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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Bernadette Corporation, 2001


Bernadette Corporation, a new label on the downtown circuit, amounts to a big puff of mystery and rumor, despite the so-called buzz. So what is Bernadette Corporation? It’s what you get when you’re sick of all the categories — fashion, art, business, and youth culture — and you incorporate them all into a single project. We tried our hand at pinning them down one fine dusky pink afternoon by liquoring them up in a fancy SoHo restaurant — the sort of place they complain they never get to see.

Jaleh: What do you each do for Bernadette Corporation? You start, since you’re Bernadette.
We started as a clothing line. That was the first product that we dove into. And because we were starting from nothing, we all pitched in and contributed to the ideas. But basically, I’m the stylist.

Thuy: Yeah, okay, this is Thuy, also known as the Prince of Vietnam. I guess I’m the designer for Bernadette Corporation. I design the clothes each season, get them made.
Dantek: I handle fund-raising, looking for handouts to try to do our shows. I’ve actually never gotten any corporate money, but that’s what I do.
Bernadette: The last season was sponsored by ...
Dantek: We can’t say who.
Thuy: Drug money.
Dantek: I also handle video projects. We try to dream up other projects that we might do in the future, that might extend the field a little bit, beyond just clothing.

Jaleh: As a collaborative project, you’re definitely self-conscious about the business side of production.
I think that’s something we’ve grown into. When we started, it was a lot of idealism and ideology, but we definitely want to operate the way a big business does.
Dantek: It’s a lot more fun if what you’re doing gets out and tries to drive that kind of commercial market. It’s a lot more difficult and brutal, but that was the idea. Rather than stay in an art gallery and comment on the business of fashion, it’s better to actually try to influence fashion itself by competing with all the other designers.

Jaleh: What are your backgrounds?
I studied economics at Brown and came to New York in ’92.
Dantek: I went to college.
Thuy: No need to be embarrassed. I was an immigrant, like a refugee. I grew up in lower income neighborhoods. I think that has a lot to do with our work.
Jaleh: How?
Because we’re trashy people. Our mind is always in the gutter. So it prevents us from doing certain things, like what people would call “tasteful.”
Bernadette: I think we’re also really bitter.
Thuy: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bernadette: Never having, seeing other people have, and trying to get a piece of that.
Dantek: Also, we have a kind of former communist alliance here. Thuy and Bernadette are from Vietnam, I’m from Poland. It’s part of our roots.
Thuy: My parents were always telling me that our family is really bourgeois, telling stories of what life used to be in Vietnam. But then, there’s the reality of living in America. That conflict is always there in our work.

Jaleh: On the one hand, your work can be interpreted as critical of the way art, fashion, and business are consolidated in one elitist tangle. But on the other hand, you could be read as launching yet another label and fad.
Bernadette: It’s sort of a game that we play. We’re trying to create products that incorporate a critique from within. We’re interested in the science of consumerism, marketing, and advertising. Basically, we use fashion as a platform through which to launch various products and ideas. We definitely want to be successful.
Jaleh: Do you have a manifesto?
Bernadette: We’ve done them in the past.
Thuy: I don’t think it’s good to have a manifesto.
Dantek: They’re just for personal reference.
Bernadette: We try to model ourselves on corporate structures.
Thuy: Only conceptually, though. I didn’t need a haircut to be corporate.

Jaleh: What is the “BC Corporate History?”
That was a video based on an idea of internal corporate material that companies show to their own recruits to prop themselves up as having a history. That’s what’s interesting about corporate ideologies. They push internal propaganda.

Jaleh: Keep the employees in line?
Yeah, make them feel that they’re really part of something.
Bernadette: A lot of corporations have theme songs.

Jaleh: Do you have a theme song?
Working on one. With a former member of our group who used to be called DJ Richard Gere.
Jaleh: Do you have anyone in mind as the model or the face of Bernadette Corporation? Many companies launch themselves that way.
At our last fashion show, we had a mascot, like at sporting events. We had a guy dressed up as a bear. We made a basketball uniform for the bear, but then we left it at the studio and he had to go out there naked.
Dantek: Someone actually told me that what he likes the most about us is that he doesn’t know what the hell we do.
Bernadette: People come up to me saying, “We love what you do.” But they have no idea what we’re doing.

Jaleh: That’s what I thought was the most interesting — the confusion, rumors ...
It’s because we’re sloppy.
Thuy: I guess what we’d like to see is a scene. In New York especially. Giuliani’s cracking down. Everything has come to a stop. If we could draw out young people and produce some kind of scene for New York ...
Bernadette: We want to motivate young people into activity. I think New York City right now is impoverished in terms of subcultural activity.
Thuy: Yeah, besides hip hop, who shun us.

Jaleh: You’re shunned by hip hop?
Hip hop, in general, it’s a closed scene. You got to be a certain race and economic background and shit. And you got to talk the lingo ...
Bernadette: I’ve been reading a lot of William Gibson novels. He writes about high-tech lowlifes. I think what’s so alluring about his vision of the future is that it’s so visually chaotic, a landscape running amok with various subcultural groups.

Jaleh: You’re pretty aware about people who are disenfranchised. Are you trying to have your products be more accessible to a new culture?
We would like to see all of these disenfranchised groups be more empowered. We’d like to operate as a group which could then finance other people to get their stuff out there.

Jaleh: Do you think that your project will get watered down when it’s marketed as a style?
No, because basically, if you can reach every American home the way Brad Pitt can, that’s real success.

