Snooping Through Studios column: interview with Lord Whitney
Lord Whitney – connoisseurs of make believe! The Leeds-based creative studio creating immersive worlds, full of cinematic fantasy that inspire a sense of wonder and possibility. They have worked with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Cartier, Rankin, Netflix, TK Maxx, Corrine Bailey-Rae, Chatsworth House, The Voice, Chambord liqueur and currently have Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood House.
Court Spencer has a snoop through their studio and caught up with co-founder Rebekah Whitney to find out more about their work and what they’re up to.
Court: Thank you so much for your time. It’s always fun coming to your studio and seeing what you’ve got in here. I’m guessing the props almost document past projects. What are those projects? Let’s start with the crocodile head that’s been around for years!
Rebekah: They certainly do, each tell a story – it’s what creates our eclectic and unique studio interior, ha! We have a cabinet of curiosities that houses a lot of props, curios and treasures we’ve found over the last 10 years – from a vast collection of shelled animals, snow globes and even a jar containing a fart. The crocodile head… you mean Simon? He was from an ad campaign for TK Maxx.
Court: If you hadn’t met each other, what do you think you would be doing now? And how important has your partnership been?
Rebekah: I’d be lost, wandering around dreaming of doing something creative – like what we actually do. I feel very lucky to be part of Lord Whitney. Amy’s picked me up countless times and given me the energy to carry on when things felt too hard. It’s great having two of you, that support is valuable; I don’t know how people do it alone.
Lord Whitney isn’t me or Amy – it’s what happens when we come together. It’s our fantastic team who help us realise these ambitions and dreams. We’ve both recently had children which has meant taking time away from the business. This made me realise how much I need Lord Whitney and what a huge part of me it is.
Court: The world is a better place for you two finding each other! I’ve heard you both talk in the past about the importance of saying no to projects that didn’t feel right. Is that still a compass that guides you?
Rebekah: It’s definitely our gut – or collective guts, that make all the big decisions. And you know what – it’s never wrong. We strongly believe it’s there for a reason and to listen to it.
In the formative years of Lord Whitney we were terrified of saying no to projects but you can’t do it all and if you wear yourself too thin you just end up being mediocre – and who wants that? We want everything we do to be the best we could have achieved within the parameters of the project.
Court: You’ve been in Scott Hall Mills for a while now and have built a bit of a creative ecosystem here. Can you talk us through that?
Rebekah: Yes, we’ve been here for 10 years now! It’s sometimes hard to believe. What started as one dusty room slowly developed into us taking over the whole mill. It’s been a very organic process, we never set out to run a studio space for artists, but it been very much part of our growth.
Scott Hall Mills is home to us and to several other creative and independent businesses. Across three floors it houses workshops, a screen-printing studio, spaces for events, photography and more. For us it’s important to have other creatives around – they bring the space to life and it’s also an opportunity to collaborate. Beyond the permanent residents we also hire spaces out to other creatives. We’ve held performances, photoshoots and provided artist residencies. For us it’s about supporting each other and the creative network of Leeds. That’s important to us.
Court: How have you and Amy navigated motherhood and your roles in Lord Whitney?
Rebekah: We always knew as two females running a business that it would be an interesting chapter! We started a business in a recession and had babies in a pandemic – we don’t like to make things easy for ourselves! I’m terrified to think what comes next in this tryptic!
Seriously though, it’s been a challenge, but we just adapt and make it work. We’ve had to slow down and let go a bit. That’s been hard when Lord Whitney has been our (other) baby for so long, but it’s ultimately a good thing and something we needed to do. We’ve had babies strapped to us on photoshoots, had poorly toddlers cuddling us on zoom meetings and pitched for jobs whilst rocking babies in bouncers with our feet. We’ve become powerful multitaskers and it’s made me so much better with my time – which is now very limited! Being a working mum isn’t easy, but we love what we do, we’ve got a great team and we’re learning along the way.
There’s still lots that we want to do with Lord Whitney. How that happens while we also navigate motherhood remains to be seen but we know we need to continue to adapt and roll with the punches.
Court: Speaking of punches…Covid has obviously brought huge challenges but you’ve been very adaptive. What has changed for Lord Whitney as a result and what’s in store for the future?
