DESIGN

Apparatus Will Fulfill Your Fantasy

Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson, the founders of New York design studio Apparatus, don’t simply invite you over for cocktails. They host extravagant, lustrous parties that transport guests to a blissful alternate reality—soirées crafted with care and wisdom, where wonder, intimacy, and hedonism are all universal.

Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson, the founders of New York design studio Apparatus, don’t simply invite you over for cocktails. They host extravagant, lustrous parties that transport guests to a blissful alternate reality—soirées crafted with care and wisdom, where wonder, intimacy, and hedonism are all universal.

The RKO Hamilton Theater, perched on an unassuming corner in upper Manhattan, was once a lively nexus of Vaudevillian decadence. Built in 1913 by the prolific architect Thomas W. Lamb in the Renaissance Revival style, it soon became a hothouse for motion picture film screenings after Vaudeville’s decline in the 1920s. The theater unspooled its last film in 1958 and has undergone several ownership changes since, eventually becoming a church, sports arena, and warehouse for liquor wholesalers. It now sits abandoned and in a state of disrepair—think graffiti-scarred walls, peeling frescoes, and musty auditorium seating. 

Though its interior may be ramshackle, the theater still retains traces of the majestic blend of cathedral-like grandeur and Roaring ‘20s hedonism. This alchemy is exactly what captivated Gabriel Hendifar, co-founder of Apparatus, who was scouting locations for the annual NYCxDesign celebration that fêtes his studio’s latest launches. The parties have become an inimitable fixture within the local design sphere—a necessary reprieve from the commercial day-to-day entailed by NYCxDesign. 

But for Hendifar and his work-and-life partner, Jeremy Anderson, the parties are much more than a wild night out on the town. Each edition is written as the opening scene that kicks off the next act of Apparatus—and shares the sense of wonder that Hendifar and Anderson experience designing their collections throughout the year. “The parties started as a way for the studio to celebrate new work, but they have become a way to share our gratitude for the fact that we are lucky enough to live this dream,” Hendifar tells Surface. This year’s edition celebrated Interlude, a series of lighting fixtures and furnishings imbued with musical, psychedelic motifs that made a rapturous debut during Milan Design Week. 

Interlude at Apparatus New York. Photography by Eric Petschek

The overarching theme? Operatic. Deliberately vague, the party asked attendees to step back in time and embrace the romantic theatricality of yesteryear. And guests didn’t disappoint. Attendees donned butterfly-adorned crowns, billowing ball gowns, beaded corsets, and crystal appliqués—operatic indeed, especially while sipping craft cocktails from elaborate coupe glasses. Halfway into the night, the party took everyone to church with a surprise performance by The Late Show’s Gospel Choir, which soon segued into an anything-goes dance floor that rumbled until the wee hours. The evening was an antidote to the mundane, an ode to melodrama—and what better place to celebrate theatricality in all its decadent glory than the RKO Hamilton? In an exclusive interview, we sat down with Hendifar to discuss how Apparatus fulfills the fantasy year after year.

You shook things up this year by launching Interlude, a disruption to your studio’s tradition of introducing new work under the guise of Acts. 

The concept of Interlude began as a way for us to quite literally take a break between our Acts, and give our studio a chance to breathe between large bodies of work. What started as a desire to concentrate on a small number of pieces became a collection that is a full, rich expression of a single creative impulse, exploring processes that test the limit of handcraft. There are musical references throughout: for instance, the embroidery motifs are inspired by animations made by Stephen Malinowski. He experienced a synesthetic vision while listening to Bach on acid, which inspired him to create what he calls The Music Animation Machine—essentially, software that animates musical scores. He made thousands of these animations, which create breathtaking, incredibly emotive semi-organic forms. The table shape is also derived from these forms, while the pair of cabinets is conceived in the compositional tradition of theme and variation. 

Interlude at Apparatus New York. Photography by Eric Petschek

What sort of evolution does Interlude paint for the studio?

It’s our first time making limited-edition work. Although our entire collection is the result of incredible focus and craft, there are times when we have to pull back on creative impulses because we’re somewhat confined by the limitations of production. Creating limited-edition work is a chance for the studio to indulge in handcraft and materials without confines. We can expand our story—a continuation of the language that exists within the main collection, but it ventures into new territory. In some ways, it pushes our design vocabulary as far as it can go, both with technique and storytelling. 

You aren’t like other studios that host intimate cocktails to fête a new launch—you go all out. Tell me about the premise for this annual celebration and its growth since your inaugural year. 

Ultimately, the impulse comes from a desire to create a generous experience for a community that has been so generous to us. Building community has always been important to Jeremy and I. The parties started as a way for us to celebrate new work, but they’ve since become a way to share our gratitude for the fact that we’re lucky enough to live this dream of creating beautiful things. They’re about sharing that sense of wonder and joy. Party-planning happens as the collection develops, so the processes invigorate and enrich each other, and that has become more crucial to my creative process. Not only what is the collection, but what is the mood, the underlying emotional imprint, and how are we going to build an experience around that? 

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater. Photography by Dina Litovsky

New York City nightlife is more segregated compared to decades past, and most attendees are too young to have remembered the heyday of diverse groups of people coming together for the sake of a party. But Operatic seems to have rekindled that spirit. 

Absolutely. It’s about fulfilling that fantasy—creating the party you dreamed you’d attend when you moved to New York. Maybe those parties exist, maybe they don’t, maybe they’ve evolved, but the fantasy is real and that’s a powerful thing to tap into. It’s become such a cliché to aspire to a Studio 54 atmosphere, but the magic is in that alchemy of people coming together with the common goal of having an uplifting, transformative experience, which is what a really good party can be. This