Interview: Ex-Dior Designer Zoe Turner is Breathing New Life Into St. John

 

 

As the fashion world reinvents itself to compete while this pandemic drags on, designers are finding clever new ways to interact with their clientele. For St. John, that means both a newfangled approach to outreach, as well as an eye-opening transformation of its well-heeled, traditional brand aesthetic into a bold new modern look, that still hints at its heritage, but fearlessly takes it fashion-forward.

Since we can’t meet in person, British designer Zoe Turner, now Creative Director for St. John (her resume also includes stints at Christian Dior Couture, Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara), personally takes us through her Spring 2021 collection in an exclusive tour for BlackBook, from the comfort of her temporary Southern California abode. In walking us through the collection virtually, Zoe is quite animated, as she describes her current influences, including jewelry inspired by British modernist Barbara Hepworth.

Turner is a change agent for St. John, charged with the task of updating the upscale women’s brand, while observing just the right amount of reverence to its stylistic DNA. Turner excitedly explains that she is working to, “make it a lot more modern, basically taking the heritage of the brand, polishing it, and sort of reworking the classic shapes and breathing into them a new life. And also making them in more essential forms, that are really relevant for life today.”

 

 

Turner tells us that designing during the pandemic led her to explore new ways to mix and match the codes of the house. “Knitwear is all about a relaxed and sophisticated way to dress, so it lends itself well to our times. We played with the idea of virtual calls: beautiful tailoring from the waist-up, and sweatpants from the waist-down—but with the mantra ‘let’s keep it sophisticated.’ The desire for human connection amidst the loneliness of social distancing became even more important, and led Turner to further appreciate expertise in craft, and above all, “the humanity in creation.”

Key details of the collection are inspired by the mark of the maker, and can be seen in hand painted brush strokes for prints, crocheted seamlessly by hand, sculpted buttons, and jewelry hand carved in metal…plus signature knit tailoring draped and fitted in St. John’s workrooms. The pieces, which achieve a timeless elegance, are already adored by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Priyanka Chopra.

We were taken by how Turner explains the warm, bright color notes of the collection, which she says consists of, “soothing neutrals and optic whites that evolve into ice cream pastels and then some brighter, more sunshine, happier tones towards the end.”

Though clearly much thought around the details went into the collection, the woolens look very wearable and approachable. She explains, “For me, it’s just about playing with the ease and the freedom of knitwear and just really working new proportions: the combinations of new yarn, new technologies and techniques, and cuts. Also in introducing the wovens, we need to have that balance with any complexion—a balance of woven mixed with all of these beautiful textiles to complement the collection as well.”

 

 

As for accessories, after launching handbags with the Fall 2020 season, a newly added footwear line evinces a balance of edge and sophistication. Snakeskin loafers and striking asymmetrical sandals complete the looks, and will be sold exclusively at St. John boutiques and online.

Not at all surprising, Turner confesses that California has influenced her design thinking just a tad. “It just gives a bit more attitude, a street attitude vibe,” she observes. “I’m kind of inspired by the skaters around here, and I just love pairing cool shorts to go with the jackets. So revisiting archive pieces and sort of taking a boxy jacket and then tweaking certain details with all of the yarn combinations, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, where else can we position these beautiful buttons?’”

Ultimately, what does she hope to achieve most for St. John with this new direction?

“My objective really is to make just beautiful clothes that women have an emotional response to. If I can do that, then I’m doing the right thing.”

 

 

Interview: Rufus Wainwright Grows Up – ‘I’m Just Translating My Human Experience’

 

 

 

Rufus Wainwright is a either a musical contradiction or a true Renaissance man (probably both). He has received critical acclaim as a classical musician; he is (was?) a man about town who cut his teeth in the New York social and party scene in the ’90s and early 2000s, becoming known for his particularly decadent behaviors; and he is a pop artist who is nevertheless venerated for his unabashedly intense, emotionally raw lyrical musings.

Over time, he went from being a fixture of New York City nightlife, to performing sold out shows at Carnegie Hall. Eight years ago he took a break from pop, but he never went away. He actually wrote two groundbreaking operas, including Prima Donna, which had its opening at the prestigious Manchester International Festival.

To date, he’s released seven critically acclaimed albums across an unimaginable range of genres.

 

 

Today, a “40-something-year-old” Rufus is returning to his pop roots with new album Unfollow the Rules (out via BMG), which features lush symphonic soundscapes accompanied by that ever ethereally melancholic voice. He lyrically considers life’s lessons to date, as he prepares to embark on the next phase of this thing we call adulthood.

