to design something and shuffle it out the door, but to remain a part of the process and help make design concepts come to life in the real world. "It’s about helping brands see themselves from a new perspective and see the emotional connection they have with their clients," Jenner says, "It’s not just about the product, it’s about the world."
The team of designers at the studio work with what Jenner describes as a "step-change approach." After the initial research phase is complete they're able to come up with a proposition statement to serve as a guiding force throughout the project. From a branding standpoint, the process is broken down into individual projects to help minimize risk, and maximize the value added at each step.
As creative director, Jenner’s goal will be to revolve all Eurostar platforms—graphic design, interiors, wayfinding—around a single vision. His position is not exclusive, however, as he will continue running his studio and servicing his current client base. Jenner thrives in the studio environment and says it makes each project stronger for the cross-pollination of work, where lessons gleaned from one client carry over to another. His studio is "more about creativity and less about methodology," he says, putting a premium on breakthrough ideas, like the 2012 concept for a "Volume Contraction Restorer" in airports that would alleviate the physical effects of dehydration and oxygen deprivation during air travel.
With Eurostar, he says that he will function as much as an anthropologist as a designer. "I’m sitting outside observing but my motivation and passion are firmly inside the brand," he says.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Eurostar is not Jenner’s first venture in designing for a brand that reaches across cultures. In working with Diptyque to bring the French company to New York, Chicago, and London, lots of research went into capturing the heritage of the label and translating it into an experience. "The research process allows us to build a personal rapport with the brand," Jenner says.
Once his team understands the brand’s raison d’etre, the designers translate these ideas into emotional touch points. At Diptyque's Leadenhall Market location in London, for example, Jenner designed the interior space by marrying classic Victorian architecture with English patterning and French luxury—using over-sized library cabinets, multilayered, classic mouldings, and stained glass. "You embody all the elements of the place," Jenner says so "that way you have spaces and environments that are unique each time and have a natural emotional connection with the people who you’re selling your product to."
CREATE A NARRATIVE
Creating that unique environment comes down to a strong narrative. Storytelling is a defining characteristic in Jenner’s work. A Eurostar train becomes a literal cultural connection between Britain and France and Jenner sees this as central to the story of a train linking two distinctly incredible cultures. "This is one of those brands with so many avenues you can go down," Jenner says. "There’s the opportunity to put handwriting into so many various touch points."
But, Jenner cautions, you don’t want to go too far afield. "When we work on our own conceptual work, we have the freedom to delve into pure narrative, however when cradling a brand it’s essential the work has a concrete foundation."