It’s an afternoon at Barneys New York’s Midtown offices high above Fifth Avenue, and Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Zaldy and Barneys’ Dennis Freedman and Charlotte Blechman are having an impromptu meeting in the latter’s office. The occasion: the store’s upcoming Baz Dazzled Holiday campaign, and with just a few days to go before Thursday’s big unveil, the five are mulling tweaks to some of the theatrical costumes.
This being Luhrmann and Martin — the husband-and-wife team known for their wildly creative imaginations that have been parlayed into movies such as “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby,” as well as Puccini’s “La bohème” on Broadway — it isn’t just any simple gathering to ponder Santa and his little helpers. Instead, each detail of the production is discussed with verve and in minute detail, all while extravagant queens in balloon frocks float in and out of the tight quarters and an elf in a gold-sequined onesie, who bears the name “Elphresh,” and a Rockette-meets-Mugler ice-skater make a cameo.
For the past few months, Luhrmann and Martin, the award-winning costume designer, worked closely with the Barneys team — Freedman and Blechman in particular — to develop costumes with Zaldy, the New York designer who, in the past, worked with Gwen Stefani on L.A.M.B. and, during an eight-year hiatus from his own line, created costumes for Cirque du Soleil, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.
Unlike static installations of the past, Barneys hones in on active performance this holiday season. Said Mugler-esque skater is expected to twirl on the ice and Elphresh, a contortionist and dancer, will make moves that are reminiscent of breakdancing. During the Madison Avenue store’s weekend hours, the Queen of the Night and the Queen of the Light will make hourly appearances on the second floor balcony to belt out a holiday-themed song atop the extravagant crest-like structure, featuring stars, fantastical woodland creatures, snow owls and 16-foot high candy cones. The campaign’s overall slogan: “A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived,” will sit proudly alongside the arrangement.
“Whenever we do a creative project, it comes from the first question for us, which is, ‘How can it enrich our own journey, in our life?’” Luhrmann said of the process behind the endeavor. “We love New York City. It’s our adopted home. It’s been a great place for us and our children. I won’t start quoting Fitzgerald but all the magic and possibility that the city holds — for us, part of that was Barneys.”
Luhrmann added that he was aiming to capture Barneys’ core ethos with the holiday campaign.
“What I hope the audience gets is what Barneys stands for and for us, it’s a place that takes tradition, but turns it on its head. It’s edgy but it’s also not alienating,” he said.
“We don’t have woodland creatures in Australia,” he added. “In our mythological world, they take their DNA from New York. That’s why you have the little elf with the beatbox, the type of Rockette. It’s its own created mashup of signs and symbols and characterizations.”
As Martin put it, “We were very lucky because we were able to collaborate with Zaldy on the costumes that will be part of the activation of the facade. When I design costumes, they tend to be clothes, ostensibly. They might be dramatic clothes but they’re clothes. One of the interesting things of working with Zaldy is that he works with people that perform at high velocity but also require a technical execution. The set is also in the costumes.”
As Zaldy noted, “With Baz, I knew it would be quite theatrical. They asked me to create what would be two types of queens that would be singing opera outside and then another scenario of a skater that would be skating in the window and the elves, I put it into my own world and translated it for them.”
The two queens emerge on the balconies as if they are breaking through the glass of the building’s facade.
“We are very interested in exploring performance in the windows of Barneys,” Freedman, the store’s creative director, said. “It actually circles back to the very first window we ever did on our own, which was Daphne Guinness getting dressed for the Met Ball. It signaled the beginning of the contemporary DNA of Barneys.”
The current holiday extravaganza, he added, “really plays to the street. This is theater to New York, and to Madison Avenue. It is not in any way, shape or form confined to the windows.”
The Baz Dazzled theme extends to exclusive limited edition gift items, available at Chelsea Passage as well as select Barneys stores and barneys.com. Of these, 25 percent of sales will benefit Room to Read, a global organization that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education.
“When CM and I do the Halloween party at the house, we take it as seriously as we do the biggest movie,” Luhrmann said. “We don’t know any other way. It’s the holidays in New York. I have only done that twice and it is absolutely like no other place in the world. We come from a place where there is no snow. Whether it snows or not, to be part of the holidays here and find something to do that is really good-spirited, and to be part of that and have fun and some joy, where the world is right now, it’s not hard to convince one to be part of that. This is the fun part of our lives.”