The Artistic Barneys New York

With the retail world struggling under the tentacles of Europe’s financial desperation, it takes real guts and creativity to adapt a new theme into the world of fashion. At a time of year when most New York stores entice passersby with promises of deep discounts, Barneys is eschewing ‘sale’ signs in favour of resin chairs in a concrete bunker, 3-D movies that flicker through a grid of mirrored triangles, and an ode to a turquoise tutu.

Athina Rachel Tsangaris Film

Nothing displayed in the department store’s windows (until 15 July) is available for purchase, as these five installations – created by design studio M/M Paris, photographer Juergen Teller; artist Helmut Lang, poet Patrizia Cavalli, and filmmakerAthina Rachel Tsangari – are the latest additions to Destefashioncollection, an offshoot of art collector Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art.

It’s been many years since MSP has compared the world of fashion to art. Many designers like to think that it is ‘art’, but artists on the other hand, believe they are two very separate crafts. And assuming they are one in the same, is well, an insult to some. But fashion can be artistic in its ready-to-wear for us Gents, and functional and shape us well. So let’s read on.

The brave move by Barneys New York is certainly warming these artistic beings into the love and joy of the fashion world by approaching every curator and asking them to make site-specific installations for their windows based on the fashion pieces they had selected. Dennis Freedman, creative director of Barneys, spent a year masterminding the presentation of the new and often highly complex works. They include Lang’s replicas of five front-row seats from his final fashion show and Cavalli’s spoken and computer-printed musing on Viktor & Rolf’s frothy ‘Vestito da Distacco’ (‘detachment dress’).

Patrizia Cavalli

In addition to the outstanding window displays on Tuesday night, the ninth floor of Barneys New York, was titillated with the German performance and installation artist John Bock, who was on his hands and knees atop a table with a pile of Salvation Army-ready used clothes splayed before him and a crowd of curious onlookers beyond that. Bock’s face was painted white with black makeup around his eyes. Two assistants were sewing away at machines to his right and left. The department store was hosting a cocktail party to celebrate its collaboration with the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art that has seen its first-floor windows transformed into five installations, and had invited Bock to perform for the occasion.

Fashion Installation by John Bock

Dakis Joannou, Greek-born megacollector and DESTE founder, stood off to the side of the crowd explaining the collaboration he had undertaken with Barneys and its creative director Dennis Freedman. It was especially difficult for Joannou, who was clear that he did not believe fashion was art nor art fashion.
“For me this was the challenge, to find the formula [so] that the two things would go together without trying to be clever about finding connections,” he said. “You have the fashion and you have the art world: Separate.”

The windows from artists including Helmut Lang, Juergen Teller and Athina Rachel Tsangari (all of whom were in attendance) did their best to stay true to the point. Any product in the pieces, which ranged from Teller’s wheat-paste portrait of Yves Saint Laurent to a kaleidoscopic display of Tsangari’s short film “Capsule,” seemed incidental. The crowd upstairs, which included Clémence Poésy (a player in Tsangari’s film), Maurizio Cattelan, Yvonne Force Villareal and Dustin Yellin as well as a few curators and collectors, presented a Venn diagram of the two worlds Joannou spoke of.

Helmut Lang's 5 front row seats of his last show

Bock’s piece explored the territory further. He would select two or three items from the pile such as a button-up shirt and tweed pants, think for a moment, then chop them up with a pair of scissors, and instruct his assistants on how to sew the articles together. When they were ready, Bock handed out his thrift store mutants to partygoers, and as he worked the crowd began sporting his wares with an extra pant leg here and shirt sleeve there. Though his end products were certainly not traditional fashion objects, they still inspired a certain degree of desire in partygoers that is all too familiar at a place like Barneys.

Sketches by M/M Paris - Comme des Garcons, Balenciaga and Marc Jacobs.

Gents: Would you like to see more retailers collaborating with artists in the future, then drop us a line.