The Designer's Forum: Isabel Von der Ahe

For a new edition of Phantasy Forum, we shift from the DJ booth and studio in order to learn about the creative process of designer and artist, Isabel Von der Ahe.

Isabel is the creative mind behind ‘Keys’, the latest shirt in Phantasy’s guest designer collection. Screen printed on 100% organic ethical cotton, ‘Keys’ conjures late-night reverie, featuring a gloriously retro interpretation of the classic Phantasy logo, alongside Von der Ahe’s whimsical illustration style on the reverse.
Isabel’s work has been a consistent feature in alternative dance music over the past few years, having designed event posters, shirts and more for DJs, labels and parties across the spectrum of club culture. Her past clients include Palms Trax, Eris Drew & Octo Octa, Moxie and Awesome Tapes From Africa. Even the modfather himself, Paul Weller, has recently reached out…

As such, we were delighted to host Isabel’s distinct style within the realm of Phantasy, and caught up with her briefly in order to discuss her process, inspirations and attitude in translating wonderful music into suitably beautiful design.

What were the aesthetic influences on ‘Keys’?

I aimed to channel the work of the great David Stone Martin who created dozens of jazz album covers in the 1940s-1950s. The frenetic energy and joy he captures in still images is huge.

How long have you been working professionally as a designer? Was it always the plan, or something you fell into?

I began making gig posters about 5 years ago, but only recently have I been able to fully support myself with this kind of work. I hadn't considered this path until I started throwing parties with my hometown artist collective TUF - we needed event posters. I only seriously pursued design because of the support I found in that group.

How do you approach designing a shirt in comparison to your poster work? And do you have a personal favourite label or band shirt that you’ve almost worn out from use, for example?

I try to keep the lines bold and the colors simple on a shirt, nothing too in-your-face, message wise. My favorite graphic tee is 15 years old from a Seattle hardcore band Sex Vid (don't google that). Some other faves include a tattered Smallville Records shirt and the classic Psychic TV bootleg from Boot Boyz. (pix attached if you want).

Much of your work is associated with electronic music and club culture. What were the club nights or DJs that influenced your taste in this respect?

I grew up going to punk shows in a time and place where wheatpaste flyers were the way you found out what was going on. Even though this type of ad isn't as dominant in a lot of cities now, especially in the US, I try to make posters that people want to carefully peel off and bring home. Coming from a city without a long legacy of underground dance music culture, I want the club to seem more accessible.

You’ve worked with everyone from Paul Weller to Room 4 Resistance. What would you say is the unifying theme or approach to your designs?

I strive to create something warm and inviting, nothing too serious. I want each artist or attendee to feel included and represented.

How do you collate your influences; scrapbooks, Pinterest or physical research?

I spend an embarrassing amount of time on looking at digitized versions of magazines from the 70s and 80s. Great editorial design and ads. From there, I'll screenshot weirdo fonts and try to figure out what they are on reddit (/r/identifythisfont/) - works 90% of the time.

What other designers are inspiring you right now, either established or up-and-coming?

Jacob Jan Wise and Bráulio Amado. I can't help it!

PS: the first all-night party I went to was 10 years ago where Daniel Avery played in Seattle at a private loft hosted by Cody Morrison in Seattle. I was 21, and it absolutely swept me off my feet and changed my mind about what was interesting and exciting in music. Coming from a city that isn't particularly concerned with dance music apart from a few small groups, it was pretty life altering and ultimately a factor in my eventual career choice and move to Berlin. Just want to pass that on :)

You can order the 'Keys' t-shirt in all sizes here.

John Loveless, October 2021.

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