Secrets of Success returns with Elizabeth Beer, one half of the husband-and-wife designer pair that created the boutique Project No. 8, the avante-garde menswear store on the Lower East Side that sometimes feels more gallery than boutique. She and her husband Brian Janusiak have collaborated on a number of projects, from flag making to opening a travel shop on the first floor of the Ace Hotel in New York to becoming partners of a gallery in Berlin, ARRATIA BEER. They also design clothing for Project No. 8. Oh, and they have three kids. No wonder the couple operates under the name "Various Projects."
Elizabeth and Brian have traveled all over the world to find some of the unique objects that make up their stores' inventory. Most recently, they created Various Keytags, a brand that produces small customizable keychains, which are sold all over the city.
We asked Elizabeth some questions about the inception of "Various Projects," and how she manages her time across so many successful and exciting endeavors.
What were you and Brian doing before Project No. 8 opened?
Brian had recently finished an MFA in Graphic Design at Yale and was working as an Art Director. I finished my MA in sculpture at SVA and was opening a project space in Berlin called ARRATIA BEER with Euridice Arratia.
And then what made you want to open Project No. 8 together?
Initially we invited people to show their creative wanderings, the things they did when they were procrastinating or taking a break from their main projects. In all cases, what these things had in common is that they were all done simply for the love of an idea or a material, a form or a function. They were pure creative get-aways from a "larger" thing they were working on professionally. In this same way, the retail store itself was a side project that just ended up taking over a bit.
What was the hardest part about starting the company?
Starting never seems to be all that hard for us. In fact, it is kind of the easy part. But, it was a different time, when we had far less on our plates.
What was the first thing you designed as a pair?
Probably, the first thing we really designed together was a flag for a exhibition in Lithuania. The flag was called Stand By (2005).
How would you say Project No. 8 has transformed over the years?
It started out as an unprofessional aside, a digression, but has evolved over the years to become a venue and an outlet for creative projects in a way we would have never imagined really. Having a space that was opened to the public changed the way we approached things.
Where do you look for the merchandise you sell at Project No. 8?
We don’t look as much as we used to for things to sell, we have so many great people to work with now and we naturally just keep meeting new people along the way. We have also returned to making more things in our own studio which has been really refreshing kind of re-focusing.
You're working on Various Keytags currently, which I see in about every store now — how did the idea for the key tags come about?
We randomly started collecting keytags from around the world to play with almost 10 years ago. We started making some in France when we opened the Travel store in 2009. They were always great sellers, but had also been strangely difficult to produce. So after years, we decided to it would be smarter to control the means of production and so we started making them ourselves in our studio.
What's the funniest thing you’ve had someone write on a key tag?
Brian and I are still waiting for the funniest thing... But in the meantime, some of our favorites (and best-sellers) are: ASSHOLE, CURRENT BOYFRIEND, ESCAPE HATCH, FUCK IF I KNOW, NOT SUPER INTO GIVING A SHIT, SUPER SUCCESSFUL ON THE INSIDE, and WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS KEY FOR?!
Collectively you run Project No. 8 at the Ace Hotel, Project No. 8 / Men's on Orchard Street, Various Keytags, and you have three kids. Do you and Brian find time to sleep?
We do sleep, but we could always use more. But if the extension of this question is “How do you do it?” the honest response is we do as much as we can at all times and we try to remember everything. We work with a terrific team and this keeps everything moving forward until we can jump back on one thing or another. By way of example... The two key tags on my small mass of keys are MOTHER and SORRY FOR THE DELAY!! That pretty much sums it up. At the end of the day, our kids are by far the most important part of the sometimes complex equation.
Neither you nor Brian are trained in clothing design, but together you design clothing for Project. No. 8, and you used to make children’s clothing. How do you think your training in other fields has influenced your clothing designs?
Brian and I take a pragmatic approach that is less auteur than a complement to a busy or complex life. The way I approached kids' clothes was feeling that the clothes allowed the kids to look like themselves and to feel comfortable which would give them confidence in their movement etcetera. Colors that widen your understanding of the world rather than narrow it.
Can you talk about the gallery in Berlin, ARRATIA BEER? How did that come about, and how are you involved with the space now?
ARRATIA BEER was started modestly as a project space at a very particular moment in Berlin when rent was nominal and our energy was abundant. We opened the space with a show by Patty Chang who re-staged a performance called Fan Dance, which was fantastic. The ARRATIA BEER project space evolved quite quickly in to a more formal and permanent gallery which began representing some of the most exciting artists emerging at that moment.
Where do you look to for design inspiration?
We don’t specifically look for inspiration but can’t help finding it. I think that it helps tremendously to have a problem to solve, even if it’s arbitrary or made up. Then we just pull from our diverse histories, experiences and sources gathered along the way.
I have to ask, what is your secret of success?
This depends a lot on which success you mean. There are many measures of success that sometimes overlap, and at other times seem completely unrelated to one another. Critical success for us and Project No. 8 has come from keeping our viewpoint very personal. Personal satisfaction, which I would like to think of as another form of success, has come from the discovery, the creating of something new, and from the many relationships we have forged through our unexpected outlet of a retail store. Financial success is a careful balancing act and involves a lot of attention to detail, it also feels like something you never stop solving.
It's hard to imagine this is possible, but are you and Brian working on any new projects?
We are very excited about a couple new ventures but we are not quite ready to talk about them. They are both new but related directions. We are partnering with some amazing people and look forward to seeing where it all goes. Sorry I can’t disclose more on this one right at the moment, but hopefully... soon.