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For a New Pop-Up Store in Manhattan, Bittertang Goes Goth

By Jenna M. McKnight
November 7, 2013
Photo © Evan Joseph

Bittertang's "Walls of Wax" is this year's BOFFO Building Fashion installation, located at Pier 57 (11th Avenue and 15th Street) in Manhattan. It features menswear designer Michael Bastian’s fall/winter 2013 collection.

Ever since launching their design firm Bittertang six years ago, Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres have cultivated a reputation for their use of peculiar materials. For a 2010 sukkah exhibition in Manhattan’s Union Square, the duo created an inflatable vinyl blob filled with moss and eucalyptus leaves. For a 2011 pavilion on Governors Island, they crafted walls out of nylon stockings stuffed with bark and constructed a roof out of blow-up beach toys.

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Now, the small “design farm,” as Bittertang calls itself, has fabricated another distinctive space: a pop-up shop for the men’s fashion designer Michael Bastian. Located in a Pier 57 warehouse on Manhattan’s West Side—and open to the public through November 21—the project is the latest installment in the ongoing Building Fashion series produced by BOFFO, a nonprofit arts group. “We’re always looking for new and innovative ways of defining public art,” says Faris Al-Shathir, an architect-by-training who cofounded the organization in 2009.

For its competition-winning “Walls of Wax” scheme, the New York City and Guadalajara, Mexico-based Bittertang took its cue from Bastian’s fall collection, which was inspired by American artist Andrew Wyeth’s gloomy depictions of rural life. The two designers also drew from their abiding interest in making architecture that goes beyond visual spectacle. “We were talking about furniture and the smell of beeswax polish,” says Loverich. “We wanted to make this space a sensorial experience.”

Constructed in 10 short days, the installation consists of a 20-foot-tall mound of hay enveloping two shipping containers. The designers fused the containers together, removing their interior walls to create a 40-by-16-foot space. While selling merchandise is certainly important, Bastian notes that a key goal for the store was to take the emphasis off shopping. “We wanted it to be more of a feeling when you walk in, rather than a pure commercial space,” he says.

Visitors enter through a nearly hidden glass door and step into a glowing, cave-like room. Lit from behind by LEDs, fabric walls are covered in thick layers of melted wax; the designers even used wax to sculpt a fireplace and mantel. Décor includes an eerie painting of two boys and an oddly shaped bed split in two. 

Adjoining the main room is a snug, dimly lit retail area containing the merchandise and a tiny dressing room. Bastian’s military jackets, camo sweaters, wool pants, and other rugged-chic pieces—ranging from $120 to $1,375—are hung from racks that resemble vintage chair spindles. The entryway to the room is sheathed in black rooster feathers.

The space is mesmerizing but spooky, which is exactly the idea. Bastian says Bittertang’s concept perfectly captures the New England Gothic vibe of his fall line. “I was pigeonholed years ago as a preppy, American menswear brand. But there’s more to menswear than ‘preppy,’” he says. “A lot of this comes from wanting to take a trip to the darker corner.”

Jenna M. McKnight is a writer based in New York City.

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