ABOUT A GUY
Meet the brains, talent and hair behind
Q: Hi Robbie! Tell us about yourself and your job.
A: I'm Robbie Owens-Russo. I live in a little house with a tropical backyard in sunny South Bondi, Sydney with my beautiful family: my wife Apples and my sons Frankie-Magic and Chiiko-Bang.
I work at Insight51, a counter-culture apparel brand with its feet firmly planted in the roots of surf, skate, and lifestyle. I'm the menswear art director/designer. Nowadays my main focus is the men's product and collections, though my job far exceeds just being a designer. It involves being a mentor here to the gang, an ambassador of the Insight DNA, and the link between marketing and design.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the inner-west of Sydney. I was a little delinquent who would spend his days skating and his nights camping out with mates in houses. It was about making our own fun-and with that came a mind brimming with creativity. Bartending, playing professional soccer, and working the family-run business were juggled with studies in graphic design, airbrushing, DJ-ing, playing in a band, throwing parties, and running the night, before finding my feet at Insight. There, I could finally meld my love of fashion and art into one job.
Q: How did you get started at Insight?
A: At first, I started as the in-house art rat, working on everything from art for garments to ad campaigns to surfboard catalogue zines. Then Insight took me on my first ‘inspiration' trip, through Tokyo, L.A., and then finally to Hong Kong and China, where the blinkers of my naive virgin eyes were opened to a world I had never imagined as a 21-year-old grom.
Q: What was it about the trip that changed things?
A: The fact I could send a drawing with some basic instructions to be dissected by a talented bunch of people, then to see the process of it getting made right before my eyes. It was about a journey, not about myself as a designer, the whole process-forecasting and conceiving ideas, experiments and working with amazing people-is what got me going.
Q: When did you start surfing?
A: I first grabbed a log in the summer of '99 on my first overseas journey to Waikiki, Oahu. I had the bug. But I really learned when I came back after that trip. My buddy, Mr. Hustler, had been surfing from his youth in New Zealand and moved to Sydney to get into the music scene. I had been DJing since I was 16, so we made a deal that he would teach me to surf and I'd teach him to mix. I was sold! We surfed every weekend and spent two weeks each year on road trips during summer vacations.
Q: What's your favorite surf film?
A: Watching Morning of the Earth pretty much changed it all for me. It showed me that surfing wasn't just a sport; it had soul, substance and represented a different way of life.
Q: What's one of your favorite surfing memories?
A: There is one trip I will never forget. For the Insight campaign before last, we bought an old ‘60s double-decker bus, painted it and invited our surf and skate team, a tattoo artist, a videographer, and a couple photographers along for a two-week hiatus to Byron Bay, ending at a music festival called Splendour in the Grass. Long story short: We chased waves and girls, partied, I got to interview The Specials in the back of the bus—it was a blast!
Q: Any memorable wildlife encounters out in the water?
A: On the Byron trip with Insight there was one day sitting on my board out at Tallows Beach. No shit, 30 meters from me this huge whale emerged, spitting water and generally just checking us out before cruising on. It was wild man, a trip. I was speechless. It's something that's firmly implanted in my brain.
Q: How much does being out in the water influence your work?
A: There's a certain type of clarity I get from being in the ocean. There's an instantaneous cleansing. It's something that stays with me through my whole creative process. For me, surfing, swimming, whatever, is about just being in the moment. Every second is different, every wave approached differently, but with the same formula I've picked up from years of experience. I approach each collection like this too, like an unwritten law unto my pursuits and myself. Every Insight garment has a forward-thinking formula, but with the right amount of salt to keep its feet firmly planted in its roots of surfing.
Q: Where else do you look for ideas?
A: Most of the time I don't seek out ideas, as I always know there will be another collection or trip to be inspired by. I find forcing ideas and deadlines restricting. Instead I have a few vices or rituals that always seem to help me tick, like driving in the morning to check the surf and the sunrise, with music on and sipping my morning coffee. There is always something that happens when my mind hasn't been tainted by the day's schedule. I feel like I'm waking with the universe and I listen to music with a different ear and a different attitude. I always have my notebook handy. It seems corny, but that moment for me always does it.
Q: Where are you planning to travel next?
A: I have a work trip coming up, which is always a golden time. We're heading to California to show our latest spring/summer collection. It will be three days of showings, slide in a day of street hopping 'shopping', hire some wheels and then head south on the 405 to Newport to hang with our surfer Jared Mell and his ponies. We'll get some waves, go drunken bowling, then hopefully head over to Philly to meet with the lovely Urban people, catch a few fancy dinners, get a seafood smorgasbord, then travel across to NYC for a couple days of catch ups and some serious vintage digs. Then it's back home with a bag full of gold, a notebook full of ideas and head full of memories. That's roughly how it should pan out.