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Into the BLVCK: Julian O’hayon

Toggling the Metaverse Into Dark Mode

blvck.com

Full disclosure: I’m a metalhead. I was very excited to have the opportunity to write about BLVCK Paris. There’s never been a luxury brand that I’ve actually wanted to own a product of before (OK. Maybe Burberry perfume, but that’s because it smells awesome). Designer Julian O’hayon truly hit the sweet spot of every metal and goth aficionado when he created his quintessential brand. What kind of guy has the stones to basically trademark a color? OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but O’hayon literally built a brand on the color black back in 2017, creating a fantastic case study on what someone should do in order to build a brand-based empire. He also has a bit of a tightrope to walk: how can someone be blacker than the blackest black times infinity, yet not be shoved into a box (or a velvet-lined coffin in this case) creatively and stereotyped as an acolyte of (what I think are the coolest) dark genres?

https://www.instagram.com/p/CSUpGy_qUYs/

BACKGROUND

Let’s talk about O’hayon’s background for a moment. He was always a geek behind a laptop with a natural talent for both coding and design. He started developing code at a very young age and made a website using the usual stack, including the more advanced PHP and MySQL, at the tender age of 14. When he was 18, he started his own branding development company with clients like TF1 (the most popular TV channel in France), feed.co, Philips, Huawei and many other companies. Soon after, he moved to Brussels to study engineering and founded BLVCK Paris 4 years ago.

BLVCK Paris is a commercial empire that has gone beyond so many boundaries creatively, financially, and even internationally IRL. A pervasive cloud of aesthetically pleasing darkness, its inviting tendrils waft into realms of business like apparel, fast food, and real estate: His fast-food chain, All Black Everything, has already established two real stores in Japan. More stores are set to open in Japan and Taiwan. Options are currently being explored in the United States as well, with their first pop-up store in Showfields’ in Miami, FL. And BLVCK made millions off their wildly successful iPhone products like themes, apps, and wallpapers. O’hayon was particularly enthralled with digital media and how it could be used for the BLVCK vision.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CF5S_nopkIY/

Says Steffi Marshall of the BLVCK Paris team, “Blvck is an aesthetic brand where quality and design is what we strive for. We have been offering more and more digital products to darken your tech. The iOS icon theme is designed for those who want to have an aesthetic and minimal Home Screen. The brand has been offering aesthetic wallpapers for free from the start of Blvck as the brand is more of a lifestyle, for people to be part of the experience.”

NFTS

When O’hayon saw the NFT space going viral, it was something that spoke to him straight away as a new forum to express his art and share his vision of the brand with a wider community. He’d already started learning Blender and had been taking it very seriously as a tool for visualization and prototyping. He’s currently studying Unity, as well. So for O’hayon, who cites Tim Burton films as a primary influence, dropping DARKMODE01 on Makersplace was taking a natural step.

https://makersplace.com/sicwitit/blvck-baby-tiger-3-of-10-69491/

According to the BLVCK Paris press release for DARKMODE02 which dropped on August 11, “The brand launched its NFT debut collection earlier in June exclusively on MakersPlace and sold out all of the 30 fixed editions within the first 5 minutes of release. The artworks follow the themes of the brand itself, featuring the authentic work of O’hayon in the form of 3D motion graphics.”

O’hayon designed and executed each aspect of these NFTs himself from soup to nuts. He came up with each idea, designed the visuals, composed the music, decided on the process of what physicals to reward the collectors with and the logistics of getting them to their new homes quickly.

DARKMODE02 is a continuation of the BLVCK Paris ethos via a limited open edition of an immersive racing game conceptualized by O’hayon which takes you to three universes, referencing the fairy ‘Blvck Land’ universe released in the first drop. O’hayon wanted to create an NFT based purely on the game aesthetic without the constraints of Unity where he could explore the universe of BLVCK. But you can’t do an HDRI with all of the physics constraints and still make it look good. Still, DARKMODE02 is more complex than a fixed looping artwork and it brings a lot of the previous NFTs into the mix. Within the game, you have to collect the skulls. And if you have the Blvckspace, Blvckcity and Blvckland NFTs, you can get an exclusive bonus drop for a dollar.

