“Obsessorize on Madison Avenue” Makes Its Debut

All photos Laurel Marcus
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“Exercise? Oh, I thought you said accessorize.” How about a bit of both? The Madison Avenue, Business Improvement District in partnership with SVA (School of Visual Arts) NYC and Marie Claire, presents that opportunity with “Obsessorize: Common Objects, Uncommon Accessories”. The public art project can now be seen by taking a 29 block hike (from 57th to 86th St) along NYC’s upscale shopping district. Obsessorize marks the fifth art project on Madison Avenue — previous years featured an installation of watches, chairs, and last year’s one-of-a-kind luxury dresses.

The 40 participating stores are: Agnes B., Alexis Bittar, alice + olivia, Aquatalia, Barbour, Barton Perreira, Christofle, David Webb, David Yurman, De Beers, Devi Kroell, Dolce & Gabbana, Dyptyque, Emilio Pucci, Etro, Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle, Frette, Guiseppe Zanotti, Goutal, Hueb, Ippolita, Isabel Marant, J. Crew Collection, J.J. Marco, Jaded, Lanvin, Longchamp, Lukure, Max Mara, Michael’s Luxury Consignment, Morgenthal Frederics, Paul Morelli, Roger Vivier, Schutz, Sonia Rykiel, Stuart Weitzman, Vilebrequin and Zadig & Voltaire.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a VIP breakfast on “Art & Style” hosted by Marie Claire at Bar Pleiades in the Surrey Hotel, followed by a guided walking tour to view the 79 public art sculptures encased in 19 8′ high plexiglass cases. These brilliantly designed decade-specific “obsessories” (representing decades from 1890-1990) are created by students under the tutelage of SVA 3-D Design Chairman Kevin O’Callaghan. The best part is that you too can take a free guided tour with him and hear all his fascinating stories on Saturdays this month at 2 p.m. by signing up here.

Karen Giberson, Kevin O’Callaghan & Julia Gall

After a breakfast of croissants, fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits, a conversation ensued between Julia Gall, Marie Claire Accessories Director (“fresh back from the shows”), along with the aforementioned illustrator, exhibition designer, educator and artist O’Callaghan (fresh from three back to back “make it work” all-nighters installing this exhibition with his students). The talk was moderated by Karen Giberson, President of Accessories Council (“just back from India on a scouring trip”).

During the talk, I learned a bit about the process by which O’Callaghan assigns a random object from his massive Long Island warehouse (which he describes as “12,000 square feet of creative hoarding”) to each student to be used as their “starting point.” In his big, beautifully illustrated book “Monumental” (which he so nicely gave me a copy of) he describes how he once bought 30 Yugos for his students for a total of $3,000 (“I did it way before Oprah,”) in order to “take a negative and make a positive out of it. One guy gave me his car for free — he only wanted a ride home in return — and not in that car.” A show of the resulting Yugo “driven” creations toured for three years. He’s also built themed carousels — I’m told a politically themed one shaped like the Capitol building is in the works — as well as designed sets and props for MTV’s Movie Award and installed the largest rococo frame in the world which hangs in Times Square.

O’Callagahan touted SVA as one of the top four art schools in the world, for product and industrial design but it doesn’t offer fashion design. Since there are no “fashion rules to unlearn the work is as pure as it could be. Shoe and jewelry designers could be taking notes from the students — pay attention if you see shoes made from blow dryers in Paris next year,” O’Callaghan quipped. The projects are completed by the students in only three weeks, so they really have to focus. “If you give them more time they’re not going to do anything until the last three weeks anyway,” he rationalized.

Gall, who joined Marie Claire last January, spoke of the coming together of art and style through fashion. “Fall was gloomy,” she said of the past collections, “but I’m very optimistic about spring. It’s more focused on a trip or holiday — resort and vacation wear brought into the everyday wardrobe.” She spoke of how “natural objects such as shells, cork, and wood with a reference to beachcombing,” are important as well as “prints that vary away from floral — paint splatters and interesting autumnal tones mixed with pastels.”

She also opined on how accessories are like little pieces of art in your home. “We’re at a pivotal point — there’s an exciting, beautiful newness to special occasion pieces but day to day life is something different. Those special shoes are not going to be on your feet on days when you have to be walking a lot — they get saved for when you are being driven to the restaurant and back. You see these beautiful things in your home as part of your collection. Having these things for yourself even if you don’t use them can still make you happy and become part of your display.” Wow! You mean I’m not the only one that just likes to “visit” with some of my accessories rather than wear them? Nice to know I’m not alone in that regard!

When asked who is creating some exciting accessories, Gall spoke of shoe designer Paul Andrew, now creative director at Ferragamo, who is now responsible for a whole line of ready-to-wear as well as his own shoe line. “For spring he’s doing amazing shaped shoes — Geisha flip flops with a wooden knob heel — a Brancusi inspiration. It’s a new take on the history of the Ferragamo house — famous for their rainbow platform archive. Come March we’ll all want Ferragamo shoes,” she predicted.

“I’ll bet he doesn’t have a pair of ukulele or bubble tea shoes,” remarked O’Callaghan. We were treated to a slideshow of what we were about to see on Madison Avenue. From broken teacups shoes (the teacups accidentally fell to the floor as they were given to the student who was able to make the proverbial lemons into lemonade) to luggage made from a sawed-off dollhouse, to some of the natural materials that Gall mentioned. Shells, wood, and rope along with everyday items such as stamps, pennies, and even accessories made entirely from glue gun glue. “Nothing is computer generated or sculpted. Students use various materials and learn what they can and can’t often do through trial and error. It’s an old-fashioned process. In today’s world, they need to know a little bit about a lot of things and have a very eclectic portfolio.”

What’s also amazing is that students get jobs from these projects. “It’s opened huge doors. It’s so wonderful to help young artists find their way.” We also heard from various retailers including J.J. Marco jewelers (via a woman in the audience at the talk) and a representative at the Emilio Pucci boutique (as we walked down the street) who get excited to see the student work livening up the street. Who knew that there’s competition between design schools? Remarked O’Callaghan: “Parsons is so jealous!”

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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