Forget the Catwalk—One Designer Got Jemima Kirke and Other Celebrity Artists to Make an Art Show for Fashion Week Instead
Stacey Bendet invited female artists to build out interactive "rooms" as a tribute to the Chelsea Hotel's artsy heydey.
Designer Stacey Bendet took an unusual approach to this edition of New York Fashion Week. In lieu of the traditional runway show, Bendet enlisted a cadre of female artists—including Girls actress and painter Jemima Kirke, British sculptor Lucy Sparrow, and sisters Tallulah and Scout Willis—to create work for an interactive art and fashion gallery for her brand Alice + Olivia, held this afternoon.
“I feel like female artists are hugely undervalued and underexposed today,” said Bendet in an email to artnet News. “I asked multiple people to name three living female artists with name recognition and no one could do it—in this era of proposed equality and equal pay, women in the art world are some of the most disadvantaged. I wanted to show some of the young female artists I consider the most talented today.”
Admittedly, Bendet is spotlighting a group of women who have gotten a bit of a head start in terms of finding art-world success. Even predating her Girls fame, Kirke is the daughter of famed British drummer Simon Kirke, and the Willis sisters are, of course, the progeny of Hollywood royalty Demi Moore—who was in attendance—and Bruce Willis. The show also features illustrator Angelica Hicks, whose father is literally the second cousin of the UK’s Prince Charles, heir to the throne.
They are joined by Lola Schnabel, daughter of ’80s art star and film director Julian Schnabel, and Francesca DiMattio, a ceramics artist represented by Salon 94 whose elegant style has been profiled in the pages of Vogue. Rounding out the mix are fashion illustrator Blair Breitenstein, also known as Blair Z, and Sparrow, who famously Kickstarted her hit 2017 New York exhibition 8 Till Late.
Despite the privileged upbringing of many of these artists, Bendet envisions the collective presentation of their work as a modern-day take on the famously gritty Chelsea Hotel, a refuge for struggling artists and musicians throughout the second half of the 20th century. Among the hotel’s residents were legendary women rock stars Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, and Janis Joplin.
“I’ve always been so enamored of the history of the Chelsea Hotel,” said Scout Willis to artnet News. “It’s interesting with Stacey’s question about women artists and name recognition because I can list all the female artists who lived there.”
Bendet, who held one of her first photo shoots with Mick Rock at the Chelsea Hotel, was inspired by the creative ferment that grew up there. “I began to think of who would live there today and the ideas just started flowing from there,” she said.
The exhibition takes place about 20 blocks south of the Chelsea Hotel—at the Skylight Clarkson in the West Village. For the presentation, each woman built an art-filled room at the venue, and the spaces were occupied by models wearing Alice + Olivia’s designs. A selection of Kirke’s portraiture was on display in the “lobby,” while Blair Z painted on the walls of the “bedroom.” Fittingly, Sparrow took over the kitchen. (Earlier this year, the artist hosted a pop-up bodega featuring her felt food sculptures at New York’s Standard hotel.)
“It will be completely inspiring to be a part of this year’s Fashion Week,” said Sparrow in an email to artnet News. “I spent nine months sewing my last installation, 8 Till Late, so I can appreciate the time-consuming attention to detail involved in the creation of the collections shown on the runway!”
Bendet did not ask the artists—who showed a combination of existing work and pieces designed for the installation—to respond specifically to Alice + Olivia’s spring collection. “This show is about each artist’s world and their vision,” said Bendet, pointing out that each room was designed to be completely interactive: “You can see and touch everything in them.”
This isn’t the brand’s first foray into contemporary art. “We have an incredible partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America where we work with artists to create a capsule collection inspired by their work,” said Bendet in an email to artnet News, noting that previous collaborations have involved Domingo Zapata and the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Bendet also has a penchant for fashion shows that double as elaborate installations, including a lush Roman garden in fall 2016, and a 1970s-era New York-inspired presentation featuring artists sketching nearly-nude models earlier last year.
“Art is a constant inspiration for me and that carries through to my collections,” Bendet explained.
This time around, the process with the artists has been quite collaborative, she told us. “Angelica Hicks came up with the entire concept for her room,” said Bendet of the tropical-themed bathroom. “When I saw her wallpaper idea, I asked if we could turn the illustration into a printed blouse.”
Tallulah Willis, who told artnet News she’s been making art for three years, began with the idea of exhibiting her drawings, some of which she exhibited earlier this year at a Los Angeles fragrance house. “My work is mainly illustrations, but right now I’m trying to focus on moving into more fabrication,” she said of the pillows she made for the installation.
Across the room, armed just with a guitar, and surrounded by a trio of models, Scout Willis performed a series of original songs, plus a cover of Cher’s “Believe,” to an appreciative audience that included her sister and mother.
“Halfway through my discussions with Tallulah, she said, ‘wait, I think you need my sister as a vocal artist,'” recalled Bendet. (Scout Willis has independent experience in the visual arts, having debuted a series of kaleidoscopic nude selfies in a group show in London in 2015, but she is currently focusing all of her energies on her music.)
“Everything just started to come together,” Bendet added. “That is sort of what the world of the Chelsea Hotel always was: this intensely inspiring environment that was a breeding ground for collaborative creativity.”
Alice + Olivia’s Spring 2018 Collection Presentation will take place at Skylight Clarkson, 550 Washington Street, on September 12, 2017.
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