O’hayon wanted to make ownership of one of his NFTs a truly immersive experience. Many of the NFTs in both drops are linked to limited physicals via a QR code. For the tiger, you get a baby stuffed tiger. For the villa, you get a box of home products. For the black roses, you get a box of black roses with a personal note. He notes that “Logistics can be very problematic historically, but with us, it’s very quick.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CPoM5pTCelJ/

Turnaround time is generally three weeks, and that’s with each of the gifts being produced on demand. While bemoaning the fact that he should have made the intent to gift collectors clear at drop time, he smiled.

“The collectors didn’t even know. They got nice surprises in the mail.”

At press time, DARKMODE02 fixed editions sold out in the first minute. The bids on the auctions were not as high as their first drop, but they had many more bidders and interest in general.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CSXGvZMqBNe/

BUILDING COMMUNITY

The BLVCK empire began its reign on Instagram in 2017 with a focus on creative content consistent with the aesthetic. Everything posted had to be black. Black ice cream. The McDonald’s all-black menu. Anything that went on that account had to jive with the branding. O’hayon was insistent on being super consistent, even down to the domain name, blvck.com After a while, O’hayon created products based on what people liked in the Instagram feed and it all went to the moon from there.

Says Marshall from the BLVCK team, “It (happened) quite quickly, The first product we ever sold was black MacBook skins. We started selling them within a few months of the Instagram being released and as soon as the community hit 100k followers. From there, we had great demand, expanded the products, and eventually turned @black into a fashion brand.”

They continue to drive engagement via contests, questions, requests for feedback, and exclusive content.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CSaHpBbqh-D/

CREATIVE PROCESS

The following is a summary of what O’hayon describes as his creative process in the Fireside chat as seen here:

The actual creativity is more complicated before he actually achieves the final artwork. Many ideas he executed had been rolling around his head for quite some time. They evolved. So when he breaks out the 3D skills, the first draft doesn’t take a lot of time. But after that, there’s a lot of fine-tuning.

When you do an artwork in black, it can’t be all black. He wants his pieces to look more dark and real, and a monochromatic photo can’t do that. The black needs to pop out. So first, he chooses the subject. Then once he decides on an environment, he adds some subtle colors using lighting.

blvck.com

He also uses a subtle blue tint on each piece to give a cold, consistent look. There is quite the limit on tones of black to create SKUs from, so many of their products are differentiated by their texture, lighting, and renderings with different properties of glossy and matte. He frequently makes use of white, grey and very subtle purple. For example, in the BlvckRacing NFT there is a sunset, but he tries to make it less electric and more of a faded intensity.

Sometimes black is good for the packaging but needs to be an option for the product itself (such as his French fries).

https://www.instagram.com/p/B4fiqWRAmXJ/

Every aspect of the art is on him (usually), and typically takes between a week and a month to do everything. He blends classic and modern elements. On one hand, he does want to keep to the melancholic and dark theme, but on the other, he doesn’t want to make his brand too gothic so it is stuck within a niche. That’s also why he elects to use Hip-Hop a bit more over other styles of music. And he doesn’t want BLVCK to cater narrowly to people who are only really into black, so he makes sure he has options that serve a larger target market as well.

You can learn more about BLVCK Paris via the links below:

🔗 BLVCK Paris: https://blvck.com/
🔗 BLVCK Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/black/
🔗 MakersPlace: https://makersplace.com/blvck/

👾 And if you’re a games developer, BLVCK Paris is looking for you.
Contact them at: hi (at) blvck.com

🗣ARTISTS SPEAK

Should an artist choose a niche or do everything possible to stay out of one?

Julian O’hayon brought up this issue within his interview, so I posed the question on Twitter and received some thought-provoking responses that ran the gamut.

Emerging artist Manon Antoinette is wary of it:

4th Perspective states his own outlook, shared by many others like Or Yogev, Anna Wilding, Virginia Lori, Digipedia and Ryan Annett in similar words:

Generative artist Perpetual_cgi adds to that sentiment:

“Digital art has a lot of different mediums in it. Categorization is inevitable.”

jensalittleloopy warns against playing to a niche:

Prolific genre breaker and founding member of Dark Tranquillity Niklas Sundin factors in values, provenance and individuality:

OG cryptoartist and pixel maven Kasey gives some pointers on how to have your cake and eat it too:

ETH and WAXP platform-based success CryptoYuna speaks from experience:

And Rogue straight out says a niche isn’t the worst way to flow:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and/or quoted subjects. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of $WHALE or it’s community. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, investment or other advice.

To learn more about $WHALE, visit whale.me or join our discord at discord.gg/whale.

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The Cryptory

The Cryptory

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