A scene from "Mantle."

Barneys New York, in partnership with the Martha Graham Dance Company and Samsung, today is introducing “Mantle,” a virtual reality short film that blends fashion, technology and contemporary dance. The immersive VR experience can be seen through April 8 at Barneys stores with Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus, which puts viewers at the center of the performance. “Mantle” can also be accessed online through the Samsung VR service, and a 360-degree version is posted on barneys.com

“This project had been in the air for a while,” said Barneys creative director Matthew Mazzucca, adding that it was conceived by husband and wife team Theo and Cynthia Stanley, “Mantle’s” director and choreographer, respectively.

Mazzucca said the name “Mantle” comes from the “space between the crust and core of the Earth,” where the story takes place. The dancers twist and bend lithely, sometimes together, at other times apart as the chorus in the background motions and gestures in ways that seem easily interpreted and others, unintelligible.

Four principal dancers from the Graham company represent character archetypes or different parts of the human psyche – Power, Ethereal, Possessed and The Cleaner. The characters are featured along with a diverse cast of dancers, including former company members, some of whom are in their 70s and have been with the group since the days of Graham herself. 

“All of the chorus members were from different generations of Graham soloists,” Cynthia Stanley said. “The depth and quality that they gave to the piece is very special. It’s pretty incredible what they can do physically.”

Mazzucca said he has a brief to “create a new way for people to experience creative. It’s time to redefine how we do an institutional campaign and brand message. Running a key brand look in a magazine needs to be developed further than that. There’s so many ways to look at it. If it’s an immersive experience, it has the potential to be successful.”

Creating custom costumes for the dancers, an early suggestion, was scrapped. Mazzucca felt strongly about finding items in the market. “All designers and retailers need to work in the space between art and commerce,” he said. “It’s about how to be creative and also commercial. We decided to curate a group of designers that are able to straddle that space with ready-to-wear. The clothes all maintained their integrity throughout a really intense performance process.”

Mazzucca chose the brands — Prabul Gurung, The Row, Loewe, Rick Owens and Craig Green — by going to runway shows with Barneys’ buying teams. “We were reacting to what was going on with fashion,” he said. “In terms of timing, we wanted the products to be in stores this month. They’re very special pieces. Theo gave us a great framework for defining the characters.”

“We created these characters and as we developed the film further, the thing that helped bring them to life and define the characters was the way they were dressed,” said Cynthia Stanley. “They start unclothed and are activated into their characters with their clothes.”

“Mantle” is having a ripple effect across Barneys. In addition to viewing the film in stores, the set used in the piece will live for a time in the windows, while the fashion worn by the dancers is for sale at the retailer.

“We’re creating a new experience,” Mazzucca said. “We’ve gotten into pursuing what the idea of storytelling means. There’s a lot of great innovations happening in AR and VR. We understand what the retail experience can be. Seeing apparel in a VR space and how it’s captured will start something. Having immersive experiences is something we’re going to keep hammering at.

“We didn’t want this to be a jokey or clumsy experience,” he added. “In our stores, we’ll have representatives from Samsung to guide customers.”

Barneys said the film will get bonus distribution from Samsung Gear VR, which is in the hands of over 5 million consumers globally. Separately, the film will be played through the Samsung VR service, Samsung’s premium virtual reality content service.

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