If you want your laundry done well, do not go to Good Luck Dry Cleaners. Not only are they not responsible for items left behind, but they don’t run a dry cleaning business. They just go places to “fuck it up beautifully.”
“It was our Dead Sea scroll,” Jeremy Penn says, “We discovered gold.”
He and Phil Reese are recounting their experience exploring the storage of Saks Fifth Avenue, and the gold they discovered was not a priceless piece of fashion history as most would hope to find, but rather a stuffed lion that Barron Trump had sat on in a family portrait in 2010. Shortly after making this discovery, Phil and Jeremy posed sat on the stuffed lion in a photograph by Jonathan Mannion. The duo took this shoot very seriously, working hard to replicate the body language and facial expression of the president’s son in the original photograph. “What does gently bewildered look like?” Phil had wondered during prep for the shoot. Jeremy had responded that it’s like the face a dog makes when you call him by his name.
You might be wondering how Phil and Jeremy were able to get Jonathan Mannion—a photographer known for having shot album covers and portraits for Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem, David Beckham, and so on—to take a picture of them mimicking a child’s pose on a stuffed lion.
The duo are the masterminds behind Good Luck Dry Cleaners, an art collective that will not, despite what their name might imply, fluff and fold your laundry. Instead, what GLDC does, in Jeremy’s words, is go wherever they’re invited, “fuck it up beautifully and then tear it down.”
Which brings us back to Saks. Phil, Jeremy, and the rest of their GLDC family hosted a series of speakeasies in the Saks Fifth Avenue basement during New York Fashion Week last month. Basically what happened was Saks offered Phil and Jeremy the basement of their Fifth Avenue flagship, warning that it was a raw space.
“Saks was like, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be able to turn this around.’” Jeremy says, “But this is what we do. There were wires hanging from the ceiling, and we were like, ‘Good. Can we pull more wires down?’ Give us something as raw as can be, and just walk away.”
And in three days, Phil and Jeremy transformed the Saks Fifth Avenue basement into one of New York Fashion Week’s biggest parties, for seven nights over the course of nine. It’s hard to describe these speakeasy parties to someone who wasn’t there, and really, most of the population wasn’t there as the events were so exclusive. When Good Luck Dry Cleaners curate, they curate everything: the artwork, the music, the vibe, the decor, the food, even the crowd. So needless to say, the parties were invite-only.
When Phil and Jeremy reminisce these events, the excitement and passion in their speech parallel nothing but the vibes of each of the parties. The pair speak quickly with large smiles on their faces, going back and forth, finishing each other’s sentences, painting an abstracted yet complete image.
Jeremy starts, “It was transformative. The responses from people were, they would go shopping upstairs… the response that we got the night of was just… when you were in that room, no matter who you were, you felt special.”
“Walking into the room… it brings the energy to new heights when seeing the art,” Phil continues.
Each party was focused around a different artist within their family of Good Luck Dry Cleaners. Artwork played a large role in setting the theme of each party, but Phil and Jeremy make clear that what truly made their events special was the emotions and reactions from artists and party-goers alike.
To get a sense of what these parties were like, imagine the type of scene that would feature a shark tank DJ booth. (But as sharks are illegal in New York, it was an aquarium DJ booth with a set of shark jaws hanging on the outside.) “That was the first thing I actually pitched to Saks, and they’re like, ‘Okay. I think that’s cool.’ And that was the first moment where I realized that we could do whatever we want,” Phil says.
Remarkably, in a room that held valuable artwork and saw around a thousand spectators in just over a week, there were no incidents or damage. And this is because of the feelings these events evoked. “It was built on love and respect and people really did feel special,” Jeremy says.
And that’s what art is in the collaborative eyes of Good Luck Dry Cleaners—emotions, love, respect. In GLDC philosophy, art has nothing to do with specific meanings or the artist’s intentions. It’s all about each individuals personal responses to the art. “I feel art is very subjective and if you love something, you love something,” Phil says. “I can’t try to convince you what your favorite song is, or that when the sun sets it’s a beautiful thing. But when you actually see that art in front of you and it hits you and you bring it into your home, which is… it can’t get any more personal when it comes to having someone take [an artist’s] work and display it in their home.”
