two heads, one big idea

From Gilbert and George to French and Saunders, creative partnerships are fuelled by a delicate balance of personal chemistry and the perfect meeting of minds. How do the two halves come together to make a whole?
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ANTONI & ALISON

fashion designers

GIVEN THE near symmetry of their names, and the Loctite ampersand that binds them, it comes as little surprise to learn that fashion designers Antoni & Alison are inseparable. Since producing their first collection in 1987, after leaving St Martin's School of Art in London, the two have spent virtually every waking moment together.

Another fashion world duo, Bernstock and Speirs, once pointed out that their unusually close (platonic) relationship was turning them into a couple of insular eccentrics. "We had to agree," says Antoni. "We even worried that we came across like those famous Bethnal Green twins in their identical outfits and headscarves. Reluctantly, we decided to find our own places, but we still phone each other up first thing every morning."

Antoni & Alison, both 32, have always been ahead of their time: an early design, a figure-hugging T-shirt with the slogan "Be Happy", prefigured all that extrovert rave fashion, not to mention the Nineties craze for skimpy Seventies-style Ts.

Their love of portmanteau slogans, for example, "Futurefantastic" and "Existmyfuture398modern", is the clearest indication that two minds are on the job. Yet, once these hybrid words have been dreamt up, two factors make it well-nigh impossible to tell which elements were thought of by whom. Firstly, their choice of language is very similar: "We see each other every day," explains Alison, "so we know exactly how the other's language is evolving." And secondly, the "slogans" are arrived at by cutting up and collaging months of jottings, a la William Burroughs. As if this process weren't democratic enough, the slogans are passed on to a seller who decides which ones are collection-worthy.

Interchangeable they might seem, but Antoni & Alison do have different strengths. "I can put on a business hat and talk to bank managers. And I handle the production side,'' says Alison. "Antoni's good at sourcing fabrics and finding decent printers." So much for practicalities. "Alison's pieces are sadder, more romantic," says Antoni, almost scrabbling for evidence of differences in their creative approach. "Mine are happier, more off-the-wall."

The creative process can be lonely and isolating at times, which is the main advantage of working together: "Solidarity," says Alison. "If one of us is down, the other can usually make the other one come up."

JAN ETHERINGTON AND GAVIN PETRIE

scriptwriters

"WE TALK for hours about an idea before putting pen to paper," says Jan Etherington, co-scriptwriter with husband Gavin Petrie of the sitcoms Second Thoughts, Next of Kin and Faith in the Future. "Once you have the characters in your head, the dialogue comes easily. We often write with an actor in mind. This helps with speech rhythm character consistency. We always read the script aloud to each over, and switch roles. It's the only way to find out if you're writing 'conversation' or 'sitcomspeak'."

Sitcomspeak - a series of lines building up to a cheesy gag - is Etherington's and Petrie's bete noire. Conversely, conversation arises organically from the situations characters find themselves in. The crackling exchanges - such as the lightning mother-and-daughter repartee of Lynda Bellingham and Julia Sawalha in LWT's Faith in the Future - arise from the way that Etherington writes: "Gavin is good at structure, plot and the continuity of a story. I'm a butterfly. I jump quickly from one bit of dialogue to another."

They do sometimes end up at loggerheads - but not irretrievably. "If I think a line is funny but Gavin thinks it's awful, I'll fight to start with," says Etherington. "But I will back down. If there are two ways of seeing things, someone in the end will pick up on it - in the read- through with the director or in rehearsal."

Ex-journalists who met on She magazine in the 1980s, Etherington and Petrie work from home at two desks facing each other. If they reach an impasse or have a row (no wastage there: "We come out with our best one- liners in mid-fight"), they will go off and do their own thing.

Both were divorced when they met, and their precarious new predicament - stepchildren, ex-partners and clashing tastes in interior design - gave them the idea for Second Thoughts (which metamorphosed recently into Faith in the Future). Drawing on shared experiences made it easier to co-write the series.

