5.31.2006

The name game

Barney's Co-Op has a really good thing going. The store is a younger, hipper, ever-so-slightly cheaper version of Barney's. You could call it aspirational Barney's - grooming the next generation* to someday trade up to the real thing.

*Note: If I had to describe who shops at Barney's Co-Op, I would name them Yupsters: one part yuppy (lots of money), one part hipster (eclectic and detached).

And the Co-Op stores are beautiful - industrial cement floors mixed with mirrorball decor and well-positioned accessories. I especially enjoy the rubber bench - a ton of tubes held together with seatbelts that manages to walk the fine line between found garbage and designer art.

But the best thing about the Co-Op right now is their use of names. Covering their walls are small, brightly colored portraits of people. Each one has a unique painted silhouette and one sentence that starts with a name. "Ron thinks life is too short." "Glen is a computer geek." "Arthur changed his name."

There are hundreds and hundreds of them. They line the walls, the stairs, the dressing rooms. You get the sense that the artist uniquely interviewed and painted each actual person's profile. You think, "These are too obscure to be made up."

And truly, this is cool. All these men and women made abstract by their side view, and then made real again by their singular qualities. But then Barney's does even more with the name game: when the salesgirl takes you to your dressing room, she asks for YOUR name. Then she writes it on your dressing room's whiteboard. It's like your name is joining the others.

I found this practice to be wonderfully personalizing. Now the salesgirl can say "How you doing in there, Sara?" without seeming stalkerish. And mine even drew a little heart by my name. Which I loved. It was like we were friends.

But in retrospect, they could take it one step farther. Why not give me the same degree of uniqueness they've given to all the other names? Why not ask me for one distinguishing attribute?

That would be really fun. "What's your name?" "Sara." "What's a fun fact about you?" "I get hiccups almost every day." "My favorite drink is milk." "I drive a diesel." For everyone to make their own nameplate would be intriguing. It could fuel the artist's next round. It could create a sense of community in the dressing room. It could make me spend a lot more time in the store.

Because if I made a little portrait that said "Sara drives a diesel," then suddenly I would know that ALL the portraits were real. And then my voyeuristic self would want to read every single one of them.

Not every clothing store has the privileges of space, taste and margins that accompany Barney's Co-Op. I'm glad they are taking full advantage of these luxuries, making their store not only an art gallery, but a mirror on society and an interactive experience. The names thing is great; they should simply find a way to better link the art on the walls with the people in the store.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

I've seen this exact same idea hanging in someone's bathroom--it was a shower curtain with silhouettes and names/facts below it. Is it possible that the artist's original concept was made into a curtain, or is the Co-Op's wallpaper just a mass-produced painting?