Barneys Gives Warhol Star Treatment

Barneys Gives Warhol Star Treatment

Friday, October 13, 2006 by Wendy Lam

Photo: Talaya Centeno

The strange artist with the silver wig was a compulsive collector who grew more acquisitive with each passing year, eventually filling his five-story Manhattan town house with so much stuff, only two rooms were habitable.

It seems fitting, then, that Barneys New York should celebrate the patron saint of consumerism with a national program for the holiday season that encompasses visual display, direct mail, advertising and Andy’s favorite — merch. “This is the first year we’re just going kapow,” said Barneys creative director, Simon Doonan. “It’s in every piece of our marketing. This is a huge deal for us.”

Barneys is giving Warhol the star treatment — after all, the artist famously predicted that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame, although he later amended that to: “In 15 minutes, everyone will be famous.” The retailer’s Madison Avenue windows will be all about Andy, and the theme will be carried in flagships and Co-op units throughout the chain. – WWD, Sharon Edelson

Andy Warhol
Barneys New York

Read the full story after the jump…

As far back as 18 months ago, Doonan sensed a Warhol moment in the making. Sienna Miller signed on to play Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s tragic muse, in “The Factory Girls,” and February will mark the 20th anniversary of the artist’s death.

“I’d been thinking I wanted to do something art-related for holiday 2006,” Doonan said. “There’s a huge dimension to Warhol. There’s Andy the artist, Andy the filmmaker, Andy the magazine editor, Andy the social butterfly and Andy the businessman. He has more dimensions than Salvador Dali or Picasso. It’s great fodder for the windows. Plus, he was a window dresser. I feel a kinship.”

Warhol first exhibited Pop Art in the windows of Bonwit Teller, where early in his career he worked as a window dresser, a job he was so proud of, Doonan pointed out, that he signed his window displays.

In addition to the Barneys windows, the artist will be featured in advertising for Warhol-related merchandise, such as a collection of Warhol Factory X Levi’s wax-coated jeans for $185, a denim trucker jacket with an Warhol portrait on the back, $270, and a hooded sweatshirt with a banana print, $176. There also are limited-edition Campbell’s soup cans with reproductions of Warhol labels. The artist’s images and name are being used through a licensing agreement with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which supports contemporary art.

“One of the concerns we always have is how will it affect Andy’s legacy,” said Michael Hermann, director of licensing for the foundation. “When I got the call from Simon, I knew he was the right person.” Doonan, who said Warhol was a customer at Barneys’ former Seventh Avenue and 17th Street location, recalled that the artist contributed a camouflage painting for the store’s Statue of Liberty-themed windows in 1986, as well as a denim jacket to an auction for AIDS research that same year. Doonan, meanwhile, created an homage to Warhol in a Barneys window in 1989, around the time his collection was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

The retailer is producing four Warhol gift cards, with a mug shot of the artist, silk-screen dollar signs, rows of Campbell’s cans or Warhol’s colorful drawings. “They’re going to become collector’s items,” predicted Doonan, adding, “I think people are going to buy them and not spend them.”

Warhol’s illustrations are scattered across Barneys’ black shopping bags, and his signature runs down the sides. “I wanted it to look like he doodled right on the bags,” Doonan said.

A catalogue dubbed “Happy Andy Warholidays” is decorated with the songbirds, cherubs and pinwheels Warhol drew early in his career. Bon mots, such as “I am a deeply superficial person” and “When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums,” enliven the pages. “The windows will be smothered with quotes,” Doonan explained.

On a recent day, four window sets were in various stages of completion in Barneys’ West 33rd Street production studio. Each window will relate to a different time in Warhol’s life. The first finds him leaning over a drafting table. A silver Christmas tree in the corner is decorated with the artist’s shoe drawings as ornaments. “It’s the optimistic Andy, when he first came to New York,” Doonan said.

Warhol’s Factory period is depicted with his famous silk-screen images of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe on the walls. It was here that Sedgwick and the Velvet Underground hung out. An old 16m movie camera in the scene represents Warhol’s film career, including such movies as “Fifteen Minutes” and “Factory Diaries.”

Warhol as the social gadfly covers the period from the Seventies to the Eighties, or, as Doonan said, “from Liza to Basquiat and from Studio 54 to Area. He went out every night. He went to openings for toilets. For him, it was all work. He would use it to get commissions and ads for Interview.”

The last window is centered around Warhol’s collecting. A giant shelving unit in the shape of the artist’s head will be packed with the detritus of his extreme hunting and gathering, everything from button-filled jars to china to, yes, soup cans. “This last window will be a bit more somber,” Doonan said.

There’s not a hint of darkness in Doonan’s mood, however. This is his 20th year at Barneys, and he’s still happy with his gig. “The windows are the most wacky and playful part of my job,” he said. “I can’t imagine ever giving that up. It’s like a romper room.”

His mandate for the windows is to set the tone for the store. “They’re supposed to make people feel good and that Barneys is an interesting place to shop,” he said. While many of Doonan’s displays have attracted media attention, not all of it has been positive. When Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive in 1992, Doonan featured the basketball player in a Christmas window with a tree covered in small gold-wrapped condoms. “People went berserk,” he said.

Then there was the Tom Sachs incident. For Christmas 1994, the artist contributed a small Nativity scene in which the three kings were replaced with Bart Simpson figures, the Virgin Mary by a pregnant Madonna Ciccone and baby Jesus by Hello Kitty. Religious groups accused Barneys of blasphemy, and the piece was removed. “Those can be very scary experiences,” he said. “I like our windows to be kooky and eccentric, but not inflammatory.”

Doonan got his start at a John Lewis department store in Reading, England, in 1970. He worked for Aquascutum in London, where his job included putting out fires on burning wigs. Doonan later designed a window for Tommy Nutter’s Savile Row store with stuffed rats and a punk theme that caught the eye of Maxfield owner Tommy Pearse, who lured Doonan to Los Angeles for eight years. In 1986, Gene Pressman, then executive vice president of Barneys, hired him with the directive: “I want everyone to talk about our windows.”

And people have been doing that ever since. Doonan’s favorites include mannequins of Bette Midler as a dancing Christmas tree, Margaret Thatcher as a leather-clad dominatrix and Sophia Loren wearing a sexy Moschino dress and standing in a room where every surface is covered in pasta.

Doonan believes creativity and ingenuity trump big bucks and high-tech gadgetry in making compelling window displays. “Ours have always been crafty,” he said. “They’re like chicken wire held together with spit. If something is too slick, it’s cold and uncommunicative.”

And communicate is what Doonan strives to do. “The window themes,” he said, “always have to be something that taps into the zeitgeist.”

It remains to be seen whether Warhol stirs the public’s imagination — or at least the segment of the public that passes by Barneys’ Madison Avenue store and the moneyed enclaves of its other locations. “This is going to be a populist take on Warhol,” Doonan emphasized. “Warhol’s fantastic for windows, and windows are the most democratic form — everybody gets to see them.”



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