New York Fashion Week is always packed with celebrities, but perhaps no presentation this season was more star-studded than 69's. That's because the L.A.-based brand recruited celebrity impersonators to model the collection: Prince strutted by Howard Stern and Andy Warhol, Snoop Dogg had absolutely everyone fooled. For its newest merch collection, Brooklyn band Wet also assembled an enviable cast of super-famous models, among them Anna Wintour, Morgan Freeman, and Ozzy Osbourne. Except these impersonators are inanimate: they're the wax sculptures at Madame Tussauds's Times Square outpost.
The equally hilarious and somewhat unsettling images are the work of Chris Maggio, an NYC-based photographer who captures the awkwardness of the human experience with humor and strange beauty. "I've known Chris for years and have always been a huge fan of his work. I thought his style would be the perfect match for this project, so we emailed back and forth a bit about different ideas and ultimately landed on shooting at Madame Tussaud's," says Wet producer Joe Valle. "I think we both saw MT as an ideal conceptual and aesthetic setting for this idea."
It's difficult to tell which aspects of Maggio's images are stranger than fiction, or just flat-out Photoshopped gold. It seems unlikely that even the biochemical engineers at a competitive research institution like Madame Tussauds could shroud Bob Marley in such faint smoke curls, but upon closer inspection, other elements of Maggio's most incredulous images are bona fide (@wet_fan_1 is an actual account). One thing's for certain: the merch's simple design and straightforward styles — inspired by "radically boring" L.L. Bean, says Valle — are for everyone. We caught up with Valle to find out who makes a better model, Tupac or Taylor Lautner.
First of all, this is brilliant. How did you arrive at the concept?
I think the inspiration came from the actual items themselves. When we got the samples from the manufacturer I was kinda stunned by how incredibly basic they were — it reminded me of L.L. Bean and how radically boring all of their monogrammed stuff is. We wanted to do a photo series that was fun, self-deprecating, and illustrative of the fact we were self-aware about how absurdly simple these items are.
What are your feelings about wax museums? Love 'em? Humorously permissible? A crime against nature?
I grew up in Massachusetts a town over from the Salem Wax Museum, which features wax figures of accused witches from the Salem Witch Trials and colonial sailors. It's pretty creepy and I think because of that I've always had a strange association with wax museums. Personal history aside, it's surprising to me that wax museums are still as popular as they are, they just seem like such an absurdly antiquated form of entertainment.
Were you there for the shoot? What was the experience like?
Chris and I went up to Times Square to shoot one afternoon last week — it was both of our first time visiting Madame Tussaud's and was truly a great experience, would highly recommend. We spent a few hours shooting and making our way through the exhibits. I think because photography is so encouraged and such a huge part of the experience of visiting Madame Tussauds, we had far less trouble than expected getting the photos we wanted.
Is the consistent blurring between musical merch and fashion collections something you were thinking about when working on these items?
We want to present these items — the hat, tee, and crewneck — as a "collection" of sorts and that is mostly as a playful gesture to align our merch with the other artists and celebrities who are doing this kinda thing.
Do you have a favorite model? I'm tied between Tupac and Pope Francis.
10/26 - Lincoln Hall - Chicago, IL
10/27 - Triple Rock - Minneapolis, MN
10/31 - Neumos - Seattle, WA
11/01 - Wonder Ballroom - Portland, OR
11/02 - Imperial - Vancouver, BC
11/04 - Mezzanine - San Francisco, CA
11/05 - Fonda Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
11/07 - The Irenic - San Diego, CA
11/10 - Club Dada - Dallas, TX
11/11 - Antone's - Austin, TX
11/13 - Exit/In - Nashville, TN
11/14 - The Earl - Atlanta, GA
11/15 - Caledonia Lounge - Athens, GA
11/16 - Cat's Cradle - Carrboro, NC
11/17 - 9:30 Club - Washington, D.C.
11/19 - Webster Hall - New York, NY
Text Emily Manning
Photography Chris Maggio