Pin It
The Casual Pleasure of Disappoinment
Bjarne Melgaard and Babak Radboy

Why Bjarne Melgaard made a twisted fake fashion magazine

We speak to Melgaard’s collaborator Babak Radboy about the making of ‘Casual Pleasure of Disappointment’ and everything that’s wrong with fashion

Bjarne Melgaard’s latest New York provocation, The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, a sprawling video and installation-based show, has now finished at Red Bull Arts New York. Billed as an unrelenting and multifaceted culmination of Melgaard’s ongoing “fashion” project, the show opened during New York Fashion Week as a dishevelled, psychopathological interpretation of a department store, complete with a basement shop stocking Melgaard’s past books, as well as a conceptual unisex clothing line which aggressively confronted the self-shaming consumerism that has spawned incalculable numbers of New York fashion and streetwear brands in the past several years. 

To mark the show’s close — the inaugural exhibition for the space under its new moniker — Melgaard is releasing a limited 200-edition fake magazine created in collaboration with creative director Babak Radboy, The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment Magazine. Featuring contributions from Miguel Adrover, Anders Edstrom, Steven Klein, Roe Ethridge, Marcelo Krasilcic, Chris Kraus, Akeem Smith, and many others, Radboy describes the magazine as an “editorial hallucination” that boasts a roster of collaborators that range from designers to poodle groomers to rent boys. Upon the magazine’s release, I spoke to Radboy about the vinyl LP-sized project, antagonising the fashion industry, and why traditional fashion magazines might want to take some notes from a true outsider. Keep your eye on the site as we will also be premiering three exclusive videos, starring Melgaard’s muppet created in collaboration with Jim Henson Studios. 

The work compiled in The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment Magazine was done over the span of a few years. At what point did the idea crystallise that a magazine would be made of these shoots?

Babak Radboy: The project has been this very diffuse and immaterial thing, little traces popping up in all kinds of places and kind of purposely flying under the radar. The show was about exaggerating, and packaging this ghost of a thing to an extreme. Like the so-called “purge” where we gave away Bjarne’s personal hoard of clothes during fashion week – it was conceived as a pure publicity event.

“We wanted to try to project an alternative to this world. Or at least complicate it. Or at least just close our eyes for a moment” – Babak Radboy

Why create a fashion magazine instead of a standard exhibition catalogue? 

Babak Radboy: An exhibition catalogue is a hermetic thing pertaining to a singular practice. A magazine opens up into a world; a whole mode of production where personal desire and industrial desire intersect and crystallise at a given moment.

And of course it reproduces all the violence, the baggage and limitations of that moment too. Personally, I just feel it looming over every fashion image: this insecurity and intimidation. From the models to the photographers, the publishers and the advertisers — it’s all held together by fear. Every creative brief, every expression on a model’s face, every typographic flourish, the entire concept of ‘cool’ — is a dissimulation of fear. Will this look good in my portfolio? Will this get me a campaign? Will this sell our bullshit product? We wanted to try to project an alternative to this world. Or at least complicate it. Or at least just close our eyes for a moment.

In the notes on The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, you mention that the contributors “have nothing in common but their exile, malcontent, or complete irrelevance to fashion.” Was that an initial goal for the project or a theme that emerged after the fact?

Babak Radboy: It was the point. If you look at the list of fashion designers in particular they are mostly all outside of the fashion industry — by force or by choice. Andre Walker, ORFI, Bernadette Corp, Miguel Adrover, BLESS, Seth Shapiro, Telfar. Here the idea of “irrelevance” becomes a pivot to a separate center of gravity. 

Can you talk about Bjarne’s “appropriation” of fashion in the show and in this print project? How would you explain it to someone who may be stumbling upon it and unclear on the concept?

Babak Radboy: We appropriate it as a mode of distribution. If you write ‘Kill All Children’ on a painting it’s totally acceptable. The statement is understood as an artistic gesture and its force is limited to the edge of a canvas and the logic of an oeuvre. If you write it on a t-shirt and produce hundreds of them and sell them at an accessible price — something changes..

You imply that there are people who desire it — and in fact those people materialise. It creates a mirage of empathy. Did they always desire it or did you create a new desire inside of them? This is the same as asking — did these people always exist or did we in fact produce them? At the same time the only thing that constitutes this 'public' is a purchase — which is not any different from the collector just buying the painting that says ‘Kill All Children’. The shirt is just much cheaper though — in every sense.

How would you describe the magazine and artworks in the show in terms of their value as a response to the idea of fashion?

