KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 -- Ever walked into one of the BIG Group’s many eateries such as Plan B or its flagship gourmet market Ben’s Independent Grocer and wondered who came up with the store design?
Wonder no more: Lisette Scheers, the creative director of L. Inc, is the creative mind behind much of the BIG Group’s branding and design.
L. Inc (formerly La Scheers Co) is a design and advertising agency with a clear difference. The company’s motto – “Make the World Beautiful” – is part of Scheers’ philosophy which is to come up with the most beautiful and innovative design for their clients.
The early years
Scheers is of Dutch origin but born in Singapore in 1970. She spent many of her formative years travelling and living in different parts of the world.
“I actually came to Malaysia when I was two years old and lived in KL for six years. Then Hong Kong, the Netherlands and finally my family came back to Malaysia,” she says. Her time in Asia would inform her later creative work with a unique and refreshing perspective of someone who has actually experienced Asia, rather than simply copying Asian motifs in design.
Scheers explains, “I went to Alice Smith School and graduated from ISKL in 1988. At ISKL, my mentor was Mrs. Beryl Lau, the head of the school.
"She taught me absolutely everything. There I learned about batik, and had separate lessons on Chinese brush painting. She really nurtured me and I'm grateful to her.”
After graduation, Scheers studied in Antwerp for four years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. She notes, “I’m probably one of the last generation to get an old-school education – I learned to draw, how to paint. Nowadays kids don’t learn this; everything is digital. Back then, I had to do everything by hand.”
Next for the globe-trotting Scheers was Brussels for eight years followed by Amsterdam where she worked for McCann-Erickson and Ogilvy & Mather, where she was the creative director.
“After getting married, I returned to Malaysia in 2004, where I taught at Raffles Design Institute and set up the Graphic Design Department there. Soon I started getting some projects. FEI KL Grand Prix was one of my first serious clients. That’s when I started La Scheers Co in 2007.”
La Scheers Co started small. Scheers shares, “It was just me in the beginning. Some of my early clients included CITTA, E&O, Lone Pine and Hammam, a spa in Bangsar Village 2.”
These days most people associate Scheers with Benjamin Yong’s BIG Group, a collaboration she’s very proud of.
“I was with Ben since the Delicious days. We call each other 10 times a day! We are like husband and wife; that's why we have lots of husband and wife fights,” she laughs.
She adds, “My staff and his team can get freaked out at our meetings. He’ll go ‘You know, like that’ and I’ll go ‘Yeah’ and they have no idea what we are talking about!”
This close and fruitful relationship extends to her tirelessly hand drawing the murals at Ben’s Independent Grocer before it was open. The result is a gourmet food market, the first of its kind in KL, that would not look out of place in Sydney or Seattle.
“Ben is my soul-mate because I know what he thinks; he doesn’t have to say it. When he asked me to design Plan B, all he told me was he wanted a lab,” she says. The eventual décor of the popular outlet managed to incorporate just that with a touch of industrial retro chic.
Keeping it real
According to Scheers, her design philosophy is simply to “keep it real” and avoid the copy-and-paste work others employ. However, she laments this may be the exact sort of work most clients are seeking inadvertently.
“Many clients tend to treat designers just like any supplier. They try to tell us exactly what to do. Other agencies may be happy to say yes but I can’t do that. It has to be a collaboration. I have to fall in love with what my clients do, and vice versa so my passion translates into creativity for the project,” she says.
Hence Scheers makes it a point to filter out clients who are looking for cookie-cutter work and no longer undertakes pitching to clients.
“I don’t even pitch with my photographer. I always use the same photographer, the same printer. If clients ask me to get other quotes, I tell them I don’t do that to my suppliers. It’s disrespectful,” she says.
The multi-talented and indefatigable Scheers has also started Nala, a stationery brand named after her daughter and based on Peranakan design. She shares, “It’s not easy being a single mum but I hope this is something I can leave for her.”
The best place in the world
After six successful years of La Scheers Co, the company has recently been rebranded L. Inc to “start anew and to do things differently with a fresh perspective.” In addition to the usual design projects, L. Inc will also host exhibitions, workshops, and delve into publishing books and magazines.
She reasons, “I believe that true and simple ideas for advertising and design are the way forward. As a whole we have been subject to much bad taste in Malaysia and it’s time to change.”
Recently on an impromptu trip to Ipoh to shoot some photographs for the Plan B outlet there, Scheers came across a durian seller in a derelict alley and stopped there for lunch. She recalls the scene, all the locals staring at this Mat Salleh woman eating durians, but then, this is how Malaysian she is too.
Smiling, she adds, “I believe Malaysia is the place to be. At the end of the day we live in the best place in the world.”
8A Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar 59000 KL
Tel: 03-2283 4698
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail, 12 September 2013.