He currently resides in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles with his husband, German art director Jörn Weisbrodt and shares the custody of his daughter, Viva, with her mother Lorca Cohen. Inspired by middle age, married life, fatherhood, friends, loss, London and the musically inspirational place he calls home, Unfollow The Rules captures him at a true crossroads. Ready to tackle new challenges, yet compelled to confront his past, he’s taking stock of two decades of running riot with rules, making sense of how he has matured as a musician, and celebrating the contented family man he has become. In fact, the album is a near perfect expression of the uncertain times we are now going through.

We caught up for a chat with him, to try to better understand what it all means.

 

 

Your new album is called Unfollow The Rules. Was the title inspired by the events of 2020?

I stole it from my daughter, who is nine years old. One day she just asked me if I could unfollow the rules. I knew immediately that it would make a great song title. And then later, people thought it sounded good for the name of the record. It was a very organic process. Ironically, it does fit with a lot with what’s going on today, especially in terms of the civil disobedience in the United States, which revolves around police brutality and racial issues. So yeah, it’s all meant to be.

There are illustrations for every song, which are drawn by you. Given that most people consume music through digital platforms, how integral is the artwork to the album, and how does it effect the listener experience?

I went to art school briefly after music school, both of which I never finished. And even though I’m mostly known for music, art remained a hobby that I was drawn to—literally. A little bit of thanks to COVID-19 for this album, I’ve really been allowed to express that side of my creative being fully, and it seems to have had a good effect on both my life and the eyes of others. I’m just kind of going with it at the moment—I don’t know what it means, but there seems to be some sort of correlation. I still don’t want to define it too much.

Your lyrics take the listener into deep reflection, and there are clearly elements that are autobiographical. How do you feel these struggles relate to your audience?

I always write about exactly what’s going on in my life. Every single one of my songs, except maybe a couple, are literally referring to events that have occurred. So I’m just translating my human experience, and I don’t consider myself any better or worse than anybody else. So, maybe I’m just able to be a kind of mirror to what everybody goes through, since most people don’t have that ability to express themselves as much as they’d probably like to.

The album is split into three acts: 1) a mix of your present and past, 2) a psychedelic narrative about vulnerability, letting go in order to begin a new journey,  and 3) ending with a bit of anger—a dark and somber finale. Can you take us through the acts and their meaning?

Presently, my husband and I and our daughter live in Laurel Canyon, in LA. This is a place that I spent much time in many years ago when I started my career. So, in a lot of ways, I’ve come full circle. I think the concept is that I’ve come back to California, there’s a beautiful romance to that, it’s very idyllic, very seductive, very warm and welcoming. Then you scratch the surface and things get a little weirder and more complicated, as life does, and there’s a sort of psychedelic quality that begins to arise. You get a little lost in the maze. Then finally, the 3rd act comes and it’s completely dark. And no matter what, you’ve ended up in the subterranean department and you have to go through pain. And right at the end, there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and you make it out—barely alive.

 

 

In the song “Peaceful Afternoon” you clearly address your husband. The lyric goes, “Between sex and death and trying to keep the kitchen clean.” What are you wanting to say there?

My husband and I are celebrating our eight wedding anniversary, and we’ve been together for about fifteen years. This is definitely a long-term relationship and anybody knows who’s in one of those that it’s a wonderful experience, but can also be very difficult. Acknowledging that fact—like anything beautiful and interesting, you have to work at it.

Referring to the second act of the album, psychedelic drugs were long stigmatized and dismissed by the mainstream medical community, but are now being studied as potentially effective therapies for people suffering from PTSD. Have you had a psychedelic journey and do you believe that there could be benefits to targeted use?

I had many psychedelic experiences when I was younger, and I cherish them to this day. I think with certain people, psychedelics could be the answer. Personally, I don’t see myself going down that path at the moment. Drugs are drugs—they can either help or hurt you. So just be careful.

You’ve been open about your past and your addiction to crystal meth, which is a significant recreational drug among young gay men. As a gay man myself, I see what it has done to friends of mine. What helped you overcome this and did you have a support system?

As I said before, drugs are drugs and just be careful. I must say that, categorically, crystal meth is completely bad. There’s no positive side to it. It’s a terrible, terrible substance and has ruined so many people’s lives. My suggestion with that is to not try it and to not go there. That being said, if someone is trapped in that world, there are people that can help. There’s the program, religion, family and friends who love you. But my main lesson is to stay as far away from crystal meth as possible. It’s not worth it.

Coming back to the music, you’ve written operas, but also produced pop albums. What do you think about the evolution of pop music to what it is today? Do you listen to Billie Eilish, Charlie XCX, Selena Gomez…

I always say I’m a pop artist, but in truth I’m the furthest thing away from being a pop artist. I was very fortunate in my early career to have a big record company behind me and that did a lot for me. But when you really stand back and look at what I do, it’s miles away from what’s on the radio. I admire a lot of what’s going on today, and what has [gone on] in the past in the pop world. But I kind of look at it like I might look at a toy in a store that I’m a little too old for.

