A number of executives have been wringing their hands to come up with a solution to bolster the fashion retail industry, which has been rocked by bankruptcies, store closures, layoffs and disinterested consumers. Pop Art provocateur Bjarne Melgaard thinks he has found one.
On Feb. 16, Melgaard is unveiling an art installation that features a two-story department store, the U.S. debut of his jewelry collaboration with Bjørg Nordli-Mathisen and the launch of his namesake streetwear line that has been in the works for at least two years.
But first, the Norwegian artist must purge. Two days before the opening of his art project, which runs through April 9 at Red Bull Arts New York, he is giving away $500,000 worth of clothes from his closet stocked with Comme des Garçons, Jeremy Scott, Lanvin, Raf Simons, Stussy, Supreme and other brands. Interspersed in the cache of freebies available during New York Fashion Week are more than 100 pieces from his streetwear line, which he first unveiled in 2014 but is finally launching now. Titled “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment,” the debut collection includes threadbare T-shirts, orange flight jackets and track jackets printed with slogans such as “Your Loans, Your Problems,” all retailing from $50 to $500. After the exhibition ends, he plans to sell the streetwear online later this year.
Of the lag between the conception and commercialization of his fashion line, Melgaard said, “We just needed to find the means to produce it and then the right place to present it. Also my collections aren’t seasonal, so we don’t have two collections to prepare every year.”
The jewelry section of his department store is actually housed in Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, which is selling the collaboration with Nordli-Mathisen’s Bjørg label through Feb. 19. Previously shown at Astrup Fearnley Museum last November in Oslo, the fine jewelry melds colorful gems, Melgaard’s artwork and an irreverent aesthetic that mixes pets, phalluses and voodoo dolls.
Melgaard explained to WWD what he wants his fashion brand to stand for, why rubies and diamonds are cheaper than oil paint and why he wants to skewer the traditional department store in the space that was once occupied by Barneys Co-Op.
WWD: What do you want the Melgaard brand to stand for in the fashion industry?
Bjarne Melgaard: Individuality.
WWD: Why use fabric, diamonds, rubies and emeralds as a medium for your art?
B.M.: Because these days I think it’s cheaper than oil paint. But actually they are a lot like paint in terms of surface, color, texture and composition But for my collaboration with Bjørg, these are the mediums of jewelry making. For my fashion collaborations, it’s fabric. I don’t want to be contained by the tools of one discipline like painting or drawing or sculpture. What difference does it make what the medium is? Ideas find their way and when you are collaborating with other artists who work differently than you, you have to find common language in the processes and materials.
WWD: What was the inspiration for the jewelry collection with Bjørg Nordli-Mathisen?
B.M.: I love jewelry and I wear a lot of it. I also wanted to make jewelry. Bjørg and I met in New York and we wanted to do a collaboration. So I made some drawings. So the inspiration was my own art. I had been drawing a lot for the fashion projects at the time, so I just started making jewelry drawings too. They are mostly images and sayings of mine or that I that I like. Things I’ve been thinking about on and off for a long time.
WWD: Describe the process for collaborating with Nordli-Mathisen. Did you use her existing jewelry pieces as a foundation? How did you decide which drawings, sketches and text to incorporate into her designs?
B.M.: No, I didn’t consider her jewelry when I made my drawings. I just knew based on our conversations that she would know what to do with them. Obviously, she has her own style and she proposed pieces that are true to that. So we talked a lot about how it should go. Once we started working together, there was a lot of back and forth and a good dialogue but the final pieces in the collection are from my drawings.
WWD: Talk about the steps to turn Red Bull Arts New York into what is described as a “psycho-pathological department store.” Why did you want to skewer the traditional department store? Which places and things inspired your design for the space?
B.M.: Nothing, really. I suppose it could mean it’s a bit of a statement of how banal and tired the whole retail process has come to be. It’s just falling apart from the weight of its own monotony. Who goes to just see store windows any more? And stores don’t really value display and creativity the way they once did when artists were commissioned to do windows or create spaces. But it’s really just an idea I like and thought was interesting as a statement about our time.