Dustin Edward Arnold is an anachronism—a young designer more strongly connected to the aesthetic of eras and cultures long past than to his own. Whether creating elegant letterforms or laying out chic housewares catalogs, he favors the meticulously hand-crafted, the stylistically baroque, the exquisitely ornate. There’s something Parisian about his work: timeless, opulent, with unceasing good taste.
“I’ve always been attracted to the artwork of Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Dürer, and 17th-century Italian engravers,” Arnold says. Contemporary favorites are the sculptures of Lee Bontecou, the stage productions of Romeo Castellucci, the calligraphy of Doyald Young. His typical palette, whether for a Seattle tattoo artist or a Japanese cosmetics line, is brightest white on deepest black. “I’ve always loved working with pure form,” Arnold says. He admits he had to wait to acquire such urbane tastes until he left Atascadero, his hometown 200 miles north of Los Angeles—where he eventually moved in 2001 to enroll in Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. “I’ve been exposed to so many things in L.A.,” Arnold says. “I soaked them up like a sponge.”
One thing he absorbed was fashion magazines, which have steered his taste and helped inform the caliber of his current client list. Even before he started school, through a connection from an older cousin, Douglas Little, Arnold began to work as a freelance designer for a number of luxury brands. Over time, luxury retail has become Arnold’s bread and butter, and his CV is now adorned with the names of companies like Bang & Olufsen, Vertu, Aiwa, Shiseido, and high-end retailer Luxehaus.
They seem to like the way he thinks. “Dustin is a cerebral designer and a connoisseur of everything around him,” explains Little, owner and founder of D.L. & Co, a specialty fragrance and cosmetic line for which Arnold works as a consultant. “He’s always been one of those people who shoots very high; he has great expectations of himself and his work, and I think that’s attracting the clients he wants to be working with.”
“Whenever I sit down to create something, I’m very aware of what the end product is supposed to look like, and I always try to do the opposite,” Arnold says, by way of explaining why his designs look consistently unusual. “I feel 10 times better if my work is coupled with a product or an experience, something that goes beyond just the page or the paper or the screen. I believe in the power of design assisting experiences, not becoming the experience itself.”
That’s it, exactly: Arnold’s work functions so well because, sophisticated as it is, it delivers its message and moves gracefully out of the way so that the product, or company, can enjoy the spotlight. In that way, the small-town boy is a dream designer, and his reputation is lately moving him from L.A. to the Big Apple. “New York for me is either, ‘there to have a lot of fun,’ or ‘there to work [my] ass off,’” he says. “Nothing in between. I think I’d burn out if I was there full time, but I get so much done. Plus,” he says, smiling,“it’s only a seven-hour plane trip from there to Paris.”