Barney’s Matthew Mazzucca Wants to Change the Role of Retail

Mieke Ten Have

Photography by Sarah Muehlbauer

Matthew Mazzucca
Creative Director Matthew Mazzucca is taking Barneys into new territory with immersive experiences and artist collaborations.

“I like the moments of downsides because it means we’ll have upsides,” says creative director and senior vice-president of Barneys Matthew Mazzucca. “So many climates are being disrupted; it’s like the roads are shut down for renovation but they will reopen.”

Heady language for a department store figurehead, but when you dive into Mazzucca’s work for Barneys, which in just one year old has taken on political and social commentary, virtual-reality filmmaking and an innovative editorial overhaul, you see that the creative director has his sights set on much more than a pretty picture.

Mazzucca, who built his bona fides working for storied fashion set designer and art director Stefan Beckman, exudes a fearless understanding of today’s borderless opportunities in a tepid traditional retail climate. Case in point: this March, Barneys unveiled an ambitious virtual-reality film straddling fashion, theater and costume in collaboration with Martha Graham Dance Company and Samsung. Directed and choreographed by Theo and Cynthia Stanley respectively, it features principal dancers ranging in age from 30 to 80 dressed in The Row, Rick Owens, Prabal Gurung and Loewe with designer “Craig Green supporting,” as Mazzucca says, with set design by Beckman. The production is beyond the purview of what anyone might expect a retailer to take on.

The future of creative marketing in an increasingly oversaturated visual culture is a riddle that Mazzucca continues to puzzle out. “How do you scratch the surface?” he asks. “You have to light yourself on fire to get people to pay attention. We’ve gone beyond a fashion film to create a composed piece, without pretenses but also something dynamic.” The cross-disciplinary film was specifically tailored for presentation across virtual-reality and 360-degree video platforms. (The piece can be viewed in Barneys New York stores with Gear VR powered by Oculus, through the Samsung VR app and online at Mazzucca has his eye on breadth of content in every undertaking.

“I’m experimenting; I don’t feel pressure from the company to try and appease people. Instead, I’m trying to get the landscape right. You can’t ride on success. You have to think, ‘What does this look like five years from now?'"

“We need more. The old-school photographers give you what they give you, but it’s not modern for us,” he says. “We need people who are ready to go for it.” Under Mazzucca, Barneys’ catalogs, referred to as The Window, read more like a highly stylized cult fashion magazine, with luxurious paper stock and with “the feeling of entertainment and editorial,” he says. Recent pieces include an interview with Vice News correspondent Gianna Toboni and a campaign shot by Oliver Hadlee Pearch with the sons of storied creatives such as Lauryn Hill and Camilla Nickerson.

Mazzucca seems to embrace disruption—whether it be in the way we consume news, or what the next generation of talent is bringing to the table and how they react to previous paradigms. “Stories can’t just be driven by aesthetics anymore—the team has to see the light through the trees,” he says.

The Madison Avenue windows, of course, remain the apotheosis of the company’s visual direction. Mazzucca admires the avant-garde history of Gene Moore’s collaborations with the likes of Salvador Dalí and Robert Rauschenberg for stores like Tiffany & Co., and the path that Simon Doonan forged at Barneys.

Under Mazzucca, Barneys windows toe the line between the esoteric, the delightful and of course, the entertaining. “I’m experimenting; I don’t feel pressure from the company to try and appease people. Instead, I’m trying to get the landscape right. You can’t ride on success. You have to think, ‘What does this look like five years from now?’” he says.

This past holiday season, Mazzucca partnered with the Haas brothers, whose work—replete with vividly-hued collectible mushroom sculptures and shaggy-haired and horned animal stools—could be described as high design on acid. “We wanted to do something totally non-denominational. Yes, their work is phallic and subversive, but their core values are peace and love and good vibes. We want adults and an eight-year-old to both be delighted,” says Mazzucca.

Mazzucca’s influences and cultural touchstones are as varied as the texture he is bringing to his role at Barneys. He likes artists that vacillate between different categories, citing the likes of Murakami, Bill Bollinger and Jordan Wolfson. “It’s about straddling disciplines between music, art, fashion and design,” he says. A self-proclaimed nerd, he finds inspiration in playing XBox and watching old music videos. He enjoys JJ Abrams and the newfound embrace of surrealism in television.

“I’m not into Instagram, but I like that you can dive into the web and find something you never knew anything about,” he says. It is this nimble cultural interface that drives Mazzucca’s progressive vision for a brand that is repositioning itself in the evolving retail landscape.

“We can create our own stories and thread politics into it and be reactive to what’s happening around us,” says Mazzucca. “That’s what we do and that’s what Barneys has always done.”