BLOB #6 – SOHO TO JAPAN
Photo of Barone SOHO Shop
The artist-driven “color” cosmetic products we created for our BARONE store on West Broadway “knocked-your-socks-off.” The store was just a short block-and-a-half from our cavernous 4th floor loft which took up an entire floor at 123 Prince St. at Wooster in New York’s SoHo*, the art epicenter of the world. The store at 414 West Broadway was right next-door to the gallery of famed art dealer Leo Castelli (Jasper Johns, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, Raushenberg) and directly across the street from Mary Boone. The SoHo store was named “BARONE” and this was confidently expressed by a hand carved deep relief sign painted in black and bright cadmium yellow. The Barone signature sign with its expressive and exaggerated “E” and unique 3 dots, hung floating under the slanted forced perspective soffit above a pair of modern French doors.
BARONE Store Front
The store was our showcase to the world and it was “jammin’!” Our BARONE products were being sold uptown in Bloomingdale’s and midtown at Macy’s Herald Square as well as across the Atlantic at Top Shop in London and Galleries Lafayette in Paris. Next, we crossed the Pacific by entering into a licensing agreement with a giant cosmetic manufacturer in Japan.
Photo of BARONE at Bloomingdale’s
With Barone Cosmetics now in Japan, Karen and I started traveling to Asia at least twice a year for personal appearances. We would fly into Tokyo for meetings with Mr. Ito and Mr. Yamamori. Mr. Ito was the CEO of the largest “liquid-fill” (lotions, creams, fragrances) cosmetics manufacturing firm in Japan. His corporation held the license for importing and marketing Barone Products throughout the Nippon nation. Mr. Yamamori was selected from Mr. Ito’s corporate managers to head Barone-Japan. He was “our man in Tokyo.”
BARONE Face Logo
It was our custom to arrive in Tokyo in the PM; repair in our room at the ultra-modern Akasaka-Prince-Hotel and wait until the next morning for our meetings.
Arriving at the Akasaka-Prince-Hotel is akin to entering an all white Bugsby Berkley dream. A classical pianist played Chopin at a white grand piano. White was everywhere: walls, ceiling, furniture, floor. The piano sat atop a white pedestal-like stage. A large crystal chandelier hung all the way down from the super high ceiling and was suspended directly above the piano. . .
Over the next several days the four of us, Ito-San, Yamamori-San, Karen-San, and I, Tony-San (because Karen & I are both Barone-San using our first names avoided confusion), would head out each morning to visit the 10 BARONE stores in Nippon cities around the country. Accompanied by by our omnipresent Japanese interpreter, Hiromi, We would town-car around Tokyo; Bullet Train to Osaka; fly to Kyoto and Fukuoka.
We made “personal appearances” at each store and met with BARONE staff. Yamamori-San would schedule interviews and photo ops with Japanese magazine editors and writers. The youth of Japan are voracious readers. They crowd around magazine stands soaking in teen and twenty-something lifestyle and fashion periodicals. BARONE Cosmetics in all its guises appeared frequently in the ubiquitous press.
Japanese BARONE makeup artists were radiantly beautiful. They applied their cosmetics with skilled perfection. Japanese girls receive their mother’s instruction in applying their cosmetics and using “treatment” at an early age. They always used foundation which protected their skin from the sun and the environment. They loved using BARONE’s rich, bold, confident colors and light-refracting micas on their classically beautiful porcelain faces … BARONE was art supplies for the face.
In Japan our makeup artists wore the same special smocks which we designed for our BARONE makeup artists in New York at Bloomingdales 59th St., Macy’s, Herald Sq. and the BARONE store “down” in SoHo. The smocks were made from extremely soft pitch black motorcycle jacket leather. They were unstructured with raw suede insides and had a soft matching tie belt. The hem line was raw, natural and primitive. Here’s the part that said “fashion, super cool and edgy”: the super-hero signature shoulders you see in much of our designs for Karen’s fashion today, were covered with pointed shapes made from rich bronze toned genuine python skins” (a practice our vegan conscience would not permit today).
BARONE Uniform Drawing by Tony Barone
Fast forward to today and one can see how the silhouette of our “FASHIONISTA” sculptures came out of the sketches and making of those smocks. *Today our passion and sensitivity for earth’s creatures could never allow us to create fashion from the skins of animals.
Karen & Tony Barone with one of their “Fashionista” sculptures
The Japanese loved the ceremoniously layered and creative way BARONE products were packaged. It was micro-miniature pop art. The reverse scale of Claus Oldenburg’s oversized sculpture. We placed Lipstick in 3″ high bright red dynamite sticks with thin white fuses. Our loose powder eye shadow was packaged in 1.5″ tall micro Chinese food containers complete with “Stan Freeberg’s Chung King” wire handles and carved toothpicks which resembled mini chopsticks.
BARONE Eye Shadow
Promotional jargon was always tied into the packaging. For dynamite lipstick: “Blow ’em away – BARONE!” and “BARONE colors are explosive…”. Our lipstick HAD to be packaged with a labeled warning “DANGER … EXPLOSIVE COLORS”. All this mini pop art came in the form of “exterior packaging” – exterior packaging that no one threw away. Through Bloomingdales, Macy’s and our BARONE SOHO store, we sold thousands of lipsticks in New York City alone. We would go to a restaurant at nite and frequently a diner at another table would take a BARONE dynamite lipstick from her purse and bring her lips up to optimum. The experience would be entertaining and sybaritic for her and her companion(s).
BARONE Dynamite Lipstick
Approaching a BARONE make up station anywhere in the world was like walking up to a candy counter. BARONE shops and counters, no matter where they were located, all carried the signature look of the BARONE flagship store in SoHo.
BARONE Popcorn Box
The licensees as well as each department store wanted the whole look – the whole package – right down to the exploding popcorn box with “on fire” handles we designed for each customer to carry away their prized acquisitions. The Japanese loved it. It wasn’t just BARONE products the Japanese wanted, they wanted it all – excitement, colors, style, ceremony, richness, quality, wit, and fun.
In the evening all the BARONE staff in a particular Japanese city would be the guest of Mr. Ito at a bacchanal feast celebrated at one of the cities best restaurants – usually Italian. In a country of quality, perfection and ceremony, even the Italian restaurants were some of the best in the world.
I love Japan. Karen, being an absolute perfectionist, was in her realm. She loved the Japanese and the Japanese loved her. They treated her as a queen with respect and dignity. She was a rockstar, an icon they adored. We were always together. The public saw as us an artist couple, a couple in love. They got it right – we were both and still are in love. When they would introduce us as a pair it was “Barone-San – great and famous artists”. Individually, as previously mentioned, we were addressed as “Karen-San” and “Tony-San”. All interaction was conducted by a well orchestrated established code. There were standard practices for just about everything: where and when one sat; or how something was handed to you; how you cleaned your eyeglasses (that’s another story). Formality and politeness permeated every level of society and yes, there was bowing, but it was always timed right and never overdone.
Corporate Japan saw us as creative marketing and business innovators, knowledgeable in Art, Fashion and cross-cultural merchandising. They saw us as a couple in love who through their union, could make art into product & product into art...Everything was ART!
In Japan, honor and respect is a part of every day life. In the business transactional world and pecking order, Karen held the title of President and l was Vice President. Therefore, every time we were to get into an automobile, our Japanese associates would offer the front passenger seat – “the seat of honor” – to Karen. And every time, she would politely turn it down opting to sit in the back seat with me. Even honor and hundreds of years of tradition couldn’t separate us.