 

 

Dazzling Up Tradition: Fabergé Launches New Capsule Collection w/ Designer James Ganh

 

 

 

Since 1842, Fabergé has obviously been one of the most stories high jewelry houses, whose iconic creations have been collected equally by royals and celebs. But seeking to join 21st Century the zeitgeist of high-profile collabs, they are launching a new partnership with James Ganh this September, making him their first ever “Featured Designer.”

Born in China but now working in London, Ganh’s work has dazzled up the presence of such luminaries as Dame Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Hurley, and Kylie Minogue. And for this extraordinary project, he has created works in the vibrant colors of summer floral blooms (surely a timely notion, since we were all robbed of summer 2020). The resulting pieces build on the brand’s exalted heritage, while nodding to the modernity of its more recent aesthetic inclinations, and the House’s ethos of “A Life in Color.”

The Fabergé x James Ganh capsule collection (which he’s been working on in secret for the past year) flaunts an impressive array of wearable high-jewelry pieces, inspired by nature and art. And carved turquoise, regal amethyst, alluring tanzanite, and beads of romantic rose quartz make for just the sort of dazzle we need in such dark and joyless times. And the tone of restrained opulence means each is meant to easily transition from day to night—perfect for when we actually get to experience nightlife again.

“During the first five years of building my eponymous brand, I had maintained contact with Fabergé,” he explains of the House where he developed his style, “and in 2019 we started the discussion of how we can work on a special project together. It has always been a brand which celebrates innovative craftsmanship and young talent. So, in the spirit of Peter Carl Fabergé, the Maison’s founder, we embarked upon this journey.”

A bit of history: Peter Carl Fabergé, a pioneer and innovator, was considered a maverick when he introduced “workmasters” in 1882. Under his mentorship, independent craftsmen were given the freedom to develop their own characteristic style, with each of their finished pieces personally approved by Peter Carl, or one of his esteemed deputies, to ensure it met the House’s exacting standards. Today, Fabergé continues to work with a small number of modern-day workmasters; and there is an idea to expand this tradition in a contemporary format, by providing a platform to endorse future talent. This is how the concept of a “Featured Designer” was born.

 

 

James Ganh established his own studio in 2015 on London’s Old Bond Street. A Central Saint Martins graduate, at Fabergé he developed both the superior craftsmanship and the passion for seeing it through. His own work now is not only strikingly intricate, in keeping with Fabergé tradition, but also evokes a sense of freedom.

“Fabergé has inspired me throughout my studies and career,” he enthuses, “and it was an honor to have the opportunity to work with the Maison from 2012 to 2014. During this time, they helped nurture my artistic design and gave me the confidence to establish my own company. Fabergé creations [always] spoke to my heart and inspired my work. This is evident throughout the new capsule collection.”

No surprise, they’re priced accordingly: per set at $74,100 to $1,150,500, while individual pieces range from $33,150 to $317,460. Selected sets will debut in Fabergé’s boutique in Houston’s Galleria,  as well as at Harrods, both in September. Subsequent launches are planned for the Fabergé boutique in the Dubai Mall, and in “By Appointment” showrooms in London and New York.

Fashion Gets Busy Again: L’Agence Launches Seductive New Footwear Line

Images by Jacopo Moschin

 

 

Post-Millennial fashion darling L’Agence has, since 2008, been definitively winning over the style cognoscenti—Kai Gerber, Karlie Kloss, Jennifer Lopez—who are drawn in ever higher numbers to its “California lifestyle with French attitude” ethos. And this summer, the label will at last be launching a footwear collection that, if we might say, is the epitome of contemporary, laidback glamour.
Of course, one wonders with all the financial challenges facing the industry, significantly accelerated by this persistent pandemic—forcing so many to work from home—just why anyone would launch a shoe line at this time. CEO Jeff Rudes (who is also the founder of iconic denim label J Brand) seems undaunted.

 

“As a lifestyle brand, shoes were a natural progression for us,” he offers. “The design was the shoe to wear with jeans and complement the entire collection. Although the market is suffering, we know there are opportunities during difficult times, and so it was [actually] perfect timing for us.”
They are debuting three silhouettes: Éloise, a classic pointed-toe pump, Lolita, a minimalistic mule, and Amélie, an understated loafer. Another style, the Madeline—which is a Mary Jane heel—is slated to be introduced with ready-to-wear this October. The collection will be available exclusively at L’Agence.com and the L’Agence boutiques located at Melrose Place, Madison Avenue and SoHo NYC. We also highly recommend spending time on their Instagram, for quick but effective style inspirations.
N.B. – L’Agence has also been active during the pandemic by decisively giving back to the community. The brand has been partnered with LA Protects, producing and donating masks; and has been supporting the Children’s Defense Fund, whose mission it is to advocate for the rights and needs of all children—especially urgent in these times of such financial insecurity.

Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson on Brisbane, Fashion + Choosing Your Best Pronoun

 

 

 

As we adjust to whatever is the new normal, we actually consider ourselves fortunate that we have still been able to video connect with interesting people around the world. One of those was Tim Nelson, frontperson and songwriter for Brisbane-based queer indie group Cub Sport. Essentially, if you’re partial to The 1975 and Frank Ocean, their new album needs to be on your Spotify.

Pre-COVID, we would have been hopping a flight to catch Cub Sport playing alongside headliners like HAIM, Chemical Brothers and Charli XCX at the UK’s Latitude Festival. And before the lockdowns their popularity was exploding, touring sold out venues across four continents, and becoming the darlings of Aussie music press (we’re all catching up now). And their just-released fourth studio album Like Nirvana more than lives up to the hype, tackling topics of self-identity, personal growth, religious upbringing, even the very concept of masculinity.

It’s early morning in Australia, and as we video chat, we ask Tim, who is adorned in band merch, about the origins and iterations of Cub Sport, his hometown Brisbane, and collaborating with childhood friend Mallrat.

 

 

Describe the Queensland/Brisbane music scene.

The scene is strong! Lots of my fave artists come from here: Mallrat, Thelma Plum, The Veronicas, Hatchie, Eves Karydas, Wafia, and lots more. Brisbane’s also home to lots of world-class producers, filmmakers, photographers…so it’s an exciting time to be creating here.

Is it a source of inspiration for Cub Sport’s music?

I love Brisbane! The weather here is consistently pretty good, and it doesn’t get very cold in winter. Lots of the things I’ve written about have happened here, so it’s definitely a big inspiration, whether directly or indirectly.

What’s the origin of the name?

We started the band when we were pretty young, and we all looked like babies; so we called ourselves Cub Scouts, which felt very fitting at the time. After releasing music as Cub Scouts for a couple of years, the Scouts Australia sent us a letter asking us to stop from using the word “scout.” So we ran through a bunch of different options, then we landed on Cub Sport. It took a couple of years to grow into it, and now it feels very right. I really love the name now.

Let’s talk about Like Nirvana, your new album. You’ve already released a few songs, “I Feel Like I Am Changin’,” “Drive,” and “Confessions.” In the latter, you touch on insecurities, sexuality, love and self-doubt. You’re being vulnerable to the listener. What was going on when you wrote this song?

We’d been away on tour for most of the year. When we got home, I was feeling burnt out. I felt like I had a lot of these things weighing on me that I didn’t acknowledge. Staying so busy allowed me to just keep pushing forward. When we slowed down, all those things started to surface. So when I was writing this song, I was holding the mic saying or singing whatever came into my mind. It felt like a purge of all the things that I was scared to acknowledge, and it just came out all at once. It was cathartic.

Was it directed at anyone specific?

It’s mainly directed at myself, but there are instances around the lyrics that involve other people. But I feel like a lot of it is just how I was perceiving things around me.

 

 

It’s safe to say love is one of the main themes of your new album. What does it mean to you?

To me, love is like a peaceful feeling that is also exhilarating; it’s the opposite of fear. Total acceptance, and I guess in my experience with love, there’s no second guessing. It’s such a difficult thing to put into words, but I think I express my idea of love best when I’m creating music that is inspired by it. I feel like love is the most powerful part of who we are, and what ties us together.

Does it hurt?

I don’t believe love itself hurts, but I feel like there’s a lot of other things that can happen around love that are painful.

I love Mallrat, and am excited that she’s featured on the new song “Break Me Down.” How did that collab happen?

So we’ve been friends for awhile now, and she grew up in Brisbane as well. When she was in town toward the end of last year, she came over to work on some music together. At that point, I thought I had finished the album, but then we just went into writing this song with total freedom. The result is so far from what we were expecting to create together, but it was so powerful, beautiful and special that it had to be on the album. It came from a feeling of limitlessness of what we can do.

Your sound has evolved since your last album. Can you tell me a bit more of the direction you wanted to go in this time?

I was really drawn to more live instruments on this album. The last one was quite synth-heavy and there were a lot of electronic drums. I think I was really drawn to the textures and the way that when I would record guitar on some of the songs it felt raw and alive. I never want to recreate what I’ve done before, and it was really exciting.

Where do you record?

I do most of it at home here in Brisbane. I have a home studio directly downstairs from where I’m sitting right now, and that’s pretty much where I wrote the album. There’s a few songs that I wrote while we were on tour in the US—”Saint” and “Eighteen” were both written literally on the road, and I recorded the vocals in Airbnbs. “Be Your Man Sam” I wrote and recorded in a little studio in Los Angeles; but other than that, all were written here at home.

What’s the creative process behind the videos?

