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Tumblr, Instagram and street style have all been major sources of style inspiration for Robertson. “I’d see someone on the Sartorialist in an outfit I loved and would figure out how to rework it for myself.” Instagram is also where he posts his own work, inspirations and style snaps. (Photo by Austin Mills)
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“I’m super particular … the opposite of excessive … but I’m not a minimalist either, you know?” Robertson’s penchant for pink shoes, yellow pants, floral-print shirts and bracelets makes that abundantly clear. (Photo by Miranda Leung)
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Here, a Keith Haring shirt literally fuses Robertson’s love of illustration and style. (Photo by Megan Chandler)
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Robertson says he “loves what you can do with type … blend it, take it apart and use it to literally say something.” Go! embodies Robertson’s own high energy and positive outlook in both its content and composition; the meaning of the word itself urges the viewer forward while the dynamism and movement of the text gives a figurative push. (Photo by Brandon Robertson)
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“I am always looking to evoke an emotional response and feeling with my work,” whether it be with color, texture, text or images. Here, Robertson borrows stills from "In the Mood for Love" to combine those elements into one evocative image. (Photo by Brandon Robertson)
“Design is a lifestyle.” When Brandon Robertson, graphic designer at Native Collab and freelance artist, heard his professor’s proclamation while sitting in class at VCU in 2003, he was skeptical. Growing up in Danville, his previous artistic endeavors started with finding his brother’s sketchbook while in middle school and stopped with elective art classes in high school.
And personal style wasn’t something he’d ever thought about, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at him now. “I just wanted to fit in,” he remembers of his high school days, so he “wore what all the other black kids in school were wearing — FUBU T-shirts and baggy jeans.” Now, some 16 years later Roberston is among the more stylish men and prolific artists in RVA.
I first met Robertson at the Lamplighter on Morris Street, where he asked me if he could take an Instagram photo of my sweatshirt — it features a reproduction of Klimt’s "The Kiss" with Kanye’s lyrics “uh uh honey” laid over the image. Little did I know the shirt represented four of Robertson’s favorite things: music, style, text and art. I recently sat down with the graphic designer at the Urban Farmhouse in Scott’s Addition to do a deep dive into his views on art and fashion.
Indeed, a design lifestyle wasn’t on his mind when he enrolled at VCU as a freshman in 2001 as a computer information systems major. Instead, he was listening to his dad’s voice in his head, encouraging him to find a major that would secure him a well-paying job post-graduation.
For his first two years, Robertson continued to sketch in his free time while growing increasingly disenchanted with the CIS curriculum. With the support of his artistically minded friends, Robertson applied to VCU’s School of the Arts and was accepted to his second choice program — graphic design.
“Illustration was my top choice and, honestly, I’d never paid attention to graphic design — I was 21 and didn’t even really know what it was.” So when his graphic design professor asked the class to say why they chose the discipline, Robertson told the truth: “I didn’t. I mostly just like to hand-make collages out of old Vogue, Elle and GQ magazines.”
His professor took the opportunity to explain to Robertson that “type plus image equals the basis of graphic design,” and suddenly everything clicked for the previously uninterested student. “After that, it flowed,” Robertson said.
College awakened his sartorial sensibilities, too. He remembers his freshman year roommate, “a guy from Virginia Beach,” whose “clothes actually fit him, and he looked better because of it — I was baffled.” While he inherently understood the core tenets of the well-dressed man (fit and proportion, of course), he didn’t immediately adopt a style philosophy of his own (late nights in the library will do that to a person).
It wasn’t until 2007 that Robertson had his style revolution — and it all started by rocking his first pair of skinny jeans. “They fit correctly, they were comfortable … I even moved differently in them,” he says about this second “design lifestyle” light-bulb moment. “I started thinking about my style the same way I’d learned to think about design, and the way I presented myself finally became important.”
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, Robertson approaches everything that’s important to him — art, style, life — with the same steady care and meticulousness. To know Robertson’s style is to know that everything from his chino cuffs to his shirt collars are deliberate.
“I’m a particular person, detail-oriented — I’m very aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it,” he says. The same goes for his design aesthetic; while he’s currently “really trying to cut loose” and is embracing the “finished, not perfect” mantra, there’s a level of precision and sharp focus to his poppy illustrations that belies his more poetic notions.
When it comes to getting dressed and going shopping, Robertson says, “I don’t really concern myself with what new thing to get,” and instead focuses on “foundation pieces that work year after year,” like a great pea coat, a pair of sturdy winter boots and an impressive collection of colorful socks. He’s built a wardrobe that works seamlessly for all parts of his life, pieces he can pull on in any iteration and know they “go.”
So while the boy from the country came to VCU as a CIS major in oversized polo shirts, he’s flourished in Richmond as a talented artist with sick style — no traces remaining of that skepticism for the design lifestyle.