Starting the mid-16th century, sprawling assemblages of exotic objects known as Cabinets of Curiosities were stowed in the homes of European royalty. Divided into animal, vegetable, and mineral items, trinkets came from faraway places for the viewing pleasure of the nobility.
Today’s equivalent might be Daphne Guinness’s wardrobe or real estate mogul Robbie Antonio’s prolific portraits of himself. But with Guinness’s patronage of designers like Alexander McQueen, and Antonio’s commissions of only an elite caliber of artists, much of the prestige and allure is in the label, less so in the products themselves.
It was in reaction to overbearing, omnipresent brands that journalist Thomas Erber developed a new approach to presenting modern luxury. Curating his own contemporary Cabinet of Curiosities, Erber proffers a selection of art, fashion, and design pieces from independent artists and labels based around the globe—in a way, harkening back to the early caches of rare, wondrous objects.
“It’s an old concept, the Cabinet of Curiosities,” says Erber. “Creating a new concept that can mix all these fields, with a level of curation, then it creates a real wave.”
Essentially a pop-up shop, the Cabinet launched at Paris’s Colette boutique in 2010; two more took place at stores in London and Berlin. The fourth staging will be at SoHo’s Avant/Garde Diaries Project Space. Sponsored by the French music and fashion label Maison Kitsuné and featuring nearly 50 brands, the exhibition will showcase a mix of fashion items including a Maison Kitsuné flight jacket and a Nor Autonom head-engulfing hoodie. House of Waris and Bliss Lau contributed jewelry. A series of lucky rabbit’s feet keychains are a collaboration between Maison Kitsuné and Ambush Design. Brooklyn-based kink photographer Natasha Gornik, surrealist painter Nick Deverux, and nightlife maven Andre Saraiva are among the visual artists represented.
Handpicking local participants, Erber looks for a mix of superior quality and unmatched aesthetics. Then each makes a work specifically for the Cabinet. “Every story is a different one,” he explains. “I visit them in their studio, I see how they work. Sometimes I give the idea to the designer, sometimes we discuss an idea, sometimes the designer has his own idea, and I like it and it’s fine. Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Erber’s experience as a music and fashion journalist reporting for Vogue Hommes, Jalouse, and Optimum, the latter two of which he helped found, gave him the connections he needed to get Cabinet off the ground. “I was a party animal,” he explains. “I created a great network of friendly, creative people all around the world.”
It served him well when he launched the first Cabinet. “In the beginning it was only friends,” he describes. But as prospects flooded in, the newfound curator had to be more selective. “I need to like them, because I want them to stay close to me,” he says. “I need to like the way they do their own thing.”
Yet Erber’s purpose is far beyond personal. “It’s a fight to preserve independence in the fashion business, the creative business,” he says. “If we can help each other, it makes sense.”
LE CABINET DE CURIOSITÉS OF THOMAS ERBER OPENS TODAY, DECEMBER 2, AND RUNS THROUGH DECEMBER 23 AT AVANT/GARDE DIARIES, 372 BROOME STREET, AND MAISON KITSUNÉ, 1170 BROADWAY, AS WELL AS ONLINE THROUGH JANUARY 31.