Photography Rob Kulisek, stylist Thistle Brown. 

gauntlett cheng's new campaign was shot at a love motel

The duo took a bunch of their friends to hang out in a champagne flute bath.

by Blair Cannon
07 September 2018, 8:28pm

Photography Rob Kulisek, stylist Thistle Brown. 

After Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng sent their fall/winter 18 collection down the runway with furry pets in tow, they wanted to take it in an entirely different direction -- hightailing it to a New Jersey love motel -- for the accompanying campaign. Model friends snuck from room to room, lounged inside a gigantic champagne flute, and slunk about in mirrored rooms in what began as the strangest slumber party of their lives. You can see the images in the windows of the brand’s new showroom at ON CANAL, at 357 Canal Street, starting September 12. It’s a space which they plan to share with longtime collaborators, local artists, and likeminded designers. i-D talked to Esther and Jenny about the perils of love motels, working with their creative collaborators, and why their pets wear scarves.

I’m so curious, where were these images shot?
Esther Gauntlett: Oh my gosh. It’s a love motel in New Jersey. It’s a pay-by-the-hour motel, and it was so crazy. We drove everyone out there — and not like Jersey City, Jersey, like deep New Jersey. We drove all of the models and us out there. We had to sneak everyone in because you’re only meant to have two people per room. And we had two rooms booked and we were running back and forth between them, with only two people in the hallway at the same time. And it was crazy. There’s mirrors on the ceilings. One of them, it’s a two-story room with a champagne flute bath.

Jenny Cheng: That was called the Chalice Room.

Esther: Yeah, the Chalice Room. It’s got a two-story champagne flute bath.

So you weren’t looking for a love motel?
Esther and Jenny: No!

Esther: But it’s funny because the photos have such a glossed professional glam sort of vibe to them. And then you start to see it unravel at the edges. You’re like, “Oh that’s actually a really seedy bedspread.” And actually, he’s pulling back a curtain on a really gross mirror or window or something.

I would have never guessed! Well, the champagne bath one kind of gave it away.
Jenny: They have also other rooms that weren’t available that had a basement bathtub that looked like a jungle.

Do you know what your suites were called?
Esther and Jenny: The Crystal Chalice and the Honeymoon Suite 202 or 222.

And they didn’t catch you with all those people in there?
Esther: At the end, it was such a love motel, like I had to pay cash deposits.

Jenny: They were really strange, the hallways and everything. Everything was under construction.

Esther: Everything smelled like smoke weirdly. You could hear other rooms. It was a really bizarre, bizarre vibe.

Jenny: And it’s right off the highway too.

Esther: And the outside looks like a fake castle vibe, like turrets.

In the past you’ve been inspired by the notion of a vintage fashion ad. Was there any fashion history inspiration for this campaign?
Jenny: Well that’s not even what we were thinking about in the first place. We wanted it to have this slumber party vibe.

Esther: Yeah, quite a domestic sort of vibe. But I really like that you can look at it and initially see something domestic and then you begin to see all of the sort of strange things around it. It feels like a wholesome family vibe and it’s only when you really look at the images closely that things begin to unravel.

It’s kind of cinematic, like a twisted family or like a twisted suburban place.
Esther: I mean this does kind of does look like a weird twisted slumber party a bit.

Jenny: We wanted initially to have it in the point of view of a dog. In some of the photos, the lighting is reminiscent of dog colorblindness because we had all these puppies walk in the show. We were thinking about that, and then once we got to the space it just took off.

Esther: It just took over, it had to become this strange disturbing glam thing.

Did you keep the idea of a dog’s perspective in it?
Esther: There’s a little, where the colors begin to switch up a little. And the perspective is really strange in a lot of the photos, very low, from above and in the mirror.

Jenny: Like someone is towering over. There’s a lot of this weird vertigo feeling.

I thought I should ask about the dogs but that didn’t seem relevant at all but it actually did tie in!
Esther: We tried so hard to get a dog in there but we couldn’t.

You couldn’t bring a dog to the love motel. I was going ask you if you guys were going to keep using pets in the future.
Esther: I think we definitely keep wanting to do animal clothes. It’s not happening this season but Gauntlett Cheng pets will be back.

Esther: Yeah. My cat at home wears an old like scrap of fabric of ours around her neck like a scarf.

Jenny: My sister’s dog is getting clothes from last season.

Esther: And my parent’s dog.

Jenny: We were thinking about having a doggie daycare.

Esther: We came up with all these crazy ideas, we were like pet sitting! Crazy dog grooming, like dog makeovers.

So what are you working on for your space [Gauntlett Cheng have a storefront at Canal and Wooster]?
Jenny: Our friend Matthew Tseng who does our logo and all our invites and website, he’s going to be designing the campaign posters that are going on the windows. They’re going to be covering the whole windows as vinyls.

Are you presenting spring/summer 19 in your store space?
Esther: We’re presenting a few doors down. It’s slightly bigger.

Jenny: We have the whole collection that’s going to be in the storefront. So we’ll have the newest season and our last season and it’s going to be a showroom too. It just gives our brand more of a context if we have the old collection. And we always collaborate with artists.

Esther: Our friend Gobby did that and he’s going to be doing a mural in the space. And we have two artists that we’ve collaborated with for this season, Bea Fremderman and Jared Madere, they’ve been working on prints and buttons and things for us. And then we’ll have larger scale versions of their work in the showroom as well. So it’ll be nice to be like, here are these two collections and then here’s a wider context of people that we’ve worked with.

Speaking of collaboration, who’s the crew for this campaign?
Jenny: Rob actually shot our last season campaign, our spring/summer 18 campaign. And he’s amazing, he’s a good friend of ours. And Thistle who styled the campaign is styling this season. And then Marcelo is the makeup artist, I met him on a shoot the week before. We kind of reach out to our community.

And casting? Are these models we’ve seen in Gauntlett Cheng before?
Esther: We always kind of end up looking towards people that we know and people that we hang out with. Like Mike, the guy in the images who’s wearing the holey sweater, he’s a really good friend of ours and we were like, “uh, he has such a teen boy vibe--

Jenny: He has the right look--

Esther: --with the glasses on. There are definitely people that we’ve used in a lot of our images and each time we try and--

Jenny: --Expand.

Does it feel different to cast a campaign versus a presentation?
Jenny: I think it’s always the same mindset. We always like to have different bodies in our show and our campaigns because we do make clothes for different bodies.

What is fitting these different bodies like?
Jenny: It’s really magical. We just put it on and we’re like, "Woah! This is amazing!" It changes, it transforms.

Esther: I think a lot of our pieces do have that kind of ability to change on a lot of different bodies. Our fabrics are generally textural or stretchy, and really become something different when they’re stretched out as opposed to scrunched up, or when they’re wrapped around someone. And you can have the same piece -- we’re not necessarily making things being like, “Oh this is a size this and this is a size that.” We make a sample, generally, that we fit to either me or Jenny and then it gets put on these different people and comes to life.

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