“Can I have three of those?”
More than two-dozen of the Jeff Koons “Balloon Dog” leather crossbody bags were dripping off the arms and shoulders of the H&M salesperson, who happily handed over the requested number to the party guest. Only 800 of the highly coveted $49.95 bags have been allotted to this shiny new H&M location on Fifth Avenue, and based on last night’s frenzy, it remains to be seen whether any will still be on hand when they become available to the public on Thursday.
Why all the fervor? Welcome to Jeff Koons for H&M, the much-touted collab between the world’s most high-profile artist and the world’s best-known fast-fashion retailer. Past H&M collabs have featured Karl Lagerfeld, Isabel Marant and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, but this may just be the poshest audience the retailer has ever enjoyed for an opening-night party: Olivia Wilde, Ashley Benson, Alek Wek, Lorenzo Martone, Timo Weiland, Nicky Hilton, Julie Henderson and Tinsley Mortimer were among those who joined Koons on the red carpet. Wilde and Benson both sported sleek black suits—both by H&M, natch, and both accessorized with the bag. (Benson, it was announced last week, joins Wek as the latest face of H&M’s campaigns.)
Koons has been everywhere, it seems, since the June 27 opening of his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (that hot-ticket show closes Oct. 19). There was his appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers last week, while in late June he was on hand at Rockefeller Center to christen the debut of his “Split Rocker” floral sculpture, located in the same spot where his “Puppy” sculpture famously stood in 1992. And now it’s all about the “Fashion Loves Art” marriage, as H&M is marketing it, with Koons’ “Balloon Dog” affixed to those sought-after leather bags. Given that the celebrated sculpture went for $58.4 million at an auction in November last year, $49.95 is pennies in comparison to have a little Koons in your life.
For the artist, the collab made sense: “The partnership with H&M was really exciting for me, and the chance to showcase one of my most popular works to a new generation of people was inspiring,” he said in a press statement. Also on hand last night: Adam Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown director of the Whitney, and Scott Rothkopf, curator of the Koons retrospective. If the “Balloon Dog” bag sells out on Fifth Avenue or online, head straight to the Whitney — to check out the exhibition, of course, but also because word is the museum will have a limited number of the bag on hand.
The night was capped with a performance by British singer Birdy on the store’s street level; Koons, Wilde and others watched from the VIP space cordoned off on the second-floor balcony. And as Birdy serenaded the guy everyone in New York is talking about, a steady stream of shopping bags paraded out of the store, a bounty of Balloon Dogs making their way into the world.