Prada’s Subversive Style

New York’s flagship store is temporarily coated in design with the help of artist Damien Hirst.

When art and commerce collide the result is rarely revolutionary, but what happens when art, commerce, fashion, music, design, and architecture mingle? One viable outcome is free champagne and a sighting of the Olsen twins; another is Damien Hirst’s disco inspired skull sculpture, swinging from the ceiling of the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store in New York.

In collaboration with Prada for New York Fashion Week Spring 2008, Hirst transformed their SoHo flagship store into an overtly graphic funhouse, using wallpaper, digital projections, and window decals to cover the upper level of the store in an infectious pattern of visual symbols. Weaving a motif of skulls and timepieces throughout, Hirst alternated his 2-D design with pills, hourglasses, coo-coo clocks, praying hands, and hazard symbols—resulting in his signature rambunctiousness. The store’s stairs and sunken lower level were cleared of high-end merchandise to make way for a late night concert by British rockers, The Hours. Performing under Hirst’s hanging centerpiece, a dazzling skull replete with disco ball mirrors and menacing timepieces for eyes (a much smaller diamond-encrusted version recently made headlines when it sold for $100 million, making Hirst the world’s most expensive living artist), the event had the feeling of an exclusive art happening that would have made Warhol proud.

The architecture of the store did well to accommodate the throngs of glitterati, all eager to soak up Hirst’s vision and The Hours’s noise. And according to the original promise of the store’s design, this is exactly how the space should be used, or as Prada’s Melissa Skoog words it, “Prada’s stores were created to transcend shopping and engage public space and cultural programming.” Since debuting Koolhaas’s hybrid art and commerce design in 2001 the space has hosted an exhibition of skirts, Waist Down—Skirts by Miuccia Prada, and a number of screenings during the Tribeca Film Festival, but has been widely criticized for failing to engage the public with any significant arts programming, as the architecture of the space promised.

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Returning to the store two days after the event, I noted that only the wallpaper remained as a trace of Hirst’s intervention. Devoid of the hanging skull, video projections, and window decals, the wallpaper looked out of place and clashed with Prada’s luxury retail trappings; not to worry, the wallpaper would also soon be removed. The Prada store’s brief collaboration with Hirst adds a notch in their fashionable belt, but fails to truly engage as a public art offering. It’s a pity Hirst’s zany installation didn’t stick around for longer than a fleeting one-night stand.

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