Jaleh: But when Brad Pitt does it, it’s boring. He’s cashing in on ...
Well, right now we’re not cashing in on anything.
Thuy: We’re all different. I mean, I have a capitalistic drive.
Dantek: And I’m a communist.
Thuy: He’s a communist.

Jaleh: Is fashion a medium through which you can disseminate a political message?
No, through which we have chosen to present our message.
Thuy: We found fashion pretty backwards.

Jaleh: But there’s a very political undercurrent in what you do.
Well, I hope so.
Thuy: Bernadette is much more idealistic than I am. I just want to be cool and have my face in the papers and shit like that.
Dantek: I mean, we’re not out there stockpiling guns ...

Jaleh: But do you think other people, the person who’s going through the racks at TG-170, do you think he or she is going to perceive the politics?
Right now everyone is thinking London is the shit. Like Alexander McQueen? If I see him in the streets, I’m going to kick his fucking ass.

Jaleh: Huh?
Everyone thinks he’s like, the bad boy. You know what I mean? Bad boy fashion. Why is he bad? But then, the last thing that happened in New York that was fashion-significant was Stephen Sprouse. And what’s he? Like, a war-hog junkie?
Bernadette: I think we’re really disliked by American publications. Our only exposure is in European magazines.

Jaleh: Where in Europe?
iD and Self-Service. And in Japan a bit. From the little amount of exposure that we’ve had, they’ve shown interest. But in New York, the editors of magazines like Vogue and Allure come to our shows, but then they totally dis us.

Jaleh: You’re dissing them, in a way.
We’re not dissing them at all. Supposedly Alexander McQueen is trying to do the same thing, and he gets his ass kissed.
Bernadette: This looking to Europe for taste and good design sense — it’s very traditional and reactionary. Fashion people in New York trying to speak with an English accent. That is just really boring.

Jaleh: Well, American fashion has been an endless reiteration of Mary Quant for the past several years.
Exactly. But America is so without historical roots.
Thuy: Yeah, that’s what makes America great. I mean, Vivienne Westwood, who I think is a good designer, is all about the 19th century. And what the fuck do American people care about the 19th century?
Dantek: We treat our historical figures as jokes, which is nice. George Washington, wooden teeth, ha-ha. You know, that’s what I like about America, there’s no serious reverence.
Bernadette: Americans have a quickness to adapt for the future. Forward-looking, as opposed to backwards.
Thuy: Donna Karan, Calvin Klein — all they’d have to do is watch American TV and spit out the same shit that they see, and it would be so fresh.

Jaleh: What about Marc Jacobs?
Man, step up, step up right now. I’m issuing a challenge!
Dantek: A sewing match to the death!
Jaleh: Is your own fashion future-oriented?
I want to create hypothetical styles now, just because there aren’t really styles in the urban landscape.

Jaleh: You mean a style or sensibility that would correspond to the urban landscape?
Well, for example, I imagine Japan and how it’s described as having an overload of various subcultures. I try to envision that for New York City.

Jaleh: So how does class fit into that? Your clothes are expensive. It seems to be a contradiction.
Yeah, definitely there’s a contradiction, because we want to make money.
Jaleh: Well, let me tell you, I got one of your pieces as a gift, and the person who gave it to me saved up for months to buy it for me.
I think it’s a bit of a problem to be able to manufacture garments at a low price. If we could influence Kmart design to be more attuned to what we’re doing, that would be great. But I think it will take a few years of work to get there.
Thuy: That’s what’s always on my mind: how to mass-produce these things and keep the prices down.

Jaleh: You have built this identity of not being American.
Thuy and I, especially being Asian, never feel like we deserve anything. We don’t know how to ask for things. Americans know how to demand.
Thuy: Cash For Chaos!
Bernadette: But I think it’s totally different when young people are at the helm. Youth culture is viewed as just a phase that young people go into and pass out of. It’s always an older generation who get to decide what youth culture is. They market it and the kids just consume. Youth should do it for itself. Why shouldn’t 18-year-olds be in those high-rise offices? That’s what we’re trying to promote.

Jaleh: Bernadette, you’re the only girl in the group. Is that even an issue?
I think I have a boyish energy. Teenage boys, hackers, for example, they’re all about exploring destruction. When they hack they’re not necessarily stealing information, they just want to have the know-how. I have a really similar energy. I love seeing bombs go off for no apparent reason.

Jaleh: What about when Thuy starts going off?
I just smack him around.

Jaleh: So who are your allies? Who do you align yourself with?
My allies are all the poor people who deliver food and have to work for assholes.
Thuy: I admire Tupak. I love all those hip hop motherfuckers. They stand up on their own. No matter how rich they get, they will still shoplift their Versaces.
Dantek: There are cultural heroes that you can have when you’re young. You can admire people like Malcolm McLaren ...

Jaleh: Doesn’t McLaren disappoint you at all?
You can learn from him formally.

Jaleh: So what’s up next?
Our next collection is called “Hell on Earth.”

Jaleh: Is it Gothic?
No, just Hell. Satanism is coming back in now. I can see why culture would go in that direction, going back to believing in superstition, embracing chaos.

Jaleh: What do you think about the millennium?
People are a little bit more excited about dislodging conventional notions of how business is structured. We’re pretty optimistic about the future. We’ve got to be, otherwise we’d be in Richmond, shooting heroin.
Thuy: Heroin is bad.
Dantek: Kids, stay away from heroin.

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