Usually if we make a video for a song, I’ve had a strong idea of what I would like it to be. When Brisbane was in COVID lockdown, that’s when we were supposed to be shooting for this album. That didn’t end up happening, so we were left with no choice but to make home videos. It was just about capturing what we can.

 

 

I especially loved the Japanese vibe of “Confessions.”

Somebody sent me that anime and said, “this looks just like you”—so I went with it.

Well it does look like you. (Ed. note: The video is inspired by a Guts and Griffith manga story.  

Thank you. I was like, “well this character is beautiful, so thank you so much.” Then I searched for images of that character and I tried to find scenes and moments that felt like they expressed the same feeling as the song. Then I put it all together. I’m very happy about how it comes across. It looks like it was made specifically for the song.

How does the music influence your fashion, or is it independent from it? 

I feel that it’s all about self-expression, that the music and fashion complement each other a lot. And what I’m wearing can really impact like how I feel and how I perform. It’s about finding what feels like the truest part of yourself and drawing from that for inspiration in every area. I feel like when you can make a genuine connection with yourself and what you’re feeling, then all the things you draw from end up fitting together.

Do you have a preferred pronoun?

I would like to use “he/him.” I’d been using both “he/him” and “they/them,” and I think when I first started to consider which to use, I felt oppressed by the idea of gender binary: the concept that people should identify as either a man or a woman, versus non-binary or gender fluid—and I felt like I had to use “they/them” too, because I didn’t feel like the idea of what a man was meant to be. Since then, I’ve allowed myself to feel free and I think that “he/him” feels like who I’ve always been.

What do you hope people take away from Like Nirvana?

I would really love for people to listen to it start to finish. I feel like there’s a lot of power and release in the flow of the songs; to me it feels like an ascension from the trauma and the pain. By the end of the album, on “Grand Canyon,” where there’s the heavenly choir, I feel like it’s really calming and uplifting. I really want people to listen like that, because I feel like it can be a very healing experience for anyone, especially for queer people, who have that difficult experience growing up and not feeling like they belong.

 

 

 

House of Bijan is Re-Opened in a New Beverly Hills HQ – And They’ve Got High Fashion Face Shields

 

 

In the early ‘70s, an enterprising men’s clothier from Iran immigrated to the United States, settling in Los Angeles. Bijan Pakzad quickly established a reputation for purveying the highest quality of men’s fashion, upgrading the American gentlemen’s very perception of what a well-cut, beautifully tailored suit crafted from exquisite fabrics could be. More importantly, Pakzad showed men of power and distinction what  stylish wardrobe could do for their image.

Soon dubbed the founder of the ‘West Coast Saville Row,’ Pakzad made an indelible mark on the very notion of men “dressing the part.” The brand ultimately expanded globally, and earning acclaim from fashion connoisseurs and critics alike, winning awards especially for its iconic fragrance bottles and outré ad campaigns, in addition to numerous honors for fashion design. Bijan would go on to dress everyone from Tom Cruise to Tom Ford to the very much missed at the moment Barack Obama.

 

His 1976 establishment of the luxurious Bijan menswear boutique on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive bore a sign reading: “by appointment only”—echoes of the great British tailors. Entering past the locked doors into his exclusive atelier, distinguished gents from all around the world were introduced to a world of highly exclusive menswear, décor and service. It was bespoke luxury before the ’80s wave of extravagant ready-to-wear. Now, more than four decades later, the House of Bijan is re-upping its contemporary relevance with a plush new Beverly Hills boutique at 443 North Rodeo Drive.

More than double the size of the original landmark, the new structure is, as would be rightly expected, absolutely stunning. Coated in bold, trademark Bijan Yellow both inside and out, the design updates both the look and customer experience, while, at the same time, not doing away with four decades of Bijan’s signature style. Heritage elements from the former location, including the original entry door, the iconic Fernando Botero painting and, but of course, the Baccarat crystal chandelier with over 1,000 bottles of Bijan perfume were meticulously removed, transported and installed into the new retail space.

 

 

“After 44 years in the same location on Rodeo Drive,” explains Pakzad’s progeny Nicolas Bijan, “we wanted to remain true to our heritage and ensure our respected clients continue to feel at home in the new flagship boutique. We wanted to accomplish this while modernizing the overall look and feel of the boutique, as well as the overall brand.”

It was definitely successful. Upon entering the boutique, Roman “Bocca della Veritá” Mouth of Truth sculptures greet clients, acting as both art installation and product display (an especially welcome touch, since we won’t be traveling to Rome any time soon). Elsewhere, exclusive furnishings exude warmth and masculinity, including custom-made mahogany cabinetry, marble and onyx stone flooring, glass guardrails, and custom skylights. Look a little harder, and you just might find several rare works of art carefully placed around the space.

