660 Madison Avenue is a hallowed address, known and revered by fashion-loving New Yorkers—or, at least those who have lived and shopped here since before February 2020. But until this week, the building that once housed the flagship location of Barneys New York remained an empty shell.
Through the end of December, the space has been reanimated with Louis Vuitton’s 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries, a traveling exhibition of conceptual “trunks” designed by a slew of creative innovators (Gloria Steinem, BTS, and Frank Gehry among them) commissioned by the French fashion house. The project was inaugurated last year to commemorate the 200th birthday of Louis Vuitton, the man who founded the brand as a luggage company in the 1800s.
The exhibition—a high fashion Museum of Ice Cream, of sorts—fills four floors of the former department store, which aside from its criss-crossing escalators and elegant staircase down to what was once the best beauty department in Manhattan, has been rendered unrecognizable in a flurry of glossy, highly produced spaces.
The exhibition begins on the ground floor, where a corridor leads visitors to a trunk paneled in digital screens that introduces the project. It’s followed by rooms dedicated to trunks designed by art director Willo Perron and artist Francesca Sorrenti, among others, followed by a cavernous space in which a multitude of trunks are stacked artfully on top of the shipping crates in which they arrived. Upstairs, a room wallpapered in balloons spotlights Robert Moy’s balloon-covered trunk, and a series of dramatically lit galleries contain designs by the likes of architect Peter Marino (a bondage-inspired box in a dimly lit enclosure) and DJ/producer Benji B. (a functioning jukebox in a vintage-inspired monogram trunk).
A trip down to the basement level reveals a pristine atelier space, where 3-D printers hum along as they build whimsical animal figurines and shelves are stocked with paintbrushes, crayons, and glue. Here, Vuitton’s Visual Image Studio team will be in residency, hosting a series of interactive workshops for visitors throughout the next few months.
Should you get hungry during your visit, former Barneys fans will be thrilled to hear that Fred’s, the iconic power lunch spot once located on the 9th floor, is back—with the same team, menu, and everything. The restaurant will be open for lunch, aperitifs, and small bites throughout the course of the pop-up. Reservations can be secured here.
And it wouldn’t be a proper exhibition without an exit through the gift shop: After descending from the final galleries, visitors have the opportunity to browse an eclectic mix of small leather goods, accessories, and editions from the house’s beloved travel book series. Even if it’s no longer the fashion Mecca it used to be, it’s comforting to have the opportunity to walk out of 660 Madison with shopping bags full of fabulous things once again.