There is something unholy going on, although it is not clear quite what, and there was nothing about bones and hair in the manifesto for the show.
“Voodoofesto,” Melissa Logan corrects me.
Stacks of folded t-shirts are laid out on a white shelf. The logos say Chanel, but the slogans add “voodoo”. I look around at gold bones, a staff with a head of hair and a skull in a makeshift water feature, submerged.
Logan (alias Coco Cartier and founder member of Chicks on Speed) is as sharp as her orange painted nails. Her collaborator Nadine Jessen (alias Ezili Lagerfeld) is more shadowy, and indeed eye-shadowy. Even I can see they are well dressed.
“It’s a project that started in Abidjan in Ivory Coast from these friends who were there and they saw graffiti on a wall at a market in Abo-abo,” says Logan.
She tells me the Voodoo Chanel project spread from a to cafes, gigs and art venues around the world. The Voodoofesto is a call to hijack the world’s luxury brands, and one way to do so is to purchase one of the T-shirts or bags.
“You can bring money and friends…” laughs Jessen, and her German accent gives the proposal an edge.
Asked about their choice of target, Chanel, the duo fall over themselves to convey a real excitement about the brand.
“They invest an extreme amount into their fashion shows,” says Logan.
“It is really decadent,” Jessen confirms.
Logan: “They brought an iceberg over, for example, from Greenland. They shipped over an iceberg for the Grand Palais show.”
Jessen, in disbelief: “They had a whole orchestra playing live for the music.”
This mixture of energy and elitism is what the current show hopes to chan(n)el back into street, or even the underground.
Logan adds: “And Voodoo Chanel is also because voodoo is something very scary for the people who buy Chanel and, yes, they have a reason to be afraid.”
There is laughter all round, mine being of the nervous variety. When Logan takes a call, Jessen offers me a tour of the darkest recess of the show, a narrow room which looks something like a shrine, except there are bottles of spirits and – my word! – a 10” long phallus sculpted from wood.
“It’s an altar and a bar,” Jessen explains. “Ja, we have some specials, some Russian cocaine, but we also start to set up an aphrodisiac but this has to sit for one week so then you have to come back in one week and then you can get a bit.”
“It’s like in fashion and also like in voodoo there are these rules but you can’t read them, and so it’s also kept secret and that’s why voodoo is also in a way elitist,” she adds more seriously. “So we really try hard to make it a little poppy and to make a possibility for sharing it.”
Jessen patiently explains that Russian cocaine is a cocktail. “It’s medicinal,” says a voice behind me. Logan is back.
“We just do cocktails and water – that’s it, you know. Like, what is the term for Rausch?” Jessen asks her.
“Rausch is like to get into a state.”
“Like a trip, so this is like medicine to help you.”
“To get into a state,” Logan clarifies.
By which point I’m clinging to my sobriety very tightly. Steering the conversation into safer territory, I ask about the procurement of the many diverse materials in what, pop-up shop and temple aside, is also a stunning mixed media installation.
“Some of it’s real, some of it’s fake, some of it’s local, some of it’s from really, really exotic places,” says Logan.
“It’s really growing, you know, so when we go somewhere and when we meet people and we talk to people and they bring stuff and we find stuff or stuff finds us,” Jessen adds.
Logan: “Some of the things we don’t even know what they are because we brought them at markets and they’re like medicines that are supposed to do different things.”
“There’s one thing I nearly forgot. Shall I show you?” Jessen’s offer sounds ominous.
We part the trailing curtains and move back into the gloomy bar. The German clicks a lighter and sets two green candles ablaze. Logan watches as she reaches into a pot and takes out a cellophane sock filled with an unidentified herb.
“This.” she announces. “I have no idea anymore what this is.”
Logan just remembers you boil it. Next the pair coax me into sniffing a dubious looking granular substance. Hmm, woody.
“And this…” Logan continues, “if you put this one in someone’s tea then they’re going to obey you and do whatever you want them to do.”
At my lame suggestion that some of that might come in useful in an office, Logan says with dead seriousness: “Yeah!”
“But be careful that it’s just one person,” Jessen warns me.
Next I am persuaded to taste a chip of something I am told is “like” dried ginger. This tastes like bark. And the women exchange comments, in German.
“This is from the barber,” says Jessen pointing at the wall behind me. My eyes widen slightly at a giant Chanel logo made out of human hair.
“Here’s the last thing though,” says Logan. “We do have Karl.”
Naturally, she now produces a voodoo doll of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. He is tied up with sandalwood beads and I am assured these are for a healing spell. When I point out they look like teeth, the artist merely agrees.
“Yeah,” she says. “It looks brutal.”
On my way out the door, I peer at some newspaper taped to a wall. A full page taken from that day’s Guardian recounts the murder of seven women in a protest march. It took place in Ivory Coast. The paper bears today’s date. Spooky indeed.
This piece was written for Culture24. Voodoo Chanel can be seen at Grey Area, Brighton, until March 27 2011. See gallery website for more details.