Babak Radboy: It expresses a disgust towards fashion that could only be produced by love. It’s like the cartoon of a ‘real’ New Yorker who constantly complains about the way the city is changing. Except in reality it really is getting worse. Those people do leave town and their apartments are taken by total assholes. We are all poorer for it.

What makes the magazine “fake”? 

Babak Radboy: Only one issue, only 200 copies, doesn’t have fashion in it.

Which shoot experience sticks out most to you as a joyful fashion memory?

Babak Radboy: The Muppet. I’m not sure if that qualifies as fashion but I was just blown away by the puppeteers. They were from the Sesame Street workshop — there’s a feeling when you’re in the presence of true talent — they managed to get the most subtle emotions into this puppet.

Many people in fashion are drawn to Bjarne’s work despite the fact that it directly antagonizes the culture. Are people misreading the work as ironic? 

Babak Radboy: It’s not ironic. I think in our generation we have a default concept of identities and images just being part of an economy of constantly circulating signs that we choose from at random. Bjarne puts dogs in his work because he likes dogs a lot. He likes drugs. He likes dicks. It’s pretty straightforward. Bjarne and I don’t like all the same things but we find a lot of common ground on what we hate — and what bores us.

“Bjarne puts dogs in his work because he likes dogs a lot. He likes drugs. He likes dicks. It’s pretty straightforward” – Babak Radboy

I've worked on two projects with you and Bjarne in fashion magazines. One was published in Dazed, uncensored, and one was deemed too offensive to publish in V and subsequently never ran. How can fashion magazines take notes from The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment in order to improve?

Babak Radboy: It’s hard to know where to begin – there’s just so much room for improvement. I see a moment of unprecedented aesthetic consensus. The velocity of image sharing has cooked down the concept of ‘cool’ into something which is really just repressive. The cooler something is the more repressive it is. But maybe a lot has to do with the professionalisation of consumption. At the end of the day — this sounds grim — but the reason things are boring is because more and more people are.

So start each shoot without a clear idea of how it should look. Don’t use moodboards. Deliberately make work that no one will like. Take actual risks. Invent your demographic. Close your social media accounts. Expect that compensation and popularity have an inverse relation to quality.

Why did you decide to build a Muppet and how does it serve as a stand-in for Bjarne? 

Babak Radboy: Bjarne’s involvement in a lot of the fashion project is pretty questionable. It’s easy to package the whole thing as an act of appropriation by Bjarne but I like to entertain the opposite: that we are just appropriating Bjarne. Literally making a puppet of him was pretty irresistible. While the Muppet could lend itself to a certain detachment from the artist, it also has the unique cultural characteristic of evoking something extraordinarily sentimental.

Were you conscious of this dichotomy when building out the idea? 

Babak Radboy: The whole project and magazine and even the installation with its abandoned-mall look is very nostalgic — but in an abstract way. Mostly we didn’t want it to feel ‘contemporary’. It doesn’t feel like any specific time it just seems not of-the-moment. I like the way feelings kind of condense on something over time. Like an old ad for things that aren’t in circulation anymore — the desire it stirs up is something you can’t really consummate.

Anything else you want to talk about, go ahead!

Babak Radboy: The thing that kind of sparked the attitude of the magazine was a photo project by Miguel Adrover he sent me while we were working on our exhibition “Daddies Like You Don’t Grow on Palm Trees” in Vienna. It was a photo diary of a 12 year span documenting Miguel’s exploits in Cuba with a group of friends he made there. They were sex workers and Miguel ended up selling his body for a few dollars a pop as a kind of act of solidarity with them. None of the pictures had been seen before. He did the whole thing without any ambition beyond its reality in his own life. Its purpose and its value were private. It really struck me as the kind of thing worth doing and seeing and showing.

Beyond that Miguel is patient zero in a certain conspiracy theory of fashion history that I would like to spread as much as possible. People forget that September 11th struck during fashion week. Miguel showed an Islam-inspired collection and immediately disappeared from the scene. September 11 2001 marks the date that a great number of the most interesting things in New York stopped happening. As the patriot act was passed in congress, the CFDA established the fashion fund. Ostensibly this was to support and nurture New York fashion but functioned as an unprecedented consolidation of power in the industry. What was abandoned was a clear historical continuity of fashion as a formal applied art — which moves from modernism to postmodernism, deconstruction and appropriation from World War II to Sept 11 2001. Fashion history stops there. Everything since is merchandising. You don’t have to print that.

Buy The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment here