Studio Visit
Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects

There’s no real way to put this delicately: It can be somewhat difficult getting Ross Menuez to focus. Talk to the designer of the fashion label Salvor Projects for an hour, and your conversation might touch upon everything from the migratory patterns of birds to the intricacies of intarsia; ask him about his process, and he’s apt to fret instead about what to do with the signage for his first retail shop, which opened last week on a sleepy stretch of New York’s Lower East Side. His career has been equally hopscotched: He’d built houses for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, designed under Tom Dixon at Habitat, and run a metal shop in Brooklyn before finally, a few years back, committing himself fully to the world of fashion, complete with seasonal presentations and showroom representation.

But as with any talent whose creativity flows faster than the mind can apprehend, it’s the unscripted aspect of Menuez’s work that makes it so compelling — you never know quite what to expect. In the eight years that have passed since Salvor Projects was founded in 2003, its offerings have encompassed Japanese-inspired steel-toe work boots; screen-printed balsa-wood wall hangings; flat-pack, laser-cut metal lampshades; polyurethane-coated roll-top canvas bags; and a cultishly popular line of printed modal jersey dresses, scarves, tees, and tanks that sell at stores like Barneys, Dover Street Market, and Project no. 8.

Menuez, though, was once rightly advised that customers would never fully understand the brand if they couldn’t see it all under one roof, and so the seeds of a store began last fall. Menuez found a co-designer and business partner in Nick Dine — an old friend who’s created retail interiors for Calypso, Stussy, and Kirna Zabête — and a location in a 400-square-foot storefront that’s a block away from New York’s Half Gallery and a few doors up from Menuez’s current Lower East Side studio. “The beauty of the store is that we’re basically going to make shit that we like for the first time,” says Menuez. “With production, once you make a large batch of something, you’re done. By the time something hits the market, you’re already over it. At the store we can make one of something and try it out, and you can perfect a piece as you go. There’s also this unexpected green side to it. It’s kind of like when you’re making a meal and you can use every single thing in your fridge. Don’t have enough fabric to make multiples? Cool, let’s just make one kimono.”

Sight Unseen visited Menuez’s studio last winter, when the designer was just figuring out his plan for the store and its inventory, which includes a new line of jeans sourced from Cone’s Mill in North Carolina and treated with plaster-like effects. You can visit the new Salvor store at 172 Forsyth in New York, and you can tour the designer’s jam-packed, ephemera-filled studio in the slideshow at right.

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In the beginning, Menuez kept a silkscreening studio in a 2nd-floor space crammed behind Kiosk, the New York design shop owned by his friends Alisa Grifo and Marco Romeny. Now, on the 6th floor of an old pillow factory on the Lower East Side, he has room to spread out. Shown here are paint supplies, garment racks filled with samples from current and past seasons, and tests for new prints.

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Menuez estimates that he’s designed nearly 200 prints, most of which he's archived in metal barrister bookcases that run along the studio's side wall. Most are hand-applied onto Salvor’s modal tees, tanks, scarves, and dresses, but Menuez has been experimenting lately with digital printing. “We make everything here in New York but we tried digital printing in a factory in Shenzhen. We just couldn’t get to the volume in China.”

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Experimental patterns define the Salvor brand and in the past they’ve been inspired by everything from Japanese tatami mats to Cy Twombly. Shown here is Krink Nebula, one of the digital designs from Spring/Summer ’11, which Menuez created by painting with graffiti markers onto film and then scanning.

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Shown here: a scarf Menuez designed in collaboration with rock photographer Kate Simon, whose William S. Burroughs triptych stretches across 90 inches. “It’s an archive portrait, and it’s the first time his estate has licensed anyone to use an image,” Menuez marvels.

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“This is a T-shirt I’m making,” says Menuez. “Skeletor as Dieter Rams. For some reason, Masters of the Universe has been a huge point of reference for me lately. I just watched it for the first time! They ran out of money so they had to set it on Earth, and there’s this huge battle in a music store with a poster for Moog synthesizers in the back. I guess I’m nerding out here.”

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Another potential print: Oil pastels over a plywood-print film negative

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The Twombly print as applied to a line of underwear Menuez has been toying with. When we visited his studio, Menuez had a pile of research undies from the likes of Marc Jacobs and Comme des Garcons, but he wasn't happy with any of it. "I was so disappointed in the graphics," he says.

