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John Bartlett’s Beuys Life

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The Kitchen-Office
Bartlett with Tiny Tim, his pit bull– Lab mix. A screen of upholsterer’s strapping separates the kitchen from the office. The foyer has kraft-papered walls.   

Just before he decided to try and make another go of it in the fashion business, designer John Bartlett decided to renovate his apartment. The place hadn’t really been decorated before so much as well edited. Now the presiding spirit for the London Terrace one-bedroom is German artist Joseph Beuys, even though Bartlett doesn’t own a single work. “His rooms and vitrines have been things that I always wanted in my home. There’s something about his sensibility that is very masculine but very minimal, very neutral but with a military flavor.”

Beuys—known for his dramatic performance pieces and anti-aesthetic installations—is often seen as a shamanistic figure, grappling with German guilt. But Bartlett and his decorator, Mark Ciolli, chose to interpret him through materials, like his famous felt. The coffee-stained (literally) and kraft-papered walls pay homage to the artist’s obsession with wax, honey, and gold. “I thought of rough wood and primitive metals, rusted metals,” Ciolli says. “Beuys could not have any material he wanted, so he used found objects and industrial materials.”

Bartlett shut down his first line in 2002, having failed to translate good press and two CFDA awards into good-enough sales. He considered not returning to fashion at all, but is now relaunching his business with a menswear collection at Bergdorf Goodman this fall and a sportswear line next spring. And the Beuysian revamp has inspired some of his new designs: “I’m working with a special mill in Tuscany. The fabrics I’m using are much more rustic and humble” than in the past, he says—handwoven linens, stripes like mattress ticking. “They relate to the texture of my apartment.”

“Now I’m doing it for me,” he says about his designs, which have already won him another CFDA nomination, “rather than listening to the chatter in my head about what the clothes should be for different stores and different editors. I’m more clear about what I like: a softer silhouette, not everything so skintight. Sexy but not aggressive.”


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