Volume 76, Number 27 | November 22 - 28, 2006

Simon Doonan’s holiday greetings

By Stephanie Murg

What’s among the hottest sellers at Barneys this holiday season? A can of soup. Stacked in supermarket-style towers around the store, the cans of Campbell’s tomato soup feature four versions of Andy Warhol’s clashing bright colors and distinctive signature. And they’re a bargain compared to the $1.8 million paid for a 1965 silk-screened version that was auctioned last week at Sotheby’s. Priced at $12 each, limited edition soup is the least expensive item at Barneys this season. The Warholidays have arrived.

Like the Barneys holiday campaigns of the past two decades, “Andy Warholidays” is the brainchild of the company’s creative director, Simon Doonan, a skilled prophet of the zeitgeist who is celebrating his 20th holiday season with Barneys. Doonan, who also writes the “Simon Says” column in the New York Observer and frequently opines on matters cultural and sartorial in venues that include the reality show “America’s Next Top Model,” is the author of “Confessions of a Window Dresser,” “Wacky Chicks,” and “Nasty,” a memoir that spotlights his family “and other glamorous varmints.”

When did you first encounter the work of Andy Warhol?

When I was at high school, we had a day trip to the Tate Gallery, and I bought the Warhol catalogue, and he signed it for me, and he asked me for my phone number. I was 16. It was the famous Tate Gallery show, when he showed the Marilyn [Monroe canvases] and the cow paintings. And I just became Warhol-obsessed, and I thought one day, I want to live in New York. As somebody who came from a ratty town and clawed their way to the middle via window display, I do relate to him.

How did you go about selecting an Andy Warhol theme for this year’s Barneys holiday campaign?

A year ago, when we were putting in our regal-themed windows and I was starting to think about what we would do this year, there were already a lot of Warhol rumblings. The “Factory Girl” movie, the Ric Burns documentary, various exhibitions, fantastic stories of inflated Warhol prices at auctions, and so we thought it would be a great year to do Andy, and it would be great because every year we try to extrapolate what we do in the windows into the catalog, gift cards, screensavers in the store, everything. So I thought well, Warhol, there’s so much dimension there. Between his quotes and the illustrations and the paintings, it doesn’t end.

This is Barneys’ sixth year featuring artwork from students at the East Harlem School based upon the holiday theme. Can you tell us a little about that?

The children’s art program is my favorite part of the whole thing. The East Harlem School students are brilliant. The kids are very responsive. No matter how wacky the theme, they always come up with something. People can buy the paintings, and then the money goes to support the school.

Why has Warhol and his work had such an enduring presence in our culture?

At this point, [Warhol and his scene] is the gold standard for being hip and groovy. And being hip and groovy is now an international obsession — it’s no longer the prerogative of a little group of edgy people. Everyone has a pierced tongue, no matter how pedestrian or ordinary they might be in their head. So, there’s this horrible, nagging feeling that no matter how hard you try, you can never be as cool and groovy as Andy, that the bar was set there. And he really lived that life of the artist, reinvented himself several times, and changed the way people see things, changed the way people looked at the supermarkets, changed the way people think about films. But I think a lot of people miss the essential message of Warhol and the art world today is sort of missing it too, because he didn’t think that being an artist was that special. He thought it was just another job. There’s this ferocious focus on moneymaking now in the art world — he probably would have approved of that, and he’s probably part of the creation of it. But maybe by now, he’d have gotten sick of it, actually, and would have moved on to something else.

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