Art X Fashion, An Interview with Phil Reese
The windows of Saks Fifth Avenue were recently graced with some of NYC’s hottest artists today, serving up a delectable blend of fashion and art. Florescent magenta paint dripped down the walls as bubblegum pink resin pit bulls stood facing the iconic Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A seven foot tall metallic astronaut sculpture floated up towards the clouds with neon pink ‘love spray’ cans scattered throughout the space. The words “you have never looked more beautiful” greet viewers as they gazed at themselves through a mirror tucked in next to screens playing a video montage celebrating groundbreaking women throughout history. A beautifully curated collection of Women’s Spring fashion looks laced throughout the windows, gracefully coordinating with the vibrant surrounding artwork.
In the world of both fashion and art, magic is created when emotion is evoked in the viewer. When one feels twinges of sensation- be it joy, lust, comfort, familiarity or excitement, this is often when one becomes hooked. Brooklyn based curator Good Luck Dry Cleaners did just this not only in the acclaimed windows of Fifth Avenue but underground in the nouveau style speakeasy they built in conjunction with Fashion Week here in NYC. Complete with custom art installations, loads of fabulous artwork, a cocktail bar, a star studded guest list and a golden chariot of an elevator to transport the guests.. Lined with hundreds of gold ‘lucky cat’ sculptures gleefully waving their tiny paws as one entered, the founder of GLDC Phil Reese exercised his creative license to the fullest when it came to curating this fabulous space. The same goes for the wild windows that became a reality once the creative team at Saks saw his vision come to life. Phil and partner Jeremy Penn carefully handpicked the artists to created custom work for the Saks windows: B.D. White, Con$umr, JPO, Sr. LaSso and WOLFEYES creative in addition to themselves. I was lucky enough to catch up with founder Phil Reese and get the lowdown GLDC, their collaboration with Saks and his approach towards the marriage of art and fashion today.
Kalin Hart: I’d love to hear about how Good Luck Dry Cleaners was started. I believe you have a gallery space in Brooklyn, and you host pop up events as well?
Phil Reese: The name Good Luck Dry Cleaners stems from the fact that I built a speakeasy style art gallery out of an old building that used to be a dry cleaning operation called Good Luck Dry Cleaners in South Williamsburg. It was located on the corner and had a very “Paul’s Boutique” style to it which immediately resonated with me (and why I had iconic street photographer and “fourth Beastie Boy" Ricky Powell shoot it.) The letters on the yellow sign were painted over by the landlord in red paint because she kept getting calls for dry cleaning and laundry services. It was both beautiful and breathtakingly shitty at the same time, so I decided to leave it. I literally would get people on a weekly basis who would stop by holding bags of laundry. I felt bad because you just knew that they shlepped it for blocks but they would crack up when they came inside and saw that it was actually a gallery. My background is in marketing and branding, so I like to have fun with it and post fake coupons, testimonials from customers about how we have terrible service and lost their clothes, etc…To this day people will reach out to me and inquire about specific art that they saw on our Instagram and then be like, “So, wait...are you a real dry cleaner too?"
In regards to the space in Williamsburg, unfortunately there were some major issues with it that made it go from being quirky to a liability. I thought about investing in it long-term but then when some of the top hotel groups and brands reached out about collaborating at Art Basel, I realized being a traveling circus that secretly pops up in different places would be the way to go. It's more fun that way and I don’t have to worry about people possibly falling through the floor of an old dry cleaners. That’s no fun for anyone and would definitely result in a strongly-worded Yelp review.
KH: Incredible collaboration with the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue, congratulations! How did this come about?
PR: Thank you! We did a shoot with Saks back in September with their social media team at the gallery and it was a really beautiful marriage of art and fashion. The campaign got a lot of traction and Saks wanted us to curate the art for their upcoming Spring Fashion Book which is an extremely important initiative for the company because that’s where they debut the new fashion from their top vendors like Prada and Gucci. I told them that we absolutely could do this but wanted to go bigger and do actual activations with them. There was a lot of room to run here and I wanted the art to connect with their current clients as well as create something that resonated with an entirely new demographic as well. Looking at the photos from the campaign, there’s no question that we nailed it. We love working with the social team as they have a lot of creative vision and this was the second time we worked with photographer Chris Gregory who shot with us back in September. Chris has a way of framing things beautifully and doesn’t try to force the imagery. The social media team shot with Chris on the 19th and the catalog was done the following day with photographer Sebastian Kim who’s incredibly well-respected in the fashion world and for good reason. He’s a beast.
