When Gustaf Törling moved to London from his hometown in rural Sweden to study at the former London Institute, now University of the Arts London (UAL), he knew he wouldn’t look back. After graduating in 1999 he built an impressive career in advertising, working in top creative jobs with agencies around the world before landing his current role as Vice-President of Global Creative at Estée Lauder Inc where he is the driving force behind the Origins image and design. The UAL alumnus took time out from his busy life in New York to answer a few questions over email about his career, his sources of inspiration and advice for creative graduates.
Thanks for your time Gustaf. Where do you find inspiration to stay ahead of the industry?
Inspiration is a funny thing. It hits you when you least expect it, and in my very specific area of expertise it is very much about ‘Fingerspitzengefühl,’ it is about knowing just what’s right at that exact moment. There is of course an enormous amount of inspiration that comes from learning new things, new technologies, working with amazing people, consuming art, films, and magazines and listening to music. The hardest thing is to be your own editor. How do you edit yourself, your impressions, your inspiration? I have learnt to trust my gut feeling in most instances. I will make up my mind in a heartbeat. I have trained my initial reaction over the years, and I have to believe that it is right to do my job.
Describe your current role and the best thing about it?
I’m the Vice President of Global Creative at Estée Lauder. At the moment I’m working on a complete revolution of Origins, one of our own brands. It is an incredibly exciting time to lead this company creatively, touching everything that has to do with creativity and image: store design, social media, advertising, digital. Working at such a prestigious company as Estée Lauder, being allowed to be part of such a major redesign is what inspires me every morning. It is an amazing experience.
You’ve worked in London, Milan and now New York City, tell us about your career history?
After graduating from UAL I moved back to Stockholm very briefly to join a small agency and try my new skill set. The only problem was that the school challenged my mind and not my computer skills, so on my first day at the agency I realised that Illustrator wasn’t as easy as it looked! I quickly figured it out and was soon offered an amazing opportunity to found and create a brand new fashion magazine called Rodeo Magazine in Milan, where I was to head up the editorial department, art direct the magazine and everything in between. It was an exciting time, which later brought me to Winkreative in London, working under Tyler Brûlé. After my stint at Winkreative, I was headhunted Lloyd (+co) in New York, which was at the time one of the world’s best fashion/aspiration based ad agencies. I got to work on everything that made me interested in becoming part of this business in the first place – Gucci, Jil Sander, Tom Ford and many more, and it was my entry ticket to the industry I’m still a part of. After Lloyd (+co), I freelanced for a few years which brought me back to Europe, then back to the US but this time Los Angeles and finally back to New York, which is where I’ve spent most of my life now.
What made you choose to study at the London Institute (now London College of Communication), UAL?
When I grew up, in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, I knew that I wanted to work with graphics but I didn’t know what the profession was called. A quick Alta Vista search took me to The London Institute and The London College of Printing. I was intrigued. It combined my passion for design and my dream of London into one, and I was on the next flight to apply for a position at the foundation course. I was 16 when I applied, 17 when I started, and I never came back. Greatest decision I have ever made.
What was the most important lesson that you learnt studying in London?
To have a reason for everything, even if it’s only for you. You have to be able to explain the reason for your actions, first to yourself and then hopefully to a client (or your teacher). It doesn’t matter if it’s design, concept, strategy – why are you doing what you’re doing? Why did you place it where you did, why is it blue, what is the meaning of it all? The smallest detail in your creative work has to have a meaning.
What wisdom do you have for creative students?
Always, always, always put your portfolio first, it’s everything you’ve got. That is your livelihood. If you have a strong book AND you can make your client or future employer feel like they’d like to go out and have a drink with you after 10 minutes together, the battle is won and victory is yours!
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For more information about studying the creative arts at UAL, visit arts.ac.uk.