Fashion Meets Furniture

Nigel Barker left N.Y. Fashion Week early to team up with Art Van
Photographs by Martin Vecchio

Say the name Nigel Barker, and women will swoon. The world-renowned photographer made an impression on many with his role as a judge on America’s Next Top Model for eight seasons alongside Tyra Banks. So who would’ve thought Barker would leave New York Fashion Week early this year to work on a special project with Art Van Furniture? A press conference was held Feb. 12 to discuss how the collaboration came together for the Spring 2014 Furniture Catalog.

Almost five years ago in the picturesque northern Michigan Bay Harbor resort community, Barker and Art Van Elslander met poolside. Both are frequent visitors to the town, and developed a friendship over the years, often meeting up through mutual friends — including Grand Rapids-based fashion designer Pamella Roland.

“We’d see each other summer after summer, and it would be like old friends … these are the best relationships that don’t happen that often, organic true friendships that build over time,” Barker says.

The catalog will illustrate how the newest fashion trends directly impact the furniture world, too. Including metro Detroit, shots have been taken in many other locations including Chicago, High Point, N.C., and Miami.

The day of the cover shoot in Auburn Hills, Barker was both in front of and behind the camera, blasting Frank Sinatra from the speakers as he bent in various directions to capture the perfect shot.

The cover will feature a model in a gown handmade by local designer Katerina Bocci, who incorporated fabric swatches into the dress from Art Van Furniture’s affordable luxury line, Thread & Feather.

“We worked about 25 to 28 hours to finish it,” Bocci says. “The hardest part was we didn’t have a model to fit until the day of the photo shoot.”

Hour Detroit sat down with Barker to discuss how he teamed up with Art Van and what makes this catalog different from the rest.

Q. What are you hoping for on the cover?

A. This is the cover shot … you get a little more license to be more avant-garde — you can potentially have more fun with it, it’s not just specifically a sales or marketing tool anymore, it’s a piece to grab someone’s attention. … we took the initiative to not just be a catalog, but actually turn it into a very grand advertising piece that sort of shows the love and life of the brand throughout it.

Q. How is this furniture catalog new and fresh?

A. A big part of my imagery is life, and I mean really bringing a picture to life. And Mr. Van always talks about a piece of furniture, not just as a static piece of furniture, but something that’s part of your world and enhancing someone’s life. Whether it’s your son’s chair covered in stickers, or your grandparents’ old couch, every piece of furniture has a story to it. I want to inject that sense of life, sense of family, sense of personality, sense of fun. I just think about the image and what I’m trying to achieve in that moment — bringing that life, sensibility, and that truth to the picture because it never works without any of that. Every little detail is important to me, every piece of furniture in the room, and we go in and we tweak every aspect, we have meetings about all the fabrics, and even the color of the remote control car that will be placed in a child’s bedroom … as well as the casting of the models.

Q. Do furniture firms ever take this approach?

A. No, I think this is actually pretty unique, and having done a lot of research on it, there are elements where people inject family and people into pictures, sure, but not in the same way as we’ve done here. This is pretty novel, partly because we were given such carte blanche to do what we want to do — a lot of trust was given to us. I was even able to get kids with water guns and spray their furniture.

Q. How did being on TV affect your career?

A. It was a risk because at the time the world of fashion was super exclusive and elitist — they all saw me as a sellout, so initially it wasn’t necessarily a great move from a business standpoint. I thought past that, and thought as the big picture, this is pioneering in our business, the fashion industry is about to open up. I wanted to be a part of the people that broke down the doors of the fashion business, and ever since then I’ve been all about breaking down doors, and giving availability access to everything I do. Whatever it is, I’m not afraid to show people what it is I do, or what I’ve done, how I did it, behind the scenes, I’m not precious, copy me if you will, I’m not afraid, because I’m not thinking my light is better than the next person’s light, and what I bring is my own vision and my own light, and I enjoy all those aspects, so I feel very lucky.