The Wick - Interview writer and entrepreneur Charlene Prempeh The Wick - Interview writer and entrepreneur Charlene Prempeh
Monday Muse

Interview writer and entrepreneur Charlene Prempeh

Interview
Charlene Prempeh
15 January 2024
Interview
Charlene Prempeh
15 January 2024
She founded A Vibe Called Tech in 2018, a Black-owned creative agency dedicated to approaching the arts through an intersectional lens. It has partnered with a stellar roll call of brands and organisations including Gucci, Frieze, and the Royal Academy to deliver rich creative output that bolsters communities.

Alongside contributing to publications including The Financial Times, Prempeh recently published the book Now You See Me: An Introduction to 100 Years of Black Design, a long-overdue tome that spotlights designers who have been marginalised, overlooked and even erased from history over the last century. Focusing on fashion, architecture and graphic design and featuring the likes of Ann Lowe, Dapper Dan, Francis Kéré and Norma Sklarek, the book interrogates the value placed on Black design and explores how key figures are reclaiming traditions while influencing contemporary conversation. Essential reading for all creatives.

THE WICK:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse and why?

Charlene Prempeh:   An amalgamation of all the women who inspire me: writers like Claudia Dey, my dear friend and artist Remi Ajani, and architect Lesley Lokko.

TW:   What sparked your idea to write your book Now You See Me?

CP:   It came to me during a conversation with Chrystal Genesis (the co-founder of culture podcast, Stance) and Lewis Gilbert (creative director of A Vibe Called Tech). We were working on a brief for the North Face X Gucci collection and wanted to connect the explorer aesthetic to stories of past Black pioneers. Genesis suddenly asked, “What about Ann Lowe? The woman who designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress?”

After a moment of shock, wondering why and how I had never heard of her, I was brought back to reality. The formalities of segregation, colonial rule and anti-Black racism have hindered their existence, encouraged their erasure from our collective memory and caused their absence from the design canon. I wanted to begin the process of gathering some of the under-recognised creatives together as a small springboard for future documentation. For me, design felt like a natural place to start that conversation but it’s just as relevant to music, science, art and a range of other disciplines. In all of these spaces we should be asking “who have we not seen?”, and more importantly, “what has culture lost as a result?”

TW:   During your research, what was your most enlightening discovery?

CP:   The sheer breadth of stories that remain untold. There would never have been enough space to include each of the designers and creatives I discovered in the research process. I hope that the book can act as a catalyst for readers to start their own exploration into the work of Black designers throughout history and encourage them to uncover works and ideas that we may have missed.

TW:   If you could own any piece of design from the past, what would it be and why?

CP:   There’s an oversized coat by Willie Smith – one of the designers in the book – from his Fall 1984 collection that I’m obsessed with. It’s the kind of outerwear that makes you want to go outside in freezing temperatures just to show off.

“All spaces are quietly laced with revelation, so draw inspiration from the things around you. Either that or – just do it.”

TW:   Given your role as a judge for the Dezeen Awards 2022 and Chair of the Frieze 91 committee, how are you seeing design and visual art converge as industries?

CP:   I’m really pleased that the line is becoming more blurred. With designers like Mac Collins making works like “Runout” [for the British Pavilion] at the Venice Architecture Biennale, it’s becoming more and more obvious that there is space to move between both worlds.

TW:   Your favourite spot for the culturally curious in London?

CP:   Blue Mountain School on Redchurch Street is a hidden gem.

TW:   What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

CP:   All spaces are quietly laced with revelation, so draw inspiration from the things around you. Either that or – just do it.

TW:   As a writer, author and entrepreneur, which achievement are you most proud of?

CP:   I find it impossible to pick out one thing – there’s so much I’m proud of! Launching a series of creative campaigns with Gucci, including their first shoot in Africa, will be a forever highlight; partnering with WePresent on a year-long series bringing Black-owned media to the forefront; my column for the FT; and now of course my first book!

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