Denizens of Manhattan’s trendy Dimes Square neighborhood know that a visit to the second floor of Chinatown’s East Broadway Mall promises a great vintage find. What they might not know is that for a month this fall, in a space no larger than a modest city bedroom, there existed an exhibit titled “On Earth As It Is In Heaven.” Anyone who popped their head in would’ve likely found themselves face-to-face with the iconic Christian Joy, visual artist and costume designer to Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, and Childish Gambino (among others), sitting solo in a pink-lit room with a neat row of portraits hanging on the wall next to a headless gold mannequin wearing a long, kimono-like garment peppered with braided strands of brown hair. In place of its head, a large disc reflected footage shot by Joy’s friend and collaborator, ioulex.
“It’s a little about my mom,” Joy chuckles looking at the mannequin as its video installation head flickers back at her, “I was raised born-again Christian so I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair.” As the second of six children raised in a wildly atypical household in Marion, Iowa, Joy recalls “We were Christians who wouldn’t attend church because my dad was in and out of prison and thought everyone at the church was a hypocrite.” Joy remembers wanting to get to New York City, by whatever means possible. “In my mind, I was always like: I have to get to New York and once I get there, I’m gonna do something so cool,” she says, echoing the sentiment of thousands of bored but ambitious teenagers across Middle America. Eventually, she made it to the city notorious for its bigger-than-life energy, stopping in Iowa City and Chicago along the way. “In Chicago, I was so fucking poor,” she laughs. “My boyfriend and I at the time would split a value meal from McDonalds. But growing up poor gives you superpowers, so it wasn’t that bad, really.”
Once in New York City, Joy found a job at a photo stock company through a temp agency (“I was terrible at it.”) and a salesperson gig at a vintage boutique (“I got fired for not being good at selling things”). It wasn’t until she landed a position at Daryl K on 6th Street that things started to align, “[Daryl K] was the downtown New York designer,” Joy remembers. “All the cool girls went there. I ended up meeting people that were more like the people I wanted to know.” It was behind the counter at Daryl K that she encountered icons like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and a young Karen O, who came in one day with a recording of her new band’s music. “I thought ‘Oh god, this is gonna suck,’” Joy recalls, “But it was actually really good.”
They became friends and soon Joy made her first piece for Karen O (a slashed prom dress à la Carrie) which the singer wore for an early Yeah Yeah Yeahs performance at The Cooler, the legendary now-closed venue once located in the Meatpacking District. Watching from the audience, the reality of this being the “cool something” Joy was going to do with her life truly hit. “When she yelled my name on stage, I just”—Joy puts her hands around her face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone—“I saw her on the covers of magazines, I had this vision. I knew they’d blow up.”
Fashion Xander Ang
Makeup & Hair Mike Potter