KH: What was the vision behind the alluring speakeasy style space you created in the exclusive underground level of Saks?
PR: The fact that we can do the impossible on a regular basis and literally take something from nothing and turn it into a dope space with very little lead time is one of the things that makes us so attractive to our partners. Not only that, but curating the right people and vibe in addition to the art is what makes Good Luck Dry Cleaners, Good Luck Dry Cleaners. Saks is in the process of doing a major renovation to their NY flagship location and told us that they were demo’ing the salon in the basement that I believe was built in 1961. When we did the walkthrough with them, the place was a f’ing disaster. There were exposed pipes and cables hanging from the ceiling, mountains of debris piled in the middle of the room…we walked in and were like “WE’LL TAKE IT!” Anyone else would’ve sprinted for the exit but we immediately saw the potential. As Wayne Gretzky said, we don’t go to where the puck is but where it’s going. We turned the place around in less than 3 days.
Image courtesy of goodluckdrycleaners | artwork by @connsumerart at the GLDC speakeasy
KH: I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the blending of fashion and art. Do you see these worlds coming together more in the future?
PR: I definitely do. And that’s because fashion is art. Designers are true artists in every sense of the word and bring their creative vision to life in the same way that someone does with a paint brush or spray can. That needs to be respected and is not something that we take lightly. That’s why we were very strategic about the artists, styles, and colors we used for the art to showcase the fashion. We wanted to make the art and the fashion complement each other and we definitely succeeded. The photos are absolutely stunning. Everyone was thrilled. From Saks, to their vendors, to the models and our artists. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make it look effortless. The whole key here is to enhance the beauty of the fashion, not overpower it. This is much easier said than done as it’s a delicate balancing act and most people don’t execute it properly. There are lots of brands trying to blend fashion and art where it looks contrived and hastily thrown together. Lots of companies try to go with artists based on who’s an “influencer” (someone with a large social media following) as opposed to the art. This really needs to be a symphony where all parts play beautifully together. We’re very well-aware of the fact that we were brought in to make their vendors happy, not to come in and tag a wall.
JPO paired with @prada for the @saks spring fashion book
KH: What drew you to the artists you chose for this window installation?
PR: This was very difficult for us because we only had 5 windows to design. Good Luck Dry Cleaners is a collective of amazingly talented artists who are amazing people that we love and consider family. Jeremy Penn and I agonized over this decision and we went with a very specific vision that needed to be executed. It was important that we had very different, unique styles in each window but also that there was cohesiveness so that it didn’t look disjointed and fragmented which would obviously take away from the goal of having beautiful windows running along Fifth Avenue. This is iconic real estate and we wanted to pay proper tribute to the legacy brand that is Saks Fifth Avenue. KH: How was it bringing these different personalities and artistic visions together?
PR: That’s the beauty of what we do. We love the artists we work with and everyone supports each other. There are no egos when it comes to working with the artists personally. Artistically, it can be a little challenging when you bring in artists to help execute your vision and push them out of their comfort zone. For example, I consider JPO to be a master of color very much like Jeremy Penn. For my window, I wanted him to only work with two colors that were slightly darker than the pink pantone I used when I painted. This was obviously a very different style than JPO was accustomed to doing and he was more than slightly skeptical about it at first. But after he got into the zone and then took a step back from painting for a bit, he was blown away by how amazing everything looked. There’s no other person that I would have used to do what JPO did other than JPO. He realized that at that moment and anyone who sees the window would agree that JPO’s work is a big part of what makes that window so spectacular. This is the same reason why I used WOLFEYES’ piece, “Hero Worship” in the window above the television that’s playing the video montage celebrating women who were the first to break barriers in their respective fields. The energy of female-empowerment is undeniable when you look at that piece. In my book, these windows are a dictionary definition of a successful collaboration between artists. The work comes together to execute the greater vision. Couldn’t be happier with the results and prouder of the fact that incredible people like JPO, WOLFEYES and Eduardo Wong (who worked on my show BS+Glory and edited the video montage that is playing on the televisions in the window) get to enjoy this special moment as well. The same obviously goes for Jeremy Penn, Sr. LaSso, B.D. White, and Con$umr who designed the windows. These artists should be celebrated and the recognition they’re getting is much deserved. KH: How much time did your team spend both prepping for and installing the windows?
