For this week's Mahal, I headed down to the grand opening of the Lower East Side AMO Studios art space and NEWTHINGS fashion installation. To showcase the gear and new space, a giant cocoon drifted around the statuesque models in cool sandals. Amid the cans of beer and crowd of hip young artists. I caught up with two of the people behind it, Ana Bezanilla and Edwin Bolta, to learn a little more.
VICE: What is the story behind AMO Studios?
Ana Bezanilla: AMO came to fruition when a couple of my friends and I decided to go in on a shared studio in 2011. Since then, we've hosted over 40 events at our first space on Waterbury and Meserole in Brooklyn, providing a platform for people to grow their own networks.
The amount of incredible passionate people we met at that spot was unbelievable. By opening the doors to collaboration, strong and sustainable connections were solidified. We took a break for a while and, after getting an incredible head start through our fundraising campaign, we're fully prepared to push the proposal-based concept to its maximum effect.
It is important to challenge how a space can serve many different communities of creatives. We have hosted publication launches, performances, parties, pop-up shops, screenings, lectures, and more in our previous storefront, and we plan on expanding even further. With this new installment, we've become a lot more organized and plan to have a quick, fast-paced turn around for projects to keep the energy flowing.
What are some new things going on at NEWTHINGS?
Edwin Bolta: For this collection, I was inspired by the opera singer, Jeffrey Palmer. He performed in the last collection’s campaign. I loved the idea of an American opera singer—who studied music in Bath, London—singing an ancient Mandarin Chinese opera song in New York City. It made me think about how in the past, traveling was crucial to being exposed to other cultures and new ideas. Today, you can control and manipulate your level of exposure through technology, through the internet.
Inspired by this, we took cultural garb from three main regions—Central America, the Middle East, and Asia—and brought them together for our gender-neutral collection. I wanted the concept to come to fruition through the clothing, the sound, and the art juxtaposed with the space. I brought DJ and music producer, SLAVA, on board, too. His music creates a surreal vibe of a foreign place that you could never travel to.
I thought the clothing and sound would work well with THE COCOON PROJECT, which is an art performance collective that creates organic dwellings for the space.
How did you two connect and give birth to the recent pop-up?
Ana: I met Edwin through two mutual friends around 2012. Since then, I have been really inspired by how prolific he is as an artist. We had been talking about doing something together since we had the old space.
Because AMO plans on opening a full-time shop for local artists with a focus on more pop-up concepts, we decided to use Fashion Week to launch his new line in our Lower East Side location, with a pop-up shop to follow in the later months.
We all need new things. Hopefully we can provide the city with a breath of fresh air.
As an artist, what are your thoughts on Fashion Week in general?
Fashion Week is just like any other industry week. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go in and it turns out best parties of the year—yet it also reflects the worst evils of consumerist society. I really appreciate when designers take that leap and break the mold of the runway show, which has already been happening a lot. Fashion is perhaps the most pervasive form of cultural capital, so when it integrates broader themes, it speaks volumes to me.
What does Fashion Week mean to you as a brand?
Edwin: This is the first time we participated in Fashion Week. To me, Fashion Week is another outlet to showcase our work as a creative agency and as a brand. It also gives me the opportunity to showcase my vision of the world.
What are your thoughts on your latest endeavor being in the Lower East Side?
Ana: Not being from New York, I think about my place in gentrification constantly. Essentially, if you're a transplant making some kind of wave, then you're raising someone's rent.
That being said, though I think there's a respectful path and a detrimental one. When we were in Brooklyn, we were much more isolated—yet the rapid development around us was much more obvious, and our reach a lot less. At this point, opening a space in Bushwick is counter-intuitive. It's gotten more expensive than Downtown!
Being in Manhattan forces you to think spatially much more—build equitable relationships with your neighbors, respect the history, and really work your square footage. Our space is small, but so are most people's living conditions. People are pissed about getting pushed out further and further, so lets find some options.