word of the week ‘restraint’ (rɪˈstreɪnt).
I don’t know how Mark Farrow does it. Year after year, he produces standout graphic design, sweeping young pretenders aside in his majestic wake. If anyone wants a lesson in immaculate modernism, they should look no further than ‘Format’, his latest collaboration with pop stalwarts Pet Shop Boys.
Above: Strip off the old block... Farrow pulls another rabbit out of the hat
A collection of obscure B-sides and rarities spanning 1996 to 2009, Mark has used the coloured spines of the original release formats to inform the stripy illustration on the cover. A graphic device, of course, that harks back to previous PSB releases, notably 1998’s ‘Introspective’and 2008’s ‘Yes’.(By the way, there are some great song titles on ‘Format’—‘The Truck Driver and his Mate’, ‘Sexy Northerner’, ‘We’re All Criminals Now’, ‘I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’, and ‘Gin and Jag’.)Like Peter Saville at Factory Records or Vaughan Oliver at 4AD, a long-standing, hugely productive relationship has helped Mark develop a formidable house style for PSB. But it’s his perfectly judged graphic restraint and ferocious attention to detail that always sets the work apart. Design critic Adrian Shaughnessy believes Farrow was “the first record sleeve designer to master the art of designing for CD”, a bold but justifiable claim.I was lucky enough to get to know Mark in the 1980s, just after he’d come down from Manchester and was working in a small studio above a shop in Neal Street, Covent Garden. At the time, he was working closely with restauranteur/entrepreneur Oliver Peyton (still a client) on press ads for Sapporo Japanese lager. It struck me that Mark’s work is like sushi – delicate, dextrous and extremely tasty.