At a rain-drenched wedding in the Australian wilderness, I heard a voice with a genuine trans-Atlantic lilt describe the bride’s dress as ‘so sick’. Of course, any description of that nature would make my ears prick up immediately, and I turned around to see Lizzie Nanut holding an old Louis Vuitton satchel, in serious ankle boots and a tough floral dress (which could also be described as ‘sick’). I spent the next four hours with her talking about New York, life and VISAs (incredibly interesting for ex-pats).
I first met Nanut in New York many years ago. She walked into our friend’s apartment (a revolving door of interesting people) in a violet Costume National coat and one hell of a pair of headphones. I was struck by her beauty (and my immediate desire for her coat). The year was 2004 and she was still at Parsons, and I’ve never been able to delete the image from my mind.
Born in Melbourne, Nanut left Australia to attend Parsons in both New York and Paris where she studied painting, illustration and graphic design (but of course, it is all done by hand). This combination is where her real passion lies – “I’d get bored if I stuck to one medium,” she admits in her soft Australian accent from her apartment in the East Village when I call to talk about her work.
Since graduating, she’s designed prints for Ralph Lauren (“It was very corporate but I learnt a lot”), illustrated the windows of Myer in Australia for Mecca Cosmetica and of course, was artist-in-residence for the last Strokes album.
This is, perhaps, her most personal work, the cover for The Strokes’ Angles. A project started in the South of France, it saw her design not only the album cover but the tour posters and merchandise as well. The process began when she was approached by her friend, Albert Hammond, Jr., after he had been handed responsibility by the band to take control of the cover art. He knew Nanut’s work and her paintings and immediately approached her. (For the band’s previous efforts, Julian Casablancas had sourced the old photographs that had made up their covers and their merchandise.)
“Basically they left it to me to do the whole art direction. For everything.”
Nanut and Hammond, Jr. shared a similar taste. “He’s super creative and has a strong sense of style … everything that he wears … I don’t know how to explain it.” She trails off as she looks for words. “He … has very good taste.
“I worked on it with Albert, coming up with drawings, sketch ideas, whatever. I went back and forth with it with him … And it got easier and easier … We showed the rest of the band and everybody approved it. They were very easy and great.”
In all things, she has the attitude of an Australian who’s lived overseas for a long time. Open to things, but worldly. She has that pioneer-spirit; that desire to go and explore and find new things. Her excitement builds as she describes how she went on a hunt for images which she felt inspired by.
When Hammond, Jr. approached her, she was living in Paris and spending that summer in Nice. “A friend of mine was working in an antique shop and I was desperate to check it out because they sell lots of Danish modern furniture which I love.” While scouting around the back, she found a huge folder of paintings, illustrations, silk screens – “even tiny little scraps of paper with sketches on them” – by a completely unknown artist called Guy Pouppez. Nanut “fell in love with the amazing, amazing work”. The images targeted her strongest obsession: Victor Vasarely-inspired paintings and graphics from the 70s. “… So when I found this artist I was rapt in all his work . I WANTED THEM ALL.” She pauses to giggle at herself and the memory of how excited she was to find the paintings. Her passion is so infectious I immediately make a note to research every artist and art period she will ever discuss. “I love graphic design from the 70s, stuff that is hand drawn,” she continues. “Pre-photoshop. The quality of the image is beautiful. You can’t get that with computers. I always do as much as I can by hand.”
She showed the band a selection of Pouppez’s work and the band chose one image for the cover, a graphic work with a bright yellow background, checkerboard floor on which sits a structure created with blue, lilac and pink columns. They ended up buying about 20 pieces, both paintings and drawings, as well as the trilogy series the eventual cover art was a part of. Some of it hangs on the walls of Nanut’s apartment.
Getting the rights to the pieces was a lot more complicated, mainly because the pieces had been purchased in an estate sale. “We had people looking at his family tree and calling people on it. We’d get the number to a cousin, who’d give the number for another cousin, then a nephew. It took weeks. Finally we found his daughter who lives in Paris and was actually the rightful owner ... She was just like, ‘where did you find this artwork?’ She couldn’t believe we had found it.” Shocked at first and flattered, the daughter admitted she’d never heard of The Strokes and then wondered if they could call back because she was “hosting a dinner party”. According to Nanut, it was a fitting end for the journey: oh so French.
Nanut’s bright colours took a step away from the band’s mostly monochromatic covers and dark edge, to perhaps show a different side of the band. Whatever it was, it worked. Hammond, Jr. and the band trusted her vision and she was brought on to do everything – hand-draw the graphics for the tour posters, take photographs through vintage lenses and made photocopies of photos to get a vintage feel for T-shirts. This trust is hardly surprising as the collaboration in ongoing.
Nanut is clear in what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. She’s firm about what she likes – both in terms of other people’s work and her own. The posters – which she drew by hand then scanned into illustrator – look like they were made in another time, until they catch you with their strong angles and an original graphic take. They’re immediately memorable and it’s quite something to think they were drawn by hand, so mathematical they are in their approach.
They’re now working together on the next album. For Nanut, there is much more in store. Prints and a desire to do more illustration for one, and, more immediately, the need to take Noisette, her chihuahua who travels with her across continents under the seat in front, out for a walk. Whatever it is, we can be sure Nanut is doing it in much style, with that Louis Vuitton satchel strung across her body.