PR: We worked for 24 hours straight. We prepped in the area where we built the speakeasy and then brought everything up to the windows at 9:00 PM when the store closed. From there, we painted inside the space.
Image courtesy of goodluckdrycleaners via @saks
KH: What unforeseen challenges did you face during this project?
PR: We’re very strategic and incredibly detail-oriented so there weren’t many unforeseen challenges fortunately. Lack of sleep is always a bitch to deal with. There were lots of Q: “Has anyone seen my phone?” A: “Yeah dude, it’s in your hand…” moments when you’ve been painting for 36 hours straight. Your body has a way of shutting down on you and there’s not enough coffee in the world to save you. Also, one word of advice: when you’re working on a tight deadline, never share your ladders. Like ATM’s and liquor stores, they’re everywhere until you need one. KH: What have you found to be the most rewarding now that the windows are up for the world to see?
PR: Most rewarding? That is a tough one. I think for all of us collectively, it’s seeing people interact with the windows. We’ve all gone back to visit and are constantly amazed by how excited people get when they see them. We’re constantly being asked by people to take their picture and the outpouring of support on social media has been surreal. We’re so grateful for everything associated with this project and most importantly, the opportunity to bring joy to people through our art. From a personal standpoint, I dedicated my window to my mother. She’s a self-taught artist, has beaten cancer twice, and has always been an incredibly strong and very loving force in my life. I wanted to take this opportunity to give back and show her how much she means to me. I’m also going to forward this interview to her so that it hopefully bails me out the next time I screw something up and she gets mad at me which probably will happen in the very near future...
Image courtesy of goodluckdrycleaners with artwork by @jeremypenn via @saks
KH: I’m curious about the process between you and Saks in terms of selecting the apparel that accompanies the artwork in the windows. Did you give them images of the work then they assigned the looks?
PR: The mannequins were brought in along with the fashion after we completed the windows. Except for my mannequins because I painted them pink, although the Comme des Garcons dress was added after the fact. Unlike the Spring Fashion Book, we didn’t get to view the fashion ahead of time which was admittedly nerve-wracking. That’s also why I made the mirror saying “You Have Never Looked More Beautiful” because I wanted to organically tie in the fashion without clashing with the overall look and feel of the installation. No one needed to worry about this though because the Saks Visual Team who oversees the windows are artists as well and paired the fashion with what we created.
Image courtesy of goodluckdrycleaners via @saks
KH: I love the monochromatic pink story consistent throughout the installation. Did Saks give you color/ theme guidelines or free reign?
PR: This was our call. We wanted to not only tie everything together with a cohesive theme but also wanted to pay tribute to the installations that we made for the Fashion Book and the GLDC@SAKS speakeasy we built so that it would resonate with people. KH: Did their Visual team help you guys out or were you on your own?
PR: Depends on how you look at it. Outside of pre-painting certain areas the specific pink we requested so that we could jump in and start working, they let us do our thing. They were always there to answer any questions we had and also helped me with the multimedia component in terms of setting up the TV’s and getting my video to play on a loop. I’m very aware of the fact that I’m an idiot when it comes to that kind of stuff so I know when to raise my hand and ask for help. They definitely helped bring everything to life when we were done by putting the finishing touches on the installations. Curating the right fashion to be displayed and setting up the right kind of lighting is an art form as well. It was an incredible process to watch and they take a lot of pride in their work which obviously shows. KH: You have a fantastic roster of artists you’re working with. What’s next for Good Luck Dry Cleaners?
PR: Thank you so much. I obviously agree 1,000% with that statement! As far as what’s next, that would be very un-Good Luck Dry Cleaners-like if I told you what we have in the works…
What I can tell you is that we just switched over to using only organic chemicals in our wash and will soon be offering home delivery for all of your dry cleaning needs. Very excited about that.