Two of the Soundsuits Cave made (and modeled) for Vogue’s September issue, as seen in the magazine
I never need much of an excuse to check in with Nick Cave (right), the boundary-blurring head of fashion design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He’s a rambunctious thinker and an unbridled creative, and it’s always fun to wind him up and listen as the ideas flow. Lately, Cave has been on a streak—eight of his “Soundsuits” star in an eight-page spread in the September issue of Vogue (one spread from the magazine pictured above), and he is chasing his good fortune with a pop-up store and weeklong video installation at the corner of East 23rd Street and South Michigan Avenue that kicks off tomorrow, Friday, September 10th. (The shop will open to the public Friday, September 10th, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. After the launch, the shop will open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, through Friday, September 17th. The online store, soundsuitshop.com, goes live on Friday, September 10th.)
I recently visited Cave’s South Loop home and talked with the enterprising designer/artist and his project collaborator, the Riverside-based graphic designer Bob Faust, about the Vogue spread, the pop-up shop concept, and how he’s taking his ideas on the road.
For seven days, you will have a pop-up shop at the corner of East 23rd Street and South Michigan Avenue, and you’re planning an ongoing online retail outlet at soundsuitshop.com. What will you be selling?
Cave: We’re creating products that matter—products that have an emotional effect. If you get a card in the mail from soundsuitshop.com and you open it, it will give you a sense of joy. If you get a package wrapped in soundsuitshop.com paper, you will want to keep the wrapping paper, because it is so special. We have a drawing journal in the product line—the cover of it is this 3-D holographic image. It is so sensational.
Faust: It is easy, everyday stuff that people don’t pay much attention to regularly.
Cave: We just got the promo of the punching bag.
Faust: It’s a five-foot-tall inflatable punching bag.
So you’re creating a product line off of the Soundsuits, your ongoing art project that involves building sculptural costumes out of found materials, such as twigs, doilies, human hair, and rugs? You won’t be selling actual suits, right?
Cave: No, just work inspired by them.
Because you head the fashion design department at the School of the Art Institute, the first impulse is to describe your Soundsuits as fashion. But when I see them again, they’re more akin to sculpture. How do you explain what you do?
Cave: It’s art. Period. I don’t break it down in terms of categories. But I think all of my work lets me sit on top of the fence. I’ve always been around this sort of dialogue about what is art? What is fashion? What is craft? What is sculpture? What is painting? What is performance? It got the point where I was exhausted. You know, asking myself, where do I fit in? Guess what?!? I don’t fit in. I just make things.
Nice job, though, landing in Vogue, which is decidedly a fashion magazine, not an art pub. How’d that happen? I heard that a girlfriend of the photographer, Raymond Meier, saw a Soundsuit exhibition at UCLA.
Cave: I had just finished a solo show that went off to Sweden and literally four days later, I get a phone call. I said, I don’t have anything. So the gallery called Vogue back and said Nick has just sent out a fresh body of work, he has zero. They asked if I could borrow pieces from collectors, and the gallery said no. So then Vogue called back and said how much time would he need to produce work for the spread? They wanted eight to ten pieces, and I’m, like, well, in order for me to do eight to ten pieces, I’ll need two months. [Vogue said OK; Cave made the pieces.] I said they should come here and photograph the work, because it’s a lot to ship. They called three or four days before we were going to shoot, and they said they wanted to shoot it in New York. So they had everything shipped there. They had four assistants fly to Chicago and pack it up, assist me. It was fantastic.
And it’s actually you wearing the suits in the photographs?
Cave: Yes. I understand the work, and we were under such a deadline. [The entire shoot took place in a day.] At that time, I was thinking, you know, it’s easier if I can do it instead of having a performer there. I know everything about the suit, so my focus was pretty much on how to bridge the Soundsuit with the accessory [the suits were photographed with fall accessories from luxury fashion brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, J. Mendel, and Proenza Schouler].
How much did you draw upon your background as a dancer [Cave studied dance with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company]?
Cave: A lot. It’s all about the material. If it is covered in synthetic raffia, and it is about the extension of the body, how does it work with the relationship to the bag? A lot of this was getting into character and playing with this object.
Interesting that it was in Vogue now. In 2010. You’ve been doing this work and showing it for years. Did you get a sense of why they felt compelled to do it now?
Cave: No. I don’t think life works that way. I think it’s about preparation and opportunity. You have to be open—completely. In order for that sort of movement to take position, you have to be open.
When the shop opens in Chicago Friday night, you’ll be showing a video installation every 20 minutes on the side of the building. Is video a new medium for you?
Cave: I’m interested in the immediacy of it, that it really can happen so much quicker than building a solo show with the sculptural objects.
A project like this can do a lot for the artist/designer. It breaks down the barrier of having to find a gallery—or a retail space.
Cave: That’s the way things are happening in the world. Galleries are closing. Stores are closing. Artists have nowhere to create. So artists are removing furniture from living rooms and turning those into galleries. Artists are coming together and sharing spaces. The city is also doing interesting things with empty storefronts—leasing them to artists as little hubs. That, to me, is interesting and is again very immediate. It’s sort of like looking at what was happening in the 60s, there was this hippie, free-spirited approach to things. This idea is more contemporary, but it holds on to some of those things.
Do you think you’ll continue to live in Chicago?
Cave: You can do it here. You can do anywhere. Nothing is going to change. I’m going to have the same life, the same opportunities. The only opportunity I do not want is a reality TV show. I will never do a reality show. I can tell you that.