Flanelle Magazine - Oliver Stenberg: Set Designer and Storyteller

More than ever, fashion labels need high-quality visuals that tell a story to their followers. The advent of social media and online shopping made appealing pictures necessary to stand out and please consumers. Aside from photographers and copywriters, set designers such as Oliver Stenberg gained significant value in the process. Their creative mind is building both surreal settings and strong brand identities. Indeed, Stenberg is not only a set designer, he is a storyteller. “I like to make a world that helps telling the story of what their product is,” he explains. Intrigued, I sat down with the set designer and co-founder of skincare line Carriage 44.

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Stenberg left his hometown of Victoria (BC) for London, where he studied fashion and photography at Istituto Marangoni. A few years of styling made him realize that he paid much more attention to props and locations than to the actual clothes. Through discovery, he developed an interest for set design and became specialized in this type of work. In 2011, he left London for Montreal where he started from scratch. As he built his portfolio and clientele, he was recruited by production company L’Eloi in 2013. Since then, Stenberg has worked with various brands and publications such as Aldo, Shellys London and ELLE Quebec.

Montreal might be a niche market for set design, but the demand for this specialization is drastically increasing in fashion capitals such as London, and Paris. “Social media and online shopping has made it a much bigger thing,” says Stenberg. Companies need images for their newsletters, websites and social media accounts. According to Stenberg, still shots of products are a lot cheaper for them since no models, stylists or hair and make-up artists are needed on set. With new arrivals almost every day, these brands are constantly asking for appealing visuals.

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As the co-owner of a skincare brand, Stenberg knows the importance of strong imagery. In 2010, he founded Carriage 44 with his wife and both of them started working on the branding of their company. “No one is really making soap that is natural and looks nice,” they thought. The couple tried to find the most simplified recipes using essential oils – putting aside chemicals, animal products and dyes – wrapped in a very clean packaging. Needless to say, his experience as a set designer has contributed to the success of Carriage 44. “Whether they are seeing it at a market or on my website, how it looks should make the person buy it.”

Strong lines and clean graphic shapes do make Stenberg’s work visually striking. His ability to set a product in a bigger picture allows him to create a storyline that can speak to consumers. Today, set designers are essential to brands that wish to build a strong online identity and stand out from the competition. Most of all, set designers like Stenberg are hired to turn simple products into inspiring characters that consumers will relate to. “Whether it’s a surreal handbag in a crazy colourful, weird setting or something much more normal, I love to make small worlds that can help telling a story,” he says.