Of course, social distancing rules remain in force, especially as Los Angeles has seen a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases. But one can actually make a zeigeisty visit to the new House of Bijan HQ, by making a purchase from the new line of what are surely the most opulent face shields anywhere, also in their signature yellow—and brazenly logoed. Because what could be better than being safe and responsible, and doing it in style?

 

‘I Am Not Producing Content’: Cristina BanBan Holds Forth From Her Latest NYC Solo Show

 

 

 

Following three months of a New York City in pandemic lockdown, we were finally able to venture to 1969 Gallery on the Lower East Side to catch the physical opening of Cristina BanBan’s Tigre y Paloma. The exhibition title comes from El poeta pide a su amor que le escriba… (trans. “The poet asks his love to write”), a poem by renowned Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, from his famous work Sonetos del Amor Oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the works were originally shown only virtually.

Already a venerable artist whose fusion of neoclassicism and Japanese manga is easily distinguishable, the paintings and work on paper are BanBan’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. Originally from Spain, she produced this body of work while quarantined in a Brooklyn studio, and the pieces are inspired by memories of her family, and time spent at the beach…including a few self-portraits.

 

 

As we walked in, we were met by the artist, who treated us to a guided tour of her work. She showed us pieces with brilliant, textured, and richly saturated color. As we walked toward the back of the gallery, we arrived at a very powerful image of a man and woman together in bed. Then we encountered Lagrimitas de Cocodrilo, a painting of a striking, powerful femme, with long ginger hair, which we later found out is one of the self-portraits. BanBan’s works are a form of escapism for both the viewer and herself, she told us.

She mentioned that she was classically trained from the age of five, and went on to study fine arts at the  Universitat de Barcelona. As a girl, she used to love Japanese anime. The paintings featured big eyes, and hands were a blend of acrylic colors and soft pastels, which looked like watercolor and rich pigment on paper. Her work is a mix experiences and memories.

We headed toward the secret back garden of the gallery with a Blue Moon brew in hand to begin our interview about her work and her experiences in NYC.

 

Image by Nelson Castillo; MUA: Meghan Yarde; Location Studio: Waverly Studios

 

 

You work is distinctive and recognizable. What started you on this path?

I have always been drawn to figurative painting, I use bodies to narrate stories. The vast majority of the characters in my paintings are female and contain a degree of self-portraiture. They don’t all resemble me, but definitely reflect my emotional and psychological states.
I had a very traditional education in the arts. Since I was very young I have taken life drawing classes, convinced that good work had to look as close as possible to the real world. I learned anatomy through a lot of practical training, hundreds of hours drawing from nude models or still lifes. I never got bored and enjoyed it. Some years ago when I started working in the studio trying to find my style, I realized that drawing was a fundamental part of my work, and I used those skills to play with the distortions of the body. Viewers recognize this and I guess distortion has become part of my signature.

Is it inspired by a Neoclassical style?

If you understand neo-classicism as a movement that took some aspects of classical style, yes, you could then say my work relates, because of the importance I give to drawing. I admire the elegance and mastership of Ingres portraits and preparatory drawings. I always try to embrace the beauty of the female body, its realness, but also assigning these women with a certain divine look through dramatic gestures and positions. I am interested in how the figures are placed in the foreground in Ingres’ work, eliminating the perspective, which is characteristic of my paintings.

Do politics and social movements influence your work? Art is a language: What do you want your viewer to take away from it?

My emotions and experiences have been the main source for my paintings. I think my work is accessible and expressive. The current social and political climate has impacted my recent work, with more realistic themes and metaphors. Thousands of New Yorkers have been fighting in the streets over a month. As a creative individual, I want to use my work to contribute to the cause. I am learning how to use my skills as a painter to make more meaningful work. I think this is an ongoing preoccupation for most artists.

 

 

What was the last exhibit you saw that left an impression and why?

Imagine Me and You, a Dana Schutz solo exhibition at Petzel Gallery, has stayed in my mind. I was blown away by the intensity of the colors, brushstrokes, and the distortion of the bodies and her twisted imagination. A bit grotesque and mysterious at times, Schutz creates very powerful emotional narratives.

During our photoshoot, we listened to your Spotify playlist, which included early J-Lo hits and Missy Elliot. What do you listen to while working in your studio?

I was probably feeling a bit nostalgic! It depends on the mood really. When I start a painting I go for something a bit more melodic, or repetitive beats that help me focus on what I am doing. I play loud music when I need to be energized. Kings of Tomorrow, Leatherette, Floating Points, Burial.. but also I can play a session with a mix of cumbia, bachata or salsa. I often go to NTS, an online radio station based in Dalston, London, to explore new genres and discover musicians. They have a great variety of sessions and it’s so inspiring.

Does the speed of culture now force you to produce your art at a faster pace to stay relevant?

