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Why Angelina Jolie's choice of Jean-Michel Basquiat's former studio for new brand HQ is inspiring

By Jackie Mallon


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Former studio of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and location for Angelina Jolie's new brand headquarters Credits: FashionUnited

This fall Angelina Jolie’s new brand will take up residence at 57 Great Jones Street in the former studio of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who lived there from 1983 until his death in 1988. The 6,600-square-foot old carriage house, which was listed for 60,000 dollars a month, had been on the market for 8 months, its previous occupant the exclusive Japanese restaurant, Bohemian. Located on a tranquil downtown cobble-stoned street, the property is far removed from the grind and grit of the New York fashion industry located in Manhattan’s midtown. The location would seem to align with Jolie’s vision to build a different kind of fashion business. “She made sure she got this deal,” John Roesch, the broker at Meridian Capital Group who represented the landlord, told Curbed. He also noted that she did not send her team but visited multiple times over six months, developing a true connection with the space which prompted Meridian, despite having received multiple offers for the property, to accept Jolie’s. “We decided that Angelina’s concept would be the best fit and use for the building,” said Roesch.

The building’s artistic legacy began when Andy Warhol purchased the space which spans three floors in 1970, later renting it to Basquiat but returning often to create art with the younger artist and mentee. The building is easy to spot, covered with fan graffiti art in honor of Basquiat’s legacy as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, attracting art and music pilgrims in search of glimpses of a bygone NYC. It is reported that the Oscar winner has signed an eight year lease and intends to maintain the facade as is, to honor the building’s artistic history.

The area has already seen an influx of celebrities and brands attempting to tap into the rich cultural heritage of the downtown NYC scene once frequented by The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith. Back in 2008, John Varvatos took over the Bowery landmark, CBGBs, known as “the birthplace of punk rock,” for his flagship store selling leather jackets for 2500 dollars, while one block south of Atelier Jolie is the Goop store, the controversial lifestyle brand created by Gwyneth Paltrow.

FashionUnited Credits: Plaque on facade of 57 Great Jones St honoring Jean-Michel Basquiat

A plaque placed on the structure of 57 Great Jones Street by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation reads: “Basquiat’s paintings and other works challenged established notions of high and low art, race and class, while forging a visionary language that defied characterization.” Currently on display at The Grand LA, "Jean-Michel Basquiat, King Pleasure" exhibit has been extended through October 15th. His work married poetry, drawing, and painting into a visual social commentary that attacked power structures and highlighted poverty and colonialism. A high school dropout and teen runaway who emerged as a graffiti artist under the moniker SAMO, Basquiat did not conform to the global art star mold of the decadent and status-conscious 1980s, and being half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican, he was not entirely comfortable mingling among the fawning wealthy white art patrons of the time. But in 2010, his painting, Untitled, became the most expensive painting ever sold when it fetched a record-breaking 110.5 million dollars, while just this year a Basquiat triptych sold for 67.1 million dollars at Christie's in New York. From what we know so far Atelier Jolie is also defying characterization for a celebrity clothing line. “A privilege to be in this space,” Jolie wrote on her Instagram. “We will do our best to respect and honor its artist legacy with community and creativity.”

Could Atelier Jolie herald a new model of celebrity clothing line?

The brand’s website reads that the brand "will bring together a diverse team, including apprenticeships for refugees and other talented, underappreciated groups, with positions of dignity based on skill.” It suggests that NYC is the first of other planned ateliers and on Instagram Jolie described being “part of a movement to cultivate more self-expression.”  

As well as her career in acting and directing, Jolie spent two decades working for the UN Refugee Agency, traveling to Yemen and Burkina Faso to build awareness of the plight of people fleeing their homes due to war and famine. Her brand has already worked on an inaugural collaboration with French luxury womenswear house Chloé on a capsule collection co-designed by Jolie and Gabriela Hearst, fellow proponent of social and environmentally sustainable fashion and Chloé’s Creative Director until last month when she announced she was stepping down. The collab allowed Jolie to immerse herself in working with artisans from a Fair Trade enterprise and the opportunity to use deadstock to create a range that Jolie said went further with using lower-impact materials than any previous Chloé collection. “Very few luxury brands are a certified B Corp. It was important to me to work with Chloé, one of the first luxury brands to be a B Corp,” wrote Jolie who vowed to invest all earnings from the collaboration in establishing apprenticeships for tailors and artisans at Atelier Jolie.

But Jolie is also an art collector and early signs indicate her approach to brand building and creativity is different than previous celebrities who have come to fashion. The Instagram post announcing the launch read, “Atelier Jolie wants to join others in their effort to democratize the fashion industry." Even her hiring strategy is different. The brand has put out an initial call on Instagram for skilled tailors. It’s certainly a more egalitarian recruiting method than the traditional route of poaching tenured tailors from other luxury houses or reaching out to global luxury headhunters such as Floriane De Saint Pierre.

“We are looking for tailors who understand quality and creativity. The first atelier is going to be in NYC, this call is for tailors living there. We hope there will be others soon, as we build a global family,” she wrote. “We look forward to reviewing them. Remember, if you don’t hear from us this round, there will be many more rounds and other opportunities to come.”

Atelier Jolie will also be a place for the public to bring items from their closet in need of repair, thereby “breathing new life into what could have been thrown away, and creating quality heirloom garments with personal meaning.” So too will 57 Great Jones Street enter its new incarnation. A structure that means so much to so many will not only be preserved but thrive with anti-establishment creativity once again. As well as his works on paper, Basquiat made art using as canvases found materials such as windows, doors, or rubber panels assembled with bars and hinges. So a collective that welcomes previously overlooked creatives to make heirloom fashion using vintage and deadstock fabric? Basquiat would surely approve.

Atelier Jolie
Jean-Michel Basquiat