In the heart of working-class Greenpoint, a few blocks from McGolrick Park, lives the fashion designer who dresses one of our favorite rock stars. Christian Joy is responsible for creating the amazing and often outlandish vision that is Karen O, lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
With no formal training in fashion design, the Iowa native moved to Brooklyn and started making costumes out of old prom dresses from a local Salvation Army store. Her designs have since been seen around the world, including in a 2007 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
On Saturday she’ll present her first solo installation (she has only shown costumes in the past) at Secret Project Robot in Bushwick. The exhibition, which runs through October 13, includes six to ten large stuffed pieces created with printed canvas, hand-cut vinyl, rhinestones and fringe. On September 28 dancers from Accidental Movement will perform amid the hanging artwork, wearing Joy’s costumes. They’ll be directed by Mariangela Lopez, who in 2011 worked with Joy as the choreographer on Stop the Virgens, the “psycho opera” starring Karen O that was presented at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
We visited Joy at her studio and apartment in Greenpoint, where she lives with her husband Jason Grisell (frontman of Bubbles) and her cat Kitten Mittenz, to talk about her love of Brooklyn, though we got distracted by her array of crafty material and, of course, Karen O’s bizarre outfits.
Ten years now. But it’s so packed at this point. Every time a new project comes around it adds on. Like all the Stop the Virgens costumes are up there, and down here [points at the tower of material behind her].
I lived in Clinton Hill, in the Bed-Stuy area when I first moved here about 15 years ago. And that’s where I started doing the costumes because there’s this big Salvation Army store over there that’s just awesome. And they had all of these ‘80s prom dresses.
I think because it was really cheap. This place is really far out and its nice that I don’t have to commute in and out of the city that much. We have a really nice landlord, too. But [Greenpoint] has changed so much. Originally there was nowhere to really eat out here. And now there’s like Dokebi, a Korean restaurant, a really nice bar and restaurant. And it’s nice and I like it. It’s nice that we don’t have to go to Graham Avenue or Bedford Avenue. It’s actually really quiet and I really like my neighbors.
A lot of them have lived here all of their lives. Like there’s this lady out here that is like 81 or 82 and supposedly she’s lived here since there were dirt roads. I was like, “Wow.”
They do. One guy came up to me and said, “So I heard there’s a new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album coming out,” and I was like, “What?!” And he’s like a very metal kind of guy. And I was thinking how the hell does he know? And how the hell does he know what I do? I think it’s because the landlord says stuff. The landlord thinks that Karen’s name is Katy. So he calls her Katy O.
Peter Pan Donut. That’s where we tell everyone to go. It’s kind of really old-school and there’s a counter, and the girls wear these funny green zip-up dresses and it’s a really cool place because it probably hasn’t changed in a really long time.
We go to Five Leaves, that’s really nice. It’s also the nearest. And I like Nights and Weekends, too. I wish there a Japanese restaurant around here. There’s also a place around here called Pie Corps and they make all these savory pies. That place is really good. One pie never fills you up but it’s really delicious. Greenpoint Heights is right around the corner, and the people there are really nice. They have lunch and dinner. That’s the best new place and it’s right here.
I don’t really like them. I’m not really into those. I just like more thrift stores. There used to be this great thrift store in Williamsburg and now it’s gone. I do like this consignment store that’s there called Fox & Fawn. It’s kind of like Beacon’s Closet just way smaller. There’s that denim place, I think it’s called Loren, and they sell Judi Rosen jeans so that’s why I like that place.
It’s just a really cool space. When I was a kid and dreaming of wanting to come to New York that’s the sort of space I thought about. And I thought that was what New York was, kind of an experimental space. The people that own it are very open and down for trying new things and I’ve known them for a while. And they’ve been part of that whole Brooklyn scene with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. And they’ve been around a really long time. They had asked me a couple of times and I’ll try something different and try to expand on things.