RoAndCo founder Roanne Adams stays on message in the ever-changing world of fashion branding

Roanne Adams first learned to draw realistic-looking objects from her older sister, a hobby that developed into bona fide talent following her family’s move from Connecticut to Paris when she was 11 years old. However, once she enrolled in Parsons to pursue fine art, she realized that the way she worked “was a little too obsessive, a little too perfect,” she explains. “And as much as I wanted to be an abstractionist or an impressionist, I had a hard time letting go of creating pieces that were graphic—I was so inspired by fashion magazines, album covers and even skateboard graphics from the late nineties and early 2000s.”

"I know a lot of studios like mine might have a separate place for the CEO, or owners or partners, but my whole team gets to listen to me on the phone, discussing scope of work, negotiating, speaking with the landlord. It’s a very open office …it feels like home."

After graduating with a BFA in communication design, Adams expected to settle in at a fashion glossy, but was hired by international brand consultancy Wolff Olins. She took the gig not fully grasping the notion of branding, and then left in 2006 with PRINT magazine’s “20 Under 30” award for New Visual Artist, and the knowledge needed to form her own multi-disciplinary design studio, RoAndCo. Piera Gelardi, co-founder and creative director of then-start-up Refinery29, offered Adams shared office space in a dirt-cheap TriBeCa basement. “I stopped by and thought, ‘Oh man, there are no windows in here. I need to have light; I need to be able to look at my Pantone chips and know they’re the right colors…’ yet something told me I should be in an environment with people like this,” Adams says.

Sharing turf for five years with what would evolve into the largest independent fashion and style website in the U.S. meant an endless procession of emerging fashion designers without look books, websites and art direction for their shows. She became the go-to indie art director, but insists she didn’t launch any careers—like Abigail Lorick’s or Timo Weiland’s, as the Internet often claims. “I stood by them,” she clarifies. “I did my best to have them think big picture instead of solely about the task at hand. But I wasn’t responsible for ‘launching their careers.’ Definitely not!”

I sat down with Adams, 32, on a Friday afternoon in RoAndCo’s relatively new Little Italy studio. She and her crew of 12—nine full-time employees and three interns—relocated in March when Adams’s post-Refinery dream space turned condo. “We recreated it here; we even took the doors with us,” she tells me, motioning to metal-and-glass partitions on each end of the room that slide shut to accommodate meetings. In the center are several rows of desks, including Adams’s. “I know a lot of studios like mine might have a separate place for the CEO, or owners or partners,” she says, “but my whole team gets to listen to me on the phone, discussing scope of work, negotiating, speaking with the landlord. It’s a very open office…it feels like home.”

RoAndCo Tribeca office

The guest area in the RoAndCo Tribeca office.

Roanne Adams, RoAndCo

Roanne working with her staff on a project.

RoAndCo Tribeca office

A view of the office from the far wall of the board room.

Next month, RoAndCo will debut an upgraded website. “It’s us, but 2.0,” Adams remarks. “It’ll be easier to browse and we’re going to highlight our four service buckets: branding, art direction, interactive design and print. And as part of interactive, for example, we do e-commerce design, responsive mobile design and digital marketing strategies.” Adams notes that there has been a shift in conversation over the past couple of years from aesthetic design solutions to digital design solutions and the industry-wide desire “to put labels on the web in a manner that’s trustworthy, especially with e-commerce. Five years ago, it was rare for a fashion designer to want an e-commerce store. No one was prepared for that.” And though she views the transition as a natural progression, she lists it as a main challenge that her studio faces: “I don’t want to go 100 percent into digital; I want to be able to create experiences via multiple deliverables, not just a screen. I think that customers, as a customer myself, are most drawn to brands that have incredible in-store environments and print components, along with a great site.”

Although Adams insists she thrives on a fast pace and that if she devoted too much time to any one thing she’d become too emotionally attached to it, I manage to finally slip in the question that’s been circling in my mind throughout our chat: Is she fulfilled as an artist?

“RoAndCo is really my outlet for my creativity. Redesigning the website—putting together the invitation for our holiday party, collaborating with a florist I love on an installation piece, getting the deejays, creating a custom gift for clients–these things excite me. I always say that when I retire, I’m going to return to painting in the South of France, sit on Mont Sainte-Victoire and live the life of Cézanne, but I feel like you’ve got to strike while it’s hot.”