cult new york store bess nyc takes diy digital

The New York store’s controversial Instagram account, manned by founder Doug Abraham, ushers in a new, online era for the brand.

by Paige Silveria
06 February 2015, 12:20pm

Photography Paige Silveria

Bess NYC, long known for its unique DIY and vintage wares, and more recently for its transgressive Instagram account, is closing its nine-year-old storefront on New York's Lafayette Street and moving fully into the virtual realm.

Justin Bieber hog-tied and gagged, Madonna slicing open her breast with a scalpel, Givenchy models with dead animals clenched in their jaws—these are all images that Bess founder Doug Abraham has rendered for his company's Instagram account, @bessnyc4. Delving into his endless trove of found imagery, the social-media magnate re-appropriates advertisements from the most iconic of luxury brands by collaging them with photographs of anything from Teletubbies to S&M.

Recently, with his virtual presence on the rise and his interest in the brand's physical merchandise waning, Doug Abraham announced that he is closing his Soho storefront and looking to explore the digital space. i-D spoke with Abraham about social media, the fate of Bess, and his hopes of teaming up with the same companies whose ads he's currently using as Instagram fodder.

So why is there nothing on the internet about Bess closing.
It's a grassroots thing. Making announcements on Racked is not really what the store's about. When you close a public place, you're not just ending it just for yourself. Bess was a place that people had strong personal feelings about, a place people wanted to discover and share on their own terms. And magazines like i-D really supported us from the beginning. They made us different, more of a legit brand.

How so?
We were positioned with high-end branding: you'd see an editorial with a Christian Dior dress and a Bess NYC flannel shirt. We didn't have a showroom so press, people like Alastair McKimm and Patti Wilson came in and pulled right from our store.

Your Instagram account also positions Bess among high-end brands.
I'm specifically fucking with expensive things to make myself appear expensive. I'm not an ingénue. It's not in my own service to be deluded by that.

How does Instagram play into Bess's transition?
I was feeling lost with the retail. I didn't know what kind of brand I wanted to have. It was relaxing for me to look at other people's shit. Other brands could spend all of this money and time making these images and I could do my thing and get it out to people immediately. I can steal your picture and make it into my picture. My iPhoto is like my store. I have 5,000 pictures saved up like merchandise in a thrift shop.

You really play with the boundaries of the platform.
I like to play with how to get people's attention. I try to address the fact that I'm frustrated by society being all up in my shit all the time. It's all about money and nobody wants to talk about money.

How do you address this?
Scrolling through, how many dollar bills do you see? How many times am I taking an advertisement and splicing it with an image of a stripper and dollar bills? It's about the dollar bills. I want to see the money. If somebody else is getting paid to do something that I could do better, then I want to look at it with the money. It's cathartic for me.

So the next step is moving into advertising?
I want to feel free, to not be tied down to a place or to stuff. And I want to be able to use my skillset. I can see things that other people often can't. I got people to pay attention to me in social media exactly when I wanted and it's the same thing with branding. Brands want someone who will attract attention to them by any means necessary.

You would work for the same brands whose ads you re-appropriate now?
I'm happy to take anybody's money. I'm into mass brands. I'm not judgmental about consumer culture. I care about the image, the product, and expanding the medium.

What is the future for Bess then?
Maybe I'll take it back to just customising. Either way, the brand will still continue to just make products. The strongest feature of this venture has always been that it doesn't owe anything to anyone. Bess was never financed. We never had to sell out. And in whatever I do, it's a similar thing.


Text Paige Silveria
Photography Paige Silveria

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Doug Abraham
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