Step inside the London industrial-design workshop of Samuel Ross, and one thing immediately becomes clear: He really likes orange. Here, within the Brutalist walls of 180 Studios, it’s everywhere—the shade of a traffic cone—from his metal shelving to his model for the electric motorbike company Cake. Now that hue reappears in his new limited-edition faucet for Kohler, a prototype of which can be found amid the flotsam and jetsam of his workspace, in advance of its Design Miami debut.
“People are used to seeing this color,” Ross explains. “It’s democratic in the way that it cuts through any type of environment. It carries an alertness, a vigilance.” It’s true: One’s eyes cannot help but park themselves on all things orange, be it the powder-coated steel base of his perforated-marble chair or the tape used to secure his sketches to the wall.
Ross is best known for his cult streetwear line, A-Cold-Wall*, which gives intellectual twists to workwear staples. But he’s also designed products for global brands like Apple and Hublot, mounted a solo show of fine art at White Cube gallery, and devised collectible furniture for Friedman Benda—juxtaposing industrial forms of concrete, steel, and granite with unconventional finishes like a turmeric rub or milk-and-honey patina. Meanwhile, he’s advocated for creatives of color through his Black British Artist Grants initiative. It’s all related, he says, like “different ligaments or nodes across the body.” That connective tissue, you might say, is the language of utility: relatable shapes and materials that comment on race and class disparity.
Growing up in Northamptonshire, a historic center of English boot production, Ross recalls that “the idea of making was in the soil.” Raised by two painters and educators, he ultimately pursued design as a more stable financial path, and because “I wanted to fix things and understand how they work.” His life changed about a decade ago when the late Virgil Abloh saw his Instagram page, tapping Ross as a collaborator and mentoring the rising star as he found his own creative voice. Together, they consulted for Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air, launched Abloh’s Off-White brand, and mounted pop-ups, installations, and more.
In 2019, Ross won the Hublot Design Prize, which is awarded each year to an emerging talent. It was his public-facing work that caught their eye, in particular, a project with Nike where he created a structure that stocked blankets made out of recycled materials for those in need. Soon after, he formally launched SR_A, the industrial-design limb of his practice.