“He has been another collaborator to bring forward many of her ideas, things she loves that she has seen and approved,” Mr. Freedman said, “things that relate to her life and childhood.” In the bookstore, he pointed out, were “fine new editions” of books she’d read as a child, like the aforementioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.
“Her mother met with us to tell us about her childhood so we could make things that were relevant,” he went on. “One of the most important things to know about this is every single thing in this workshop was made specifically for this workshop. They are all limited editions, some larger than others. They are handmade, the quality is extremely high. And they are all originals. This project was quite rare. There was nothing we got from anywhere else.”
“Eli began the minute we approached him in designing, drawing and conceiving sculptures—wallpaper patterns, you’ll see the entrance on 60th Street. He was a constant source of creativity and design. It was then up to the whole team to get everything made. We finished last night. This was a twenty-four-hour–a-day, seven-day-a-week project.”
Mr. Freedman took a breath.
“Barneys has been miraculous in conceiving this,” he continued. “The back wall—each panel was hand-painted by a group of painters who projected Eli’s design on the wall with the projector, taped every line.” These were vibrant, Op-Art-like patterns in black and white. “There isn’t a detail here that hasn’t been done on the highest level.”
Someone asked a question.
“Each item was made by a specific vendor and we sourced them based on a Gaga design, or an Eli design,” Mr. Freedman further explained. He mentioned the avaf logo on the shopping bags. “Then there are certain patterns used in the cash registers, that is used in many ways even as endpaper in the books. The custom aspect is very important to this project.”
Is this playing with the idea of a Santa’s Workshop? We asked Mr. Freedman.
“Absolutely,” he said. “A hundred percent.”
We asked if Barneys had done a holiday area in the past, with Santa Claus and elves and whatnot.
They hadn’t. The store was undergoing a renovation, and the timing allowed for the demolition of this space, which, just a few months ago, was the men’s co-op. It was demolished, and rebuilt as Gaga’s Workshop.
Altogether, the installation of Gaga’s Workshop took a month.
“There are different stations,” he explained. “There’s the boudoir, there’s the spider with the jewelry, there’s the bookstore—all those designs Eli produced, she saw them, then they were made.”
Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, to which 25 percent of the sales proceeds go, supports “bravery in children, empowerment…it’s her entire thing of bullying and youth empowerment,” a Barneys rep said.
“In a sense,” Mr. Freedman added, “these things do become collector’s items, because there’s a limited amount of them. These manufacturers will not make these again.”
It’s all about what Lady Gaga herself uses and wears, Mr. Freedman said.
One table featured necklaces in the shapes of hands. Mr. Formichetti explained that they’d been made by an Irish fan of Gaga’s. Mr. Freedman stood behind the necklaces, listening. “We should put a label here saying that,” he said.
Probably the most expensive thing was a one-of-a-kind necklace for around $1,300. The jewelry is made by designers, like Pamela Love, who Gaga works with, and which Barneys carries. Gaga owns similar pieces.
The whole installation derives from stories from Lady Gaga’s life. Gaga herself hadn’t yet seen it.
“She’s going to freak out,” Mr. Fornichetti said, smiling.
“She’ll be, like, ‘My life, in front of me, as a store!’” added Mr. Freedman.
So. To review. This is not about the mythology of Christmas—Santa Claus and his elves. Call Santa Claus what you will (Old? White? Male? Nonexistent? An excuse for consumerism?): this is about the mythology of a celebrity, a young one, a Gaga one, and her elves: Mr. Fornichetti, Mr. Freedman, Mr. Sudbrack and his avaf collective, and any number of manufacturers. How real the image of any celebrity can be to her fans is questionable. Like Santa Claus, Gaga stays close to hers, creates the impression of a personal relationship, a connection; perhaps there is something to be said for that.
Someone asked about the huge sculpture of Gaga. Was it for sale? “Good question!” said Mr. Freedman. “Not at the moment.”
Later, we asked Mr. Sudbrack if he could see his large Gaga sculptures having lives after the Workshop is dismantled in January.
“Yes,” he said. “Totally.”
As in, a collector buying it?
“Yes. Especially the centerpiece.” Meaning Gaga with the blue wig, red bodysuit and sequin carpet.
We asked if he considered this art, as well as a commission for a department store. “It’s a funny line,” he said. “For us, the sensation is, it’s a lot of artwork we’ve always wanted to make. There are aspects to it. We were always moving in that direction.”
But, had he been given carte blanche in designing these things?
“There was back and forth about the logo,” he said. “The thing that inspired this is that Nicola said they wanted elongated figures. The contortionist is an idea I’ve been working with for a while. And these were elements we incorporated with her.” He said the Gaga image for the centerpiece also refers to a photograph of her that ran in Vanity Fair.
He’d been debriefed him on the various stations that were needed: one to sell lollipops, one to sell stuffed animals, and so forth.
So this is a take-off on Santa’s workshop, we posited, again.
“Yes,” Mr. Sudbrack said. “But we’re in Gagaland.”