Rebekah: That’s what the creative communities do well, we adapt – we’re problem solvers and creative thinkers! Literally overnight all our work for the year was cancelled. It was terrifying in so many ways, though we were very fortunate to receive Cultural Recovery Funding support from Arts Council England which helped keep our business ticking over and supported the artists in Scott Hall Mills too.
Life at Lord Whitney is always go, go, go with very little time to reflect. A positive to come from lockdown was that we had time to focus inwards on the business and look at what was working, what wasn’t and where did we want this next chapter to lead us. After lots of discussions we rebranded in line with our new aims and goals and created a new website to showcase the work we wanted to get.
2020 was quiet to say the least but in 2021 we’ve managed a couple of big projects alongside Designers of the Future, an education programme for young creatives outside of education or employments.
Working around covid restrictions has been tricky but everyone is in the same boat. One thing that’s been lovely has been seeing creative people support each other through this time. Being a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader or just someone to vent to. It’s great to feel like that support is there.
The studio has always been more of a home than a workplace. During the pandemic it became a sanctuary where one team member brought her family for a weekend away, another used it to exercise, and I brought my son here to play.
The future – we have some big ideas and ambitions but at the moment lets see what the new year brings.
Court: Can you tell us a little about some of your favourite projects that stand out as career highlights to date?
Rebekah: We’re very lucky that throughout the last ten years we’ve worked on some really exciting projects with Nicki Minaj, Netflix, ITV and Wood Beneath the World. This year it was great to get Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood out there after it was postponed due to Covid restrictions.
A massive highlight for us was working on an elaborate, large-scale, film set for Riot games and Netflix’s ‘Arcane’ alongside the fabulous New Substance. We are huge fans of New Substance’s work, so getting the chance to dress a world they designed and built was so exciting. The brief was high detail, which is what we love to do. When dressing sets, I like to use the approach I call method acting for set dressing, I try to become the person working on the crystal stall or street food stall, what would they be holding in their hand? Where would they put that bowl? What would they have around them? It was great bringing that level of detail to the fans of the show too who know that world inside out.
Court: Has Lord Whitney got a dream project you would love to see happen?
Rebekah: I guess a dream job for us is one that allows us to fulfil our creative vision fully. It’s rare to get a job that allows you full creative control and provides the budget and time to realise your ideas. So one that did all that would be fabulous please!
We love building and creating worlds for audiences to become lost in. Something immersive that is mind-blowing with its details and scale would be brilliant. It would also mean that we’d have to collaborate with lots of people to make it happen and that’s something we love too. Getting to work with people who are experts in their field, writing, production, sound, performance etc. We’re never short of ideas. Watch this space!
Court: I went to Upon A Christmas Wish last month. It was the first festive thing I did and it totally inspired me to get giddy and buy more lights. How did this project come about with Harewood House? And what was it like to finally launch it a year later than planned?
Rebekah: So glad you liked it and felt that Christmassy giddiness. Our goal was to give people a moment out of their everyday to breathe, relax and feel that child-like sense of wonder and excitement about Christmas.
At the start of the first lockdown Amy and I spent a lot of time talking about how to navigate this tidal wave and support our business, our families and our friends, and also if there was anything Lord Whitney could help. My son was 9 months old at the time and I was reading a lot of children books so Amy and I would also talk about the books we read as children – The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Narnia and how wonderful they were to escape into! This is when we realised our work could offer people that sense of escapism.
Harewood approached us asking if we would like to bring a touch of Lord Whitney to Harewood for Christmas 2020 and it felt like the perfect opportunity to bring that idea to life. The Christmas season brings optimism and hope and coupled with our idea we felt we had the chance to try and create something positive to lift people’s spirits
We had worked with Harewood previously on a fantastic project called Seeds of Hope in 2018 and have a fantastic relationship with the team. So when they asked to do Christmas at Harewood it really was a no brainer, plus the house and the grounds are just stunning!
Court: It’s on until 3 Jan so people can catch that if they’ve not already been. And how else can people keep an eye out for upcoming work you guys are doing?
We’re never quite sure where the next chapter in Lord Whitney will take us. Next year will no doubt be different but one thing’s for certain, it’s never what we expected and it’s never dull!
Court: Well, Bek, this has been fab and I look forward to seeing what you and the team get up to in 2022. Thanks for your time and the glimpse into the fantastical world of Lord Whitney!