Edward Booth-Clibborn, a publisher of illustrated books, may be in his seventies, but he certainly isn't showing his age. His latest book is for Chicks on Speed, the self-styled girl power collective - band, clothing label, design team, record label and more. The title "aims to capture their sense of freedom and spontaneity" and comes packaged in a cloth bag, printed on lots of different paper stocks and includes a poster, DVD and unisex shift dress.
"Most books are dreary and dull," Booth-Clibborn says, describing the predictable size and format of almost all books on our shelves. "I'm trying to explore new forms." Although he's created books on more traditional architecture, fine art and design, he also has a name for publishing contemporary art and has become something of a guru on sub-culture, with titles such as Scrawl: Dirty Graphics and Strange Characters or Sneakers: Size Isn't Everything.
It's not just his books that push the limits. Booth-Clibborn is a busy man. A day in his London office starts early, answering e-mails from all over the world, proofing titles on the way through the system and planning for the future. "Publishing is very different to advertising because of these terrible, long lead times," he says. "I find it slightly frustrating. If you see someone after three months you're still doing the same thing."
Although he's based in London, his work takes him all over the world, with regular visits to Russia, Frankfurt for the book fairs, Paris and the US, where his books are distributed through Time Warner and where he finds inspiration for new publications.
He puts his working practices down to his days in the ad industry. "I think that advertising is a terrific place. I learnt a lot of disciplines in advertising that I employ today. You have to look out for things and explore in a highly competitive business."
Booth-Clibborn left art school in the 50s and, after national service, started work with J. Walter Thompson in the typography department. "I was told that I was very lucky to get the job," he says.
He became an art director in the days before creative teams and worked on clients such as the Butter Council and Campbell Soup.
After 11 "successful" years at JWT, he was asked to leave. "I became rather renegade in those days," he remembers. "It was very difficult.
I hated repeating the same ad style." If a client wanted the same sort of advertising that he had done for the agency, he would refuse. "That was not good. JWT was quite right to get rid of me."
But before he left the agency he had become involved with a new organisation, the Designers' & Art Directors' Association. In 1963, he became its chairman and began a role which would last for 30 years, as D&AD became an established force in promoting British design and advertising. He helped to set up similar associations around the world, notably in Australia and India.
Booth-Clibborn didn't return to ad agency life, but became a consultant, advising on advertising and promotional strategies. His clients included the Labour Party under James Callaghan and the Liberal Party, as well as major US corporations.
He also set up the Motif Editions gallery and published Marshall McLuhan's multimedia titles, but it wasn't until 1974 that he set up as a publisher, with two annuals, European Illustration and European Photography. He also published US editions of the same annuals, which he has since sold. Over the years he has created a number of illustrated books, including an acclaimed two-volume companion to the collections of the State Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, a monograph on Damien Hirst now selling at £1,100 and one of his most successful, Kylie Minogue.
Booth-Clibborn is perhaps most famous in the world of advertising for his departure from D&AD after a controversial exploration into his expenses, including a bill for two for £448 at Le Gavroche. He left under a cloud at the beginning of 1992. He feels that after years of loyal service to the association, he was treated shabbily. But he is proud of what D&AD has achieved. "I spent nearly 30 years bedding it in and keeping it alive and I'm very glad it's still alive. I genuinely believe that it has had the most powerful influence on the standard of work in this country."
Although he hasn't worked in advertising for a while now, he says ad creatives are inspired by his books on popular culture. "Advertising comes to us now to say can we use some of the imagery in your books for our advertising. A lot of people have taken images from books like the one on sneakers."
His time in advertising was both dramatic and at the cutting edge and his publishing company keeps him surrounded by life and art at every level. Vogue dubbed him "the sharpest mind in publishing".
Although advertising set him on his way and he still keeps the process of advertising in his work, as well as his friends from his days in the business (he mentions Charles Saatchi among others), Booth-Clibborn has no regrets about leaving. He's very happy with the path he has taken: "I feel comfortable with publishing."
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