Despite the sterile white walls and floors that welcome each patron into Atelier Jolie, there is warmth within. It’s a bit daunting to enter the space at 57 Great Jones Street with its pink-graffiti-covered exterior, knowing its significance — that the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol once lived and worked here, that the building itself has become a shrine of sorts to artists mingling in the area, and that Angelina Jolie has now set up shop inside.
When Jolie announced her new fashion venture earlier this year, she envisioned establishing a sort of commune for creatives and artists with a humanitarian angle, rather than solely a space for selling clothing. The idea made sense for the actress and humanitarian, but at the time — and even after announcing her brand’s forthcoming collection with Gabriela Hearst and Chloé — it all seemed a bit vague. Or at the very least, hard to picture. So I wanted to find out. On my recent visit to the store, a somewhat scattered, zany vision started to make sense.
Inside, through a single glass door and past one gentle security guard stationed at the entrance, disco music plays, specifically “Good Times,” by Chic. A bubbly Parsons student named Peter, who could be mistaken for a cast member from Almost Famous, greets and guides me at leisure. (Jolie said she wanted to hire young people who “are creative themselves” on the Business of Fashion podcast. Peter later tells me about an Edwardian bodice he’s embroidering, which certainly fits the bill.) In the front room, only a few minimalist garments are housed on each rack, most in neutral shades of black, white, or beige. On one is a collection designed by Jolie herself, which includes a cropped corset that retails for $295 and a lush, satiny black-and-white robe with a sizable bow for $515. Along the walls are collaborations between Jolie and other designers — such as We-Ar4 and famed Alexander McQueen printmaker Simon Ungless — once again in mostly neutral shades. Every piece, Peter assures me, is made from deadstock fabric.
Many of these garments are sheer and meant for layering with clothes that already exist in one’s closet. As far as all the black and white clothing for sale, Peter tells me the intention is for it to be a blank canvas to be painted on or doused with each wearer’s own personal touch. In an adjoining room, with walls covered in graffiti original to the space, including a piece of writing by Basquiat and his tag, “SAMO,” there is a station for screen-printing and embroidering garments purchased in the store. The table under the sewing machine is covered with Polaroids of Atelier Jolie employees, who could be models in their own right, posing with one another. Upstairs, patrons who wish to tailor their garments but keep them free of paint or extra thread can visit the “atelier.” It is, however, appointment only, something I am not in possession of today, so I keep moving.
My guide leads me downstairs to a room where piles of $15 T-shirts sit sorted by size on the floor. On a table catty-corner to one of these mounds are colorful markers and cartons filled with acrylic paint, an invitation to those who enter (and who pay $10) to paint whatever they would like on the walls, ceilings, and light fixtures. On the BoF podcast, Jolie called this the “Splatter Room.” The store has barely been open for two weeks, and already the purity of the space has given way to neon-pink and orange paint splattered haphazardly, with names and song titles (like “Brooklyn Baby”) scribbled in any space they will fit and alienlike figures and pin-up darlings painted facing one another. There are no real rules down here, I’m told. It’s a sweet departure from the control and strict image-building often practiced by many of the rich and famous whose brands are merely extensions of themselves. Peter hands me my own paintbrush, a paint canister, and the freedom to create whatever I please. The most I can muster in a studio where some of the greatest artists of the past century created some of their most arresting art is a heart dotted with my first initial. Groundbreaking.
Back upstairs, down a long hallway speckled with photos by Giles Duley and pieces of embroidery made by Afghan women, sits the café. Here, it seems Jolie’s humanitarian background most comes into play. The kitchen is run in partnership with Eat Offbeat, a venture that supports immigrant and refugee chefs. Ideally, we would like celebrities to put their money, or at least their business ventures, where their mouth is, and while few of them do, Jolie, a former special envoy to the United Nations, seems to be an exception. Chef Rala Ziadeh, a Syrian immigrant, runs the café and stocks it with confections from a rotational slate of fellow chefs as well as some of her own creations. Her contemporary take on Levantine food looks mouthwatering under the glass domes — baklava swirled into rolls and kenafeh cups. I order a latte and one of the kenafeh, which Ziadeh tops with ashta, a floral type of Arabic clotted cream, and flower petals. I spent many summers in Syria growing up, and eating this dessert brings a heaping taste of emotional nostalgia. I chat with Ziadeh about her love of Arabic food, her two small children, her dream of publishing her own cookbook, and her vision for the café itself. She hopes to see it filled with people working (there’s Wi-Fi!) or simply lounging on the chic couches and fluffed chairs, playing at the chessboard, reading one of the books that line the walls, or keying the white piano, which is sitting silent at the moment. Ziadeh emphasizes that anyone is welcome.
As I leave, she takes one of the beautiful baklavas she made and wraps it in a box for me as a gift. It feels clichéd to say, but easy to see, that this space does have the potential to cultivate some semblance of a community or, at the very least, serve as a spot to escape from the chaos of the city. The place seems like one of the few examples of a celebrity’s initial broad vision for their brand not actually needing to be whittled down but possibly becoming something truly great. I’m excited to see what’s next for Jolie and this venture.