Rewind ten months. It’s May 2017, and Phil Reese is setting up his first exhibition, entitled “Good Luck America,” in a space that had previously been a dry cleaners in Williamsburg. He has recently met Jeremy Penn, an artist with whom he shares mutual friends—mutual friends who had been saying for years that the pair should meet. The pair immediately hit it off when they meet, bonding over the shared desire to appreciate art for what it is and the individual’s own experience with it.
“Good Luck America” launches in May, the first of many intense art parties. The following day, the duo, along with friend Josh Saviano who is currently an attorney but is best known for playing Paul Pfeiffer in beloved television program “The Wonder Years” from 1988 to 1993, announce to the world (in Phil’s words): “Surprise, we’re open, here we are!” And with that, Good Luck Dry Cleaners became a thing.
In the ruins of their Williamsburg dry cleaners, GLDC becomes a space for artists to come and go as they please, paint, collaborate, party, and create. “I guess the closest way to really compare it to everything was Andy Warhol’s Factory,” Phil says. “At any point, you could see painters there, I’d be painting there and athletes, models [would all hang out.] It was an amazing group of people, it was a collective in itself.”
Eventually, it came to a point where it was no longer feasible to keep the original Good Luck Dry Cleaners building. But losing the space changed nothing, GLDC survives on its vibe.
Which brings us back to Saks. The Saks collaboration was actually multifaceted: the department store used GLDC art as backdrops for a social media campaign in October, they collaborated on the Saks Spring Fashion Book, the New York Fashion Week speakeasy series, and most recently, Phil and Jeremy installed artwork into the window displays on Saks Fifth Avenue.
Themed on female empowerment, their window installations were as captivating as the parties. As nothing is ever slow-paced with GLDC, the pair went from deinstalling the fashion week events right into creating the Fifth Avenue window displays, with no time to pause or regroup. “It was mayhem itself but also the coolest fucking thing to happen to Fifth Avenue. It was pretty gangster, but so beautiful at the same time,” Jeremy describes. He and Phil are still humbled by the responses from spectators passing along on the street.
“We’d be standing there having a conversation, and random people on Fifth Avenue would grab us and be like, ‘Isn’t this fucking amazing? Is this not incredible? Can you take a picture of me?’” Phil recounts.
“I waited for 15 minutes to take a photo of my own window,” Jeremy adds. “It was crazy.”
The Saks window displays were installed for two weeks, and those who missed them are shit out of luck. They only exist in photos now. Good Luck Dry Cleaners events are temporary; the value of the art lies within personal responses of those who attend the events or witness the work.
“It’s ephemeral, it’s like a moment. It’s there, and it’s so transient that…” Jeremy starts.
“Nothing gold can stay,” Phil finishes his friend’s sentence. “I love having that sense of urgency.”
“You were either in that room, or you weren’t. And it can’t exist in the universe without us and us putting our stamp to it,” Jeremy says. “We came in there, we did our thing, and it no longer exists.”
Which ties back into the Good Luck Dry Cleaners understanding of art. It’s a personal reaction, it’s unique to each individual and it is something that cannot be recreated. And with that approach, they’ve created this beautiful collective of around 40 like-minded artists who just want to create art that will be appreciated for what it is. “We come in and make art accessible and take the pretense out of it,” Phil explains. They’ve taken away the business aspect, providing an alternative to the gallery approach in which art is seen as investments. And in doing so, they’ve been able to bring a sense of community and connection to the artmaking process.
To Jeremy, having been through a traditional artist’s career, he realizes that the GLDC mission is something that had been missing from the art world for quite a while. “It is no egos. Like here I come with work in museums and there are people who are just starting out, and no one has egos,” he says. “Everyone drops it at the door and that’s where people are learning and becoming a creative vacuum. People are helping one another, people are learning and inspiring. It’s a magic I have yet to experience in my art career until this point. It’s something completely unique. It’s meditative, it’s very fulfilling.”
“It’s a really amazing position to be in, where you have the opportunity to make so many people happy and touch their lives,” Phil agrees.
And for this reason, the sense of community that Phil, Jeremy, and the rest of Good Luck Dry Cleaners bring into the art world, they have friends like Jonathan Mannion who will drop everything, reschedule corporate meetings, delay flights, do whatever they have to, to do a favor for them. Especially if that favor is photographing the duo posed as Barron Trump on a stuffed lion.