Thomas Erber brings his Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition to New York for the first time this month, after annual showings in Paris, London and Berlin. An ex-journalist in fashion, travel and music, the former Vogue Homme International reporter-at-large (who also founded l’Optimum, Jalouse and l’Officiel Voyage) curates a selection of exclusive goods from the likes of Ghurka, Common Projects, Michael Bastian, Melinda Gloss, and dozens more.
The exhibition is hosted by Maison Kitsuné, whose founders, Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki, are longtime friends of Erber. Le Cabinet De Curiosités spans multiple industries and disciplines — fashion, film, music, sports and gadgets — bringing them together in one unique setting. We caught up with Erber to talk about his curation process, how he works with each participating brand, and which city he’s thinking of bringing the exhibition to next.
Photography: Thomas Welch/Selectism.com
Going back to 2010, what was your inspiration for the Cabinet of Curiosities? What was going on at the time?
At the time I was a journalist for almost 16 years in Paris. I was working a lot in media for magazines that I really love. And then three to four years ago, I decided to change my lifestyle and I realized that it’s difficult to get together and talk about the designers I really love like Maison Kitsuné, Saint Laurent, Common Projects, Chanel… One day I was meditating and it came to me. I was a fan of the antique Cabinet of Curiosities, and I thought I should do a contemporary Cabinet of Curiosities, in fields I could explore — luxury watches, niche brands, designers, photographers — anything I admire.
What is the antique Cabinet of Curiosities?
The antique COC is the elder of the museum. [It started] in 11th or 12th century, mainly in France, then it also went to Italy, Germany, England. It was like in an aristocrat’s castle, in a mysterious room, where they collected unique items, strange pieces. It evolved and grew through the 19th century, and the biggest one became a museum, which was a new concept at the time.
It started in Paris, which is where you’re based.
It started in Colette, because I’d already done an exhibition there under my name in 2007, and I’m very close to the founder and owner of Colette. I was not supposed to make another one, but I took so much pleasure to do it that I told myself it would be fun to re-do it every year in a different city. In France, people only talk about the big, international brands. I thought it was a good idea to develop a new space for visibility for independent designers and niche brands that journalism passed up.
There are so many brands and categories in the COC. What would you say is their unifying characteristic?
The unifying characteristic is [that they] really know how to do things. They are all closer to craftsmanship than to industry. It’s very precise craftsmanship. We can talk about each piece for an hour — Every part of the Cabinet has a great story. It’s really rare to have a luxury watch, photographers, sneakers, design, music in [one] exhibition. It could be very messy, but I curate in a very specific way.
Did you start to work on the New York COC as soon as the Berlin one ended?
I work by myself, with maybe two or three people. It’s not a profitable event, more like a hobby, something I do mainly for pleasure, to meet and connect people. It costs me more than the money that I make. I have other projects on the side, [but] this is a full-year job.
What happens with the pieces after the exhibition?
They come out on the Maison Kitsuné website and they’ll be available for sale at the gallery. There’s also a charity portion — Every year, I select a charity and we give back for each sale. This year, the charity is the Paz Project, to help Mexican kids who are victims of the drug war. Each unsold piece goes back to the creator.
Do you have other cities in mind for the future?
I think I will do this in Bangkok next year and then I will do an Asian tour. It seems that Bangkok is becoming the cool hub in Southeast Asia, like the California of Southeast Asia. It is a good way to go into Asia — a great door — then after maybe we can do Japan and China. I want to do the last one back in Paris in 2020, so maybe I will do the second to last one in Japan. Japan is very important to me, because I think [it is] the origin of all these interests in niche brands, fabrics, know-how [because the Japanese] are masters. Right now, I don’t have the right connections or the right ideas to do one in Japan. My knowledge of Asia is less diverse, but I’d love to learn more. I like the idea that you can have people from all over the world, that we can all meet around this exhibit.
Le Cabinet De Curiosités opens tonight, December 2, through December 23, at Avant/Garde Diaries and at the Maison Kitsuné boutique in New York. The exhibited pieces will be available online for purchase until January 31, 2014.