Behind a wall of metallic pink and red streamers inside a Williamsburg, Brooklyn warehouse there is a carousel with unicorns and oversized beauty products—a plastic lipstick the size of a elementary school kid, an eyeshadow palette that’s over five feet tall—and, if you’re in New York this weekend, you could be on it too.
The carousel is filled with blown-up beauty products for a reason: Ulta is one of the seven brand sponsors of Refinery29’s 29Rooms, the immersive experiential installation that Refinery29 has hosted during New York Fashion Week for the last three years. Open today until Monday, Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Refinery29 expects nearly 20,000 people to visit the space this year.
“We launched 29Rooms three years ago for our 10-year anniversary,” said Piera Gelardi, co-founder and executive creative director of Refinery29, on Wednesday when she took Adweek on a tour of the space. “We wanted to create a way to take our digitally-native brand and bring it to life and also to celebrate a lot of the creative topics that we cover and creative people we work with.”
Added Gelardi: “29Rooms combines the interactivity of a funhouse and the cultural relevance of a museum but it’s also a museum where you can touch the art, punch the art, ride on the art, you can be the art. We really try to make a space where the guests that come through are center stage.”
This year the theme of the event is “Turn it into Art,” which is a way to “explore the power of creativity to transform, to spark new ideas and to heal,” explained Gelardi, who is pictured below with boxing gloves on. “Within this space there’s different translations of that.”
For example, there’s a room featuring a punching bag symphony—it’s called “The Future is Female” and was created by painter Jen Mussari and electronic music artist Madame Gandhi— where you put on punching gloves and, well, punch punching bags that set off specific sounds when they are hit.
Refinery29 works with a mix of emerging and established artists as well as brands. This year the brand partners include Aldo, Clarins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dyson, Juicy Couture, Ulta Beauty and Cadillac with Jason Wu. According to Gelardi, Refinery29 works to create playful, fun rooms that show brands in a new way. Other artists and partners for 29Rooms include Jake Gyllenhaal, Jill Soloway’s production house Topple, Emma Roberts’ book community Belletrist, Sasheer Zamata, Chloe x Halle, Cleo Wade, Lizzo, Alexa Meade, Maisie Cousins, Juno Calypso, Madame Gandhi, Planned Parenthood, Women’s March, and The Art of Elysium.
“We see this as a big area of opportunity to reach out to the precious millennial women,” said Danyelle Boilard-Paul, evp and general manager for Clarins. “This is the perfect opportunity to do that, to talk to her, with her, and not at her. It’s also the perfect way for them to explore the brand and discover the brand.”
The Clarins room features plants used in the brand’s Next Generation Double Serum, which is what Boilard-Paul is hoping millennial women who explore the space will learn about.
“A lot of boxes are checked when you look at 29Rooms,” noted Katie Green, Aldo’s senior director of communications. “Our team believes that Refinery29 has really redefined what it means to do a brand collaboration and what it means to do an experiential marketing campaign. They’ve been able to create an opportunity in this new digital and social era to really create meaningful content for brands while also allowing you to be part of a greater conversation during a time when, let’s face it, there’s a lot of clutter during fashion week.”
Aldo’s room, “Love Walk,” uses a runway with a heart-shaped mirror and red lights where a variety of Aldo’s shoes are plastered to the structure.
Refinery29’s team has been working on 29Rooms since December and the company spent the last month building the space, which took over 200 people to create.
Snap Inc. also partnered with Refinery29 for its first rental program: Attendees can rent Spectacles for free during the three hours they have to explore the space.
This is the first year that Refinery29 has sold tickets to 29Rooms. The company wanted to cut down on wait times. According to Gelardi, selling tickets is also an experiment to see if Refinery29 could use ticket sales to extend the event and bring it to other cities.
“People have taken inspiration from this experience and [made] similar types of Instagram candy installations and spaces,” said Gelardi. “For us we really want to continue to push the boundaries of what the storytelling is and the deeper narratives that are part of the space. We also make sure that there are different types of actions people can take. By doing those actions they get a more thought-provoking experience.”