From Swinburne to New York
Swinburne design alum and New York-based Creative Director of BRDAR, Visnja Brdar, launched her own creative studio almost 20 years ago and shares her journey from student to entrepreneur.
From award-winning Swinburne student to globally renowned designer and entrepreneur, Australian New York-based Creative Director, Visnja Brdar, returned home to Melbourne in March 2022 for an exclusive public design lecture at ACMI’s Swinburne Studio.
“It is very exciting to be back visiting this special city and is a welcome change from the pace of New York. I am really looking forward to presenting my work over the span of three decades and sharing my story as an entrepreneur running two businesses [BRDAR and VISNJA JEWELS] in New York for many top global brands,” Brdar says.
Since establishing her design practice nearly 20 years ago, Brdar has delivered work for several impressive clients, including Estée Lauder, Issey Miyake, Armani, Marc Newson, and the Sydney Opera House.
“At BRDAR, we are driven by doing work of uncompromising quality for clients in the fields of fashion, beauty, real estate and the arts. We are happy to work in any field as long as we feel the synergy with the client. We work across multiple platforms, from brand work and strategy to creative direction, digital and product design. I believe I have an eye that was acquired and developed in Australia. My work has a strength, purity and clarity to it,” Brdar says.
The journey to entrepreneur
As a Bachelor of Arts (Graphic Design) (Honours) student, Brdar completed several design projects and an industry placement at a graphic design studio.
“The industry placement I completed gave me great insight into the workings of a graphic design studio. During my Honours year, I designed a chaise longue, which was an expression of my interest in architecture and sculpture. I was passionate about breaking the boundaries of graphic design and going beyond the two dimensional. The work I do now is completely aligned with the same quest for excellence that I had as a student, and my pursuit of the new, and of course – the beautiful,” Brdar says.
It was that quest for excellence that Brdar believes has been key to her success.
“At Swinburne, I recall always pushing myself to do better and excel. I had no idea where the road would take me. The art history that was taught at Swinburne was invaluable. Awareness of history is critical. Knowledge is power. Design is first and foremost about ideas and I recall how we were constantly stretched and pushed. That spirit was in the air and was all consuming.”
“Design is first and foremost about ideas and I recall how we were constantly stretched and pushed. That spirit was in the air and was all consuming.”
Brdar’s industry placement and the experience at Swinburne further cemented her desire to be an entrepreneur.
“I was always very clear about not wanting to work for anyone and I wanted to see what I was capable of creating on my own. It took determination and grit. Intuitively, I knew that while it was definitely the more difficult pathway, it would be the most character building and I would create much more personal work,“ she says.
Soon after graduating, Brdar moved overseas to launch her creative studio, BRDAR. Brdar says it was her determination and drive that set herself up to meet with some of the best in the design world.
“Designer and architect Chris Connell was my first client, and it was a great meeting of minds. I was proactive and reached out to Chris and I remember him loving what I created. Other people then saw the work and reacted positively, and the projects kept coming. A year later, I went to work in Paris and worked on multiple projects for Marc Newson. That work is very meaningful to me now, as it is currently exhibited in the Victorian Design Awards Exhibition at RMIT university.”
“There were so many projects in the first years of my career and I look back at these projects and they are still very meaningful to me in their ability to swim against the tide in pursuit of the new – the relevant new, not new for newness' sake.”
“My desire to work with global luxury brands led me to New York and a position with Fabien Baron as art director for Michael Kors, Jil Sander and Nars Cosmetics, among others. Working with Fabien Baron was an incredible and exhilarating experience. I sent him my portfolio of work from Melbourne to New York and he was extremely positive about the work he saw,” she says.
“New York is the most exciting place to work. It is this intense bubble that synthesizes the entire world with people from everywhere. You have the feeling that anything is possible.”
Think harder and deeper
Brdar is passionate about helping students and designers give vision to their creations.
“My advice for all designers is to work hard, think hard – think harder and deeper than you design. Ask ‘why’ a lot. Design after you have an idea, not before. Use a pencil. Spend less time on the computer and more time in the real world and with nature. Do work that is the best work you are capable of. Be aware of what is happening around you."
"Be sensitive to everything, the animate and inanimate. Be sensitive to the wisdom in old people and the innocence in the young. Travel far and wide to follow your dreams. Do things that are difficult. Listen deeply and listen hard to what moves you in life and follow that."