Struggling to find a suitable gift for that ultra-picky art-world couple who always invite you over for their annual finger buffet? What can you possibly give to affluent culture vultures whose Schnabel- and Hirst-encrusted apartment is ten times the size of your pathetic little hovel?
I’ve got it! How about a signed Christopher Radko holiday tree ornament? It’s infinitely cheaper than a Jeff Koons sculpture, and yet it embodies exactly that same collision of kitsch and craft which makes Mr. Koons’ work such a total gas.
Christopher who? Those of you who have never heard of Christopher Radko must surely have spent the last five years in a Taliban training camp or similar. Between his relentless in-store personal appearances and his QVC hondling , Mr. Radko has surely achieved a brand recognition equal to that of another contemporary blond success, Mr. Eminem.
Czarina Muffina, Highland Fling Muffy, Sugar Spookie: These are not the names of strippers. They are creatively monikered holiday tree ornaments from the ever-increasing, lustrous, handcrafted Radko repertoire. Since his first collection in 1986, Mr. Radko has produced, in conjunction with Eastern European artisans, over 10,000 designs, making his name synonymous with Yuletide joy-and money. Rumors abound regarding the financial specifics of his privately held company (insiders posit that he may have already hit the $100 million mark), and about the lavish Upper West Side pad where-so they say-he lounges in Noël Coward–esque splendor on Art Deco furniture, attended by a liveried manservant.
Who is the enigma behind the tinsel garland? Who is this oracle of ornaments whose devotees include Tom Cruise, Elizabeth Taylor, Ricky Martin and (brace yourselves for a baffling butch attack) Bruce Springsteen?
We met at his Fifth Avenue showroom, where infinite gobs of Radko ornaments are presented in lavish Quartermaine-ish room settings. “Yes, I have a butler,” admitted the reticent Mr. Radko, with an indulgent roll of the eyes and a smoothing of his festive red cashmere turtleneck. “His name is Mr. D.” Mr. D’s main duties, according to his employer, are to make sure that the young-ish Chris (he admits to 42) is rested and fed in order to keep up with the endless rounds of personal appearances that clog the Radko schedule.
When not frantically signing ornaments, Mr. Radko relaxes by tending to his collection of Jazz Age tchotchkes. “I like the period 1925 to ’47, when New York was totally the cat’s pajamas,” said Mr. Radko, sounding very Fred and/or Ginger, but not giving away much on the personal front. The only remotely revelatory info that I can extract from the inscrutable Christopher is the fact that he collects artifacts from the Graf Zeppelin . He said he has china, a cocktail shaker, toys, pens and a cigar holder.
While conducting my pleasant but largely unsuccessful probe of the mysterious Mr. Radko, I couldn’t help but notice that he had a speck of glitter stuck to his eyelid. Suddenly we-the window king/queen and the holiday-ornament king/queen-found ourselves commiserating enthusiastically about the relentless sticking-power of glitter. It never biodegrades! It never leaves the planet! Whether on your face or lodged in the carpet, flecks of glitter are mysteriously resistant to the suction of the crevice nozzles on Mr. D.’s vacuum cleaner, and mine. Relaxing a little, Mr. Radko finally revealed something about himself: Blushing slightly, he admitted to having once found glitter dust in his “private areas.”
Don’t let this put you off. Radko ornaments are gooey, gorgeous and hilarious, and they increase in value. Vintage-i.e., early-90’s-Radko frequently changes hands for over $600. Here are my suggestions:
1. For that arty couple, snag one of the Teddy Bear ornaments, which C.R. created to commemorate this year’s 100th anniversary of the teddy bear. Two-step Teddy ($38 suggested retail) is particularly Koonsian.
2. For studio-apartment dwellers like yourself who have no room for a tree, grab two killer, extra-long, tree-topping finials. Take two of said dagger-like objects and insert a candle into each. Take the protruding ends of each candle and insert them firmly into a pair of your favorite candlesticks. Voila ! A pair of very nifty and extremely futuristic mantle or table adornments.
3. Tired of haggling with flea-market vendors over high-priced 1960’s tree ornaments? Treat yourself to a box ($50-$100) of go-go orbs from the “Fantasia” collection. For a brash, tarty, annoy-your-shabby-chic-neighbors look, attach your balls to a silver tinsel wreath and hang it on the outside of your front door.
Meet the artist! On Dec. 13, he’ll be signing at the Christopher Radko store in Garden City, Long Island. There’s a handy store locator on ChristopherRadko.com for instructions on how to get there-and when you do, make him blush by offering to inspect his various “private areas” for glitter flecks.
Re glittery eyelids for holiday parties: yes if war breaks out and no if it doesn’t. Re Eminem: Am I the only person that thinks his voice has the top note of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s?