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.
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 filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari - are the latest additions to Destefashioncollection, an offshoot of art collector Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art.
‘I’ve had this curiosity about [the connection between] art and fashion since the early 1980s, when Artforum put an Issey Miyake dress on its cover,’ says Joannou. ‘Back then it was shocking to see the image of a fashion piece in an art magazine.’ He hatched his own collaborative initiative a couple of decades later, over dinner in Greece with Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak of M/M Paris.
The trio developed a project to appoint one artist curator per year to chose five fashion pieces, interpret those pieces visually or verbally, and explain the choices in writing. The resulting ‘capsule collection’ would then be acquired by the foundation.
M/M inaugurated Destefashioncollection in 2007 by immortalising picks such as a Comme des Garçons bunny-eared hat and injection-molded Balenciaga heels in drawings, a medium described by the pair as ‘forgotten in the fashion industry’. In the years that followed, five more curators put their own creative spin on everything from a Hermès Birkin bag to American Apparel leggings, and Joannou decided it was time for an exhibition. His friend Dennis Freedman, creative director of Barneys, had just the venue: the store’s Madison Avenue-facing windows.
‘We went to every curator and asked them to make site-specific installations for our windows based on the fashion pieces they had selected,’ says Freedman, who 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’).
Among the most visually arresting installations is that of Teller, whose 2000 portrait of Yves Saint Laurent—with a mad-scientist gleam in his eyes—has been enlarged to billboard proportions and pasted onto white cladding that suggests a high-fashion construction site. M/M opted for primary colours that evoke both Mondrian and Memphis to stage a game of accessories peek-a-boo, with moving panels that reveal and conceal, while Tsingari’s haunting black-and-white film, featuring a cast that includes actress Clémence Poésy, has been installed behind a lattice that affords a 3-D effect. Meanwhile, 2011 curator Charles Ray sat out this project, as he imagined his selected fashion items as ‘invisible clothes’ (translation: naked photos).
The windows were unveiled Tuesday night at a store party, where German artist John Bock, assisted by a team of seamstresses, put on a performance that involved cutting and collaging clothing. As for the future of Destefashioncollection, Joannou is eager to stage an expanded exhibition, but for now, he’s enjoying the debut. ‘Barneys, New York City, five windows - what more do you want?’ he asks, with a laugh, before returning to matters sartorial. ‘The whole thing just fits like a glove.’