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Menuez’s life and work often bleed together; Salvor's lookbooks, shown here, are shot by his photographer girlfriend Keetja Allard and for a model and muse, he often uses his daughter India, who’s fast becoming a style icon in her own right.

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Menuez made these scarf composites in the Levi’s Photo Workshop in Soho this fall. “I had an archive of prints from the past couple of years and Levi’s had this free photo studio with, like, $100,000 worth of equipment. So I signed up for a three-hour slot. I was trying to see how I could shoot the scarves in as quick a time as possible, and India styled it.”

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Photobooth family pics from the Levi’s project hang near Menuez’s desk.

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Salvor’s Fall/Winter 2010 Rama dress. “I gave my sample maker all of the rejected scarves that I hated, and somehow this is what came out of it. This is what’s cool about not designing on a computer,” says Menuez.

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Menuez’s Icosa molded-felt lamp hangs in the window. Originally designed for IDEE in Japan, the lamp is now produced by Areaware, a company Menuez was instrumental in founding. “The lamp was of course inspired by Bucky Fuller and now it’s being installed in his home in Carbondale, Illinois,” says Menuez. “The Fullerdome is being converted into a museum, and they contacted me, which blows me away.”

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An acrylic vase Menuez designed for IDEE in 2000. “It was the first time I ever attempted to use a CAD program, and this is what came out. I was trying to make an object you couldn’t rotate in your mind.”

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Conveyor belt materials from McMaster-Carr that Menuez is water-jet cutting into fobs and accessories for the store. “I love this material. It has such a beautiful industrial durable-ness to it.”

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An order sheet from McMaster-Carr. Menuez’s obsession with the industrial parts company dates back to the’90s when he and Dine tossed around the idea of creating an exhibition of objects made exclusively from McMaster parts. Menuez bequeathed the idea to Sight Unseen in 2009, and the exhibition’s second installment debuts this weekend at the Noho Design District.

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Menuez’s industrial-design past is on full display at the new shop, which he and Dine decided to construct from a single material: black, waterproof MDF, made by a Portuguese company and covering every surface from the columns to the cash desk.

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The rest of Menuez’s studio is dedicated to remnants from past shows, random tools and supplies, and odd bits of inspiration. Shown here is a rake Menuez "bought off an old compañero in Seville. He had the rake hanging off a tree on the side of the road. I bought this from him along with a slightly used miniature flamenco dress for India when she was 5. It’s an amazing piece.”

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The campiest bit from Menuez’s inspiration pile: Summer Camp, a book by the French photographer Bernard Faucon, who photographed mannequins engaging in strange rituals and children’s games. “It’s creeped me out since I was a kid.”

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A ceramic Ho Chi Minh piece Menuez smuggled out of Saigon 10 years ago. Its headpiece is made from fabric scraps, Salvor’s Tierdrop pendant light, and a German feather headdress from Kiosk.

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Hands and feet from Andy Spade’s gallery/curiosity shop Partners & Spade. “A favorite spot to troll for the best stuff, and always an inspiration,” says Menuez.

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The pink tote is a laser-cut pattern called Asanoha, which translates to “hemp leaf” in Japanese. Of his obsession with all things Eastern, Menuez says, “I think Japan, Africa, and India are the mothers in terms of textile art and prints, and the Japanese invented silkscreen as well. Plus, Japan was doing graphic design 500 years ago that looks like Paul Rand or something.”

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Hybrid creatures made by Menuez and his 5-year-old son, Beo. “Beo also likes to tag my desk. He doesn’t know what letters are what. He just likes seeing them and writing them. My favorite creature is this recombinant Ultra Kaiju, a monster from the Ultraman show circa 1966."

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A view of Menuez and the studio as reflected in a one-of-a-kind Ilse Crawford mirror Menuez picked up at ICFF in 2004. “It was her first collection, and she'd made a dresser and a vanity as well. Murray Moss took some of the pieces and sold them for like $20,000. I think she sold this to me at cost.”

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A leftover from Menuez's 2010 Ecco Domani fashion award presentation. "The clothes were sort of beside the point. I just wanted to make a video and weird furniture, so I made these articulated pod hammocks from clear vinyl PVC (I made this leather one later) and the models just floated in front of a vellum screen with a rear projection. I wanted it to be the opposite of a fashion show.”

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"That's the thing I like about fashion: You can do anything and fashion can absorb it. You can make weird furniture that girls are floating in, you can do a video piece, you can do sound. It doesn't really matter."