When a group of creatives frequently gather together in a common space, anything is possible. In the case of Upstairs at Eric’s, a salon hosted by New York photographer Eric Johnson, these creatives eventually created a men’s ready-to-wear line of the same name led by the photographer himself. Johnson has photographed countless portraits of actors, alternative artists, and up-and-coming hip-hop and rap stars. With his reputation as a personable, creative collaborator, Johnson was able to team up with Stefano Pilati to launch Upstairs at Eric’s, his buzzy line that features his iconic photographs of the Notorious B.I.G.
What began as a simple search for an apartment yielded a lucky find in a midtown loft that was big enough to double as a studio. Johnson says he was inspired by owning a space where he could both live and shoot. His experience assisting photographer Constance Hensen in his youth led him to open his doors to young, fellow creatives.
“The artists I met in Connie’s studio were my mentors and inspiration. Upstairs takes us back to the city at that time, buzzing with energy as so many great artists mingled and collaborated in the downtown scene,” Johnson explains.
As he met people over time, Johnson would invite them over in the evenings to be photographed. They would hang out underneath a disco ball, play records, and even host radio shows. Eric’s walk-up apartment, which inspires the salon name as well as the classic album Upstairs at Eric’s by Yaz, became a safe space for alternative youths of all backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender expressions.
“Many of these guests and subjects were young, mostly outcasts and creatives. I unconsciously became something of a godfather to this scene of NYC up-and-comers, and our gatherings started generating buzz pretty quickly over social media,” Johnson says.
Brimming with ideas, the Upstairs at Eric’s collective didn’t expect to make clothes. But, as Johnson and friends observed, his photographs were being spotted on clothes throughout the city and beyond. So it was good timing, then, when Johnson met a person he considers one of his fashion heroes, Stefano Pilati, at a club in Berlin. As a result, the Upstairs collective partnered with Stefano Pilati’s budding project, Random Identities, to bring the line to fruition. Johnson says, “I shared my idea with him, and he in turn inspired us to do it at a level that we’d never imagined.”
UPSTAIRS AT ERIC’S is a Barneys-exclusive launch currently offering hoodies, sweatshirts, and tees available in-store and online now.