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In an unprecedented move, on Monday Barneys New York opened the doors to its Madison Avenue flagship at midnight, kicking off its holiday season initiative with Lady Gaga and the debut of the highly anticipated Gaga’s Workshop. Billed as a take on the iconic Santa's workshop, the immersive environment inside the retailer's men's store runs through January 2. Not only does Gaga's Workshop form an impressive display, it also sells 220 limited-edition products created in collaboration with the popular musician. There's even a charitable tie-in—25 percent of the sales from the items will be donated to Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation.
Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman and his in-house team handled production of the massive undertaking, nearly a year in the works. They worked hand-in-hand with Lady Gaga's stylist, Mugler designer Nicola Formichetti, as well as installation artists Eli Sudbrack and Christophe Hamaide Pierson of Assume Vivid Astro Focus. “Like most of the things we’re doing [at Barneys], the idea was that Eli would be the collaborator brought into the world of Gaga at Barneys,” said Freedman, who admitted that the event had to live up to a certain standard. “Even though it’s very playful and filled with color, there’s a very, very serious artistic vision and execution that is extremely facilitated.”
The collaborative effort meant reappropriating the entire 5,500-square-foot fifth floor, a section with a copious amount of space that could allow browsers, eager shoppers, and mammoth displays to coexist in harmony.
“We didn’t do it for impact, we did it for holiday spirit,” Formichetti said of his first-ever project with Barneys. “It’s more like an art exhibition than a shopping environment,“ he said. So much so that merchandising the 220 or so products wasn’t the primary focus. “It’s more about going through Gaga’s dreams or her wonderland,” he said. Indeed, as one guest put it, the experience is like being in the “Lady Gaga Museum of Natural History.”
Though Sudbrack and Assume Vivid Astro Focus's concept for the experiential setting had to adhere to a few practical parameters—including displaying products clearly—the team also wanted guests to have fun. “Gaga is such a creative person, so there was a lot of freedom of movement from the beginning,” said Sudbrack, who’d never worked on a retail concept before. “It wasn’t that difficult, it was quite natural,” he said. “We wanted it all to relate to Gaga, but it’s not just Gaga.”
Sudbrack and his team also designed the giant facade that’s intended to create the illusion of walking into the mouth of a giant monster-like Lady Gaga. The exterior of the store also highlights its partnership with the superstar through its Madison Avenue window displays, which were transformed into tableaux with a Gaga theme and holiday inspiration from music, fashion, astrology, and the elements.
The night of the opening, while hundreds of the singer’s fans waited at the East 60th Street entrance to see her cut the ceremonial ribbon, Barneys hosted a launch party to preview the project to press and V.I.P.s like Blake Lively, Neil Patrick Harris, Carolyn Murphy and, of course, Gaga herself (clad in Chanel couture). Earlier in the day, in anticipation of the countdown, art installations were set up at three locations across the city—Broadway and Houston, Broadway and 23rd Street, and Columbus Circle—to give passersby a sneak peek at the wacky and whimsical gifts and creations in the store.
The private gathering's reception area, separate from the Workshop itself (where no food or drinks were allowed), was awash in low lighting and black carpeting and featured lounge seating, two large bars on either far wall, and a small roped-off area for the singer. Large projection screens played Gaga videos and tracked her whereabouts in the store. BML Blackbird’s Jason Weible, the event's project manager overseeing the video elements as well as other technical aspects, had no less than nine cameras capturing Lady Gaga at any point during her visit to the store.
Caterer Olivier Cheng created a bevy of passed hors d’oeuvres for the affair, including lobster tacos, skirt steak ‘nachos’ with pickled jalapeños, and French fries served in mini cones of assorted colors. As for drinks, there were three specialty concoctions—a vodka ginger bellini, a bright pink-colored “bubblegum-tini” with bubble gum-infused vodka, lychee puree, lemon, and ginger ale, and a snow cone-style martini of Bacardi spiced rum, banana liqueur, blue Curaçao, and dry vermouth served over crushed ice. The crowd outside received cups of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and edible glitter.
As shopping wound down for event-goers, waitstaff passed sweets such as Jell-O shooters in push-up pops, s’mores tartlets, and Champagne “cotton-candy” shots. A little after midnight, the selection changed to crème brûlée French toast and “Egg McMuffins” with bacon, egg, and truffled cheese.