Painting is the content on my social media but I am not “producing content” to share online. I share work when the show is already up, giving priority to the real experience first. I think of social media as a CV or a visual diary for me. I use stories to show a bit of my personal life and how I work in the studio, which perhaps can be interesting to those who wonder how pieces are made. Having said that, I don’t feel pressure to create new paintings to post, but I might feel tempted to show what I am making. My gallerist Quang Bao has put himself in charge of shutting down this recurring temptation.

 

 

Having lived in places such as London, Barcelona, and Ibiza, what’s your impression of NYC? 

I moved at the end of 2019. Then with everything that we have been trough in 2020, I can’t give you an accurate picture of my experience in New York yet, but my strongest impression is the incredible energy. The city always has something to offer, and so far I met very interesting, unique and talented people. I am looking forward to see what comes next.

You also have a show at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica. Would you ever live in LA?

There is always this idea on the back of my mind that says “okay, and now what next?” Packing up and leaving everything behind is exciting but also can be a form of escapism. So for now, I am living in the present and I am grateful to be here.

Where would you like to travel to next?

Home.

 

Pride Month: RXM Creative’s ‘Virtual Pride March’ Digitally Subs For the Real Thing

 

 

This year Pride Month looked and felt different across the globe. Normally a time when generations of the LGBTQIA+ gather in streets and social venues to celebrate gay culture and history, the pandemic has otherwise spawned virtual events, enabling people around the world to join the festivities online instead. And while 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the very first Gay Pride March in New York City, social distancing of course forced the cancellation of the March itself; so RXM Creative, the digital creative group behind Virtual Cheers, has created a Virtual Pride March, with custom avatars generated through Instagram.

The goal of the project is to enable the LGBTQ community to see themselves on a virtual street, with the possibility to choose the styling and messaging for their own avatar…and, importantly, to support The Trevor Project.

Here is how the program works: you make a charitable donation to The Trevor Project, a leading organization supporting young LGBTQ+ people with numerous life-saving resource—such as an 24-hour suicide hotline, educational workshops and more. Once the donation has been confirmed, you direct-message @virtualpridemarch on Instagram to have an avatar created of yourself. The avatar becomes part of an extended Pride March through the Instagram feeds of all supporters.

As Pride Month is winding down, Virtual Pride March is a great way of bringing the LGBTQ+ community and allies together with a fun, interactive, custom, and we must say, adorable, online experience. Join the virtual parade to be seen with the likes of Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Amanda Lepore, and Alok and give to a charity that needs our help more than ever during these economically uncertain times.

 

BlackBook Premiere: New Noga Erez Single + Video ‘NO news on TV’ Imagines an Ideological Utopia

 

 

 

Tel Aviv singer Noga Erez has taken the electro/EDM scene by storm;  but best not to pigeonhole her, as the grainy textures and potent atmospherics forged with her synths and ingenious beats find her bravely straddling genres. And while the music she makes in collaboration with her partner and co-writer, composer and producer Ori Rousso, and  is characterized by the more physical, dynamic elements of electronic and pop, it also embraces a cerebral sensitivity that’s established her one of Israel’s most exciting, idiosyncratic artists.

Erez, who, prior to the pandemic, was booked for the since-cancelled SXSW, the Standard East Village in New York, and Virgin Fest in Los Angeles, sat for an exclusive quarantine interview and photoshoot for BlackBook. She shared what social distancing meant for her, reflected on the philosophies of performance artist Marina Abramovic, and revealed the meaning of her new single and video, “NO news on TV,” which drops today, June 23.

 

In “NO news on TV,” the lyrics are very relatable to the current state of the world: you sing, “I don’t want to look at my phone anymore, I don’t want to roll like a stone anymore.” What is the inspiration behind this song? 

This is the very first time I’m talking about this single and I’m very excited. It is a reference to The Rolling Stones and to the [Bob Dylan] song “Like a Rolling Stone.” As the world started to grapple with the pandemic, everything got cancelled; and I was initially very disappointed because I had a lot of opportunities out there that have been cancelled or postponed. But in some strange way, I felt like everything that happened and all the quiet around me, I actually needed. I didn’t realize that I needed it at first, but I did need it. And I fell into this place of euphoria, I would even say. I really needed a deep place of peace and quiet. Obviously, I had the notion that there’s something crazy and bad happening in the world, but for me, in my home and in my mind, my creativity was in a better place. So, I allowed myself to imagine a world where there’s no pressure and you don’t have to make money.
I call it a “A children’s song for adults” because it shows a naive, utopian reflection of reality. It tells more about a state of mind rather than something real, a place of being able to actually imagine a world with no politics, money, grit, racism, violence. I just needed to have a song like that. An escape song. A song about redemption from everything that keeps us locked in and takes our freedom.

Sometimes being alone time can be therapeutic; but many people who have been in isolation during the outbreak are seeking connection. On a personal level, outside of creating, did you find ways to connect with family or close friends?

