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Pop Quiz: Q&A With Marc Balet

Marc Balet, former creative director of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, discusses designing “Kenny Scharf."

Marc Balet

Marc Balet, a marketing executive with roots as creative director of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in the Seventies and Eighties, knows how to make do with less.

A Barneys New York print campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, came to life years ago as Balet grabbed some objects from his home — a jump rope, a megaphone — for props, just before the shoot.

While designing “Kenny Scharf” (Rizzoli, $85), the artist’s just-published 272-page retrospective of Pop Art and personal photographs, Balet prevailed in a scrap over the choice of the painting “Starring…a Star [1985]” — a smiling face — portrayed on the cover. His effort to create a limited edition with a 3-D nose, fell short, though.

“Publishing companies rarely put money behind their books,” Balet said. “Now there’s less money than ever.”

A 3-D cover might have telegraphed Scharf’s art as something happy, a “tease” for shoppers, said Balet, president and creative director of Mixed Business.

With the book about Scharf completed, next up for Balet is creating the Doncaster women’s apparel catalogue for fall 2009.

WWD: What prompted you to take on the “Kenny Scharf” book-design project?
Marc Balet: Kenny and I were in Brazil, with his wife; they have 120 acres on the ocean in Bahia. I know Kenny from the Warhol days, when he used to hang around with Andy and come to The Factory. He said, “I’m going to do a book, I’d like you to do my book.”

WWD: What was the sensibility that you brought to the project?
M.B.: I’m from the big-picture school. I took little sections of the pictures and blew them up, and then you turn the page and see the whole painting.

I was adamant about the cover that was chosen because it was meant to be advertising.

WWD: What, if any, aesthetic sensibilities do you share with Kenny Scharf?
M.B.: I think it’s the Pop. We used to call Andy “pop,” first of all, so that was a funny thing. Pop Art when I was growing up as a kid in Connecticut and then going to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] — that was a revolution for us.

WWD: Kenny Scharf’s reach into the fashion world has been broad. He’s worked for Todd Oldham, Elie Tahari, Ralph Pucci, Movado…
M.B.: …He did Gap special edition T-shirts [for the 2008 Whitney Biennial].

WWD: Do you have any particular view of this artist and friend working in the fashion arena?
M.B.: People love to wear that stuff. They can’t afford a painting or a print, but they can afford a T-shirt for $19.95. It tells you that you’re in the club, that “I appreciate this aesthetic, I’m a cool person.”

WWD: You mentioned the idea of borrowing images and using them commercially. Where do you think we are in the world, regarding that?
M.B.: It’s such a gray line now. You just can’t stop everyone anymore, whether you’re a company or a country. You can go now and print your own magazine or print your own book.

WWD: Do you agree with critics’ observations that Scharf’s art — like “Hotdigitystar” (2008) on the book’s back cover — is a comment on consumerism as nostalgic, subversive or classic?
M.B.: It’s not trying to be clever and double entendre. They’re beautiful paintings. They’re not controversial.

WWD:
Would you say there’s a sense of playfulness in them?
M.B.: You can’t do a picture of a doughnut [like “Chocolate Covered Donut at Dawn” (2007)] or a hot dog without having a sense of playfulness.

WWD: With all the changes going on in our society, how is your own marketing and design work changing?
M.B.: I don’t think about it. There’s less money around to invest, but I think there still is money around. There certainly is time to invest. You can’t run to a corner and throw a blanket over you, even if it’s a cashmere blanket.

WWD: What’s influencing you these days?
M.B.: All the different kinds of media you can’t run away from and all the different platforms. There are little individual things that get through, like the woman singing on that English program [Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent,” with 46 million YouTube views].

WWD: How does the past inform what you’ve been working on lately? Do you draw from it?
M.B.: You can’t not, having worked at that time in New York when things were happening so fast — the mid-Seventies. Having worked for Armani and Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld and Barneys and Donna and Louis [Dell’Olio], you became aware of the shortcuts to make it good. Having worked with Andy, you knew how do to something on a dime and make it look like a million.

WWD: I was surprised to see your “Fashion” interview of Fran Leibowitz, for Andy Warhol’s TV (1979-1980), at the Wexner Center’s Andy Warhol exhibit, last fall.
M.B.: We’re still friends. I had dinner with her Monday night [April 13]. She got me into Interview. I met her in Rome, and she said, “Call me when you come to New York.” That was 34 years ago.

WWD: She mentioned she was then a customer of Brooks Brothers. She talked about the way certain things she wore were made and why she liked to wear certain things.
M.B.: Her tastes have not changed. Neither of our tastes have changed. Martin Scorsese is doing a film on her — her espousing on things. She’s a great dinner guest.