"Another advantage of working together," says Petrie, "is knowing that if the reviews aren't good or the viewers don't like what we've done, we won't be facing the criticism on our own."

JANE AND LOUISE WILSON

artists

WE'VE HEARD all about Gilbert & George. Now - a gargantuan bandwagon this - we have seen Dinos and Jake Chapman, the Hohenbuchler sisters and twins Jane and Louise Wilson get in on the (double) act, too.

For the Wilsons, however, what sceptics consider a gimmick is a fact of life: "Look at Christo [the artist]. It only recently came to light that his wife [Jeanne-Claude Javacheff] had collaborated with him all along. By openly collaborating, we're formalising what a lot of artists do without acknowledging it. Artists need to be in dialogue with others; they need another's objective viewpoint."

Although Jane went to art school in Newcastle (the Wilsons' home town) and Louise in Dundee, their degree shows were identical. Entitled Garage, they included a photograph of the sisters on the brink of a joint suicide pact, a portent of spookier work to come. "We'd always discussed our ideas, so we thought, let's pool our resources," says Jane. Then came a joint MA at Goldsmiths'. When I suggest people might think all this synchronicity a tad twee, Louise quips: "We don't meet gallery owners in matching tuxedos, you know."

Twee isn't a word you would apply to the 29-year-old twins' experimental blend of film, installation and performance. Nor to their penchant for staging blood-curdling scenarios in derelict motels, or filming themselves under hypnosis or under the influence of LSD. Normapaths, a piece shown recently at London's Chisenhale Gallery, incorporated a grotty room turned upside down after a violent brawl and a film featuring one of the twins nonchalantly walking along on fire.

Being conceptual, the Wilsons' work is easier to verbalise and jointly assess "We think of ideas individually," says Jane. "When they're sufficiently developed, we show them to each other. Then we'll rewrite storyboards and edit rushes together."

The Wilsons' convincing case for working as a combo leaves one question unanswered: don't the experiences of being on drugs or under hypnosis - both highly individualistic - put up a barrier between them? "No. You don't forget the other person if you have a strong relationship with them," says Jane. "Anyway, you couldn't share those experiences with someone you didn't really know and trust."

TIM AND NEIL FINN

songwriters

COLLABORATION is the way things are going in music, opine New Zealand-born brothers and songwriters Tim and Neil Finn. "The great solo artists of the past 10 years, like Prince, are dropping away," says Tim. "It's partly because solo artists don't invite you into their world. Bands are more accessible because of their collectivity."

As kids, the Finns belted out Beatles and Bee Gees numbers together at family singalongs. As grown-ups, Neil joined Tim's legendary Seventies band Split Enz, while Tim later hooked up with Neil's outfit Crowded House to co-write the hugely successful album Woodface. Last year saw Finn, an album hailed as their rawest, freshest effort to date.

"I write in the first person whereas Neil thinks more laterally," says Tim, summing up their differences. "I'll be pulling the song back to what it's about, while Neil will be running a thousand miles away from that." "There's definitely a type of song that comes out when we write together. Lyrically, there's more humour," says Neil, when asked whether collaborating has thrown up any surprises.

Initially, working together wasn't a barrel of laughs. In Split Enz, Neil felt overshadowed by older brother Tim. Tim, for his part, felt like a spare part in Crowded House. But the Finns' laid-back, self-assured tone suggests those tensions are behind them. In fact, knowing each other so well has turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Their shared "reservoir of memories", they say, allows them to grasp each other's ideas almost instantaneously.

The fact that they're on the same wavelength, says Neil, even manifests itself on stage. "People get a buzz out of seeing us perform. It's a fluid thing - we can take a U-turn, a left turn or a right turn."

Asked whether collaborating sporadically weakens their rapport, the Finns say it's more likely to keep them out of a rut: "We don't have to fall into the guitar, bass, drums line-up as you do in a band, where everybody has set roles." Ultimately, though, the Finns are reluctant to analyse what they do. "There's a lot of mystery involved in co-writing," says Neil. "If there wasn't, we could write a manual about what to do."

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