Everyone took it very differently, and I do know many people took it as break. I’m talking in past tense here because the virus was contained quickly in Israel, and restrictions have been lifted. Things are pretty much back to life here. During the crisis, I was working the entire time and I was being creative and working on my music. The main difference for me was that we didn’t have to deal with all the rest of the stuff that happens when life is normal; it was quiet. For me, it was a full creative zone—one of incredible productivity that I had never experienced before.

With the death of George Floyd, things have changed virtually overnight, and you have gone from, in a sense, celebrating the quiet of isolation, to feeling the need to reengage with the world, posting on social about racial injustice.

I have given this a lot of thought, and it took me a bit of time to address this subject. When I compare it to how people from the outside observe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I recognized that, like them, I had not lived through or been part the civil rights movement and battle for racial equality. So I had a responsibility to educate myself about this whole topic, because I didn’t learn much about it in school and had no direct experience with it. Black music and culture is such an important influence on my own music, and I felt that I had a responsibility to speak up about racial inequality. I think that there is an awakening going on around the world.

 

 

But you’ve taken some flack because you are Israeli, and Israel is often demonized for its treatment of Palestinians. 

I wrote and rewrote my social post multiple times, trying to strike the right balance to express solidarity. I am indeed an outsider to this situation, but it is painful to see those things happening in a world that should be much more advanced. I come from a place that has been criticized for what people see as injustices. And I believe that injustice is injustice, regardless of where it comes from; and I have criticized my own government. I have been involved in protests for social justice since I was a child, and my parents took me to them.

What is your process for sourcing collaborations? Your music is very personal, so how do you determine who to work with?

My creative process is personal; but at the same time, I’m constantly working with a collaborator, my partner, Ori Rousso. I’m used to communicating my ideas. It’s about allowing something fresh to come in, it’s always an exciting experience. If it’s a feature, someone being a guest on the song, it’s usually a long distance connection through e-mails, through FaceTime, and a creative experience of back and forth that eventually culminates in the recording. Every time I make the decision to step out of my zone and have other people come in, I never regret it. It’s a learning experience.

Growing up in Israel, who were your musical influences?

My parents are big music lovers, so music was played in the house all the time. Music from Israel, oldies from Israel, classics of Israeli culture, but also a lot of influence from around the world; my main ones being The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, ABBA, and Simon & Garfunkel.

How does fashion play a role in your videos’ aesthetics?

Until I needed to get dressed for concerts, I never really cared about fashion. I would always wear the first thing that I found hanging in my closet. But now my interests have shifted very radically into really wanting to use fashion as a form of self-expression, especially as I became more deeply committed to my music. I’m gradually getting to a place where I know what I like wearing and know what I am trying to present through fashion.

 

 

So you are your own stylist, based on how you feel?

It really depends where I am, because I do have an amazing stylist in London, David Evans. In other places, most of the time, I would be styling myself. I recently started a collaboration with a designer here in Israel, Shir Shtarker, we are working together on a collection of suits. My focus now is suits, ties, tuxedos, you know, traditional men’s tailored and formal looks, but with a twist. I think it’s kind of like a grown-up version of me being a tomboy. I never liked wearing girlie things. We designed five suits, so there’s like 25 different combinations.

Tell us about the new video.

Usually, my visuals focus on presenting the beat, the cuts are always timed with the music. But here we were trying to find a way to contradict the upbeat song with longer shots, that serve the meaning of the song rather than the beat. I wanted to play a character that is very different from how I see myself, and the feeling of boredom playing a big part in a subconscious way throughout the video. The bear here is an intruder, a threat coming from the outside world and messing up the utopia, and also salvaging the character from the underwhelming feeling of having no worries or trouble. Once she gets friendly and intimate with the intruder she instantly realizes the outside world is too scary, too intense and she decides to get rid of it and go back to closing herself off from anything outside her beautiful, perfect boredom.

What do you want people to experience through your music?

I just watched the documentary about [performance artist] Marina Abramovic. And I feel like I’m a bit confused after watching it, because everything she says about her manifesto on art is just so different from mine. Her manifesto is, “don’t steal from other artists”…and my philosophy is to take inspiration from wherever you can, and do whatever you can to make space for your creativity. In contrast, she pushes you to challenge your originality again and again. Sometimes I find myself struggling with it when I try to write lyrics. I can only say that it has always been my thing, to be able to just shift peoples’ states of mind.

Now with travel restrictions and music festivals being cancelled, how are you connecting with your audience?

I’ve been touring, and I feel like I’m one of those artists who needs a stage—not only for the connection with people, but also to make each song feel like a different experience every time, even though I might be singing that song for the millionth time. I miss performing terribly; but I am hoping that people just play the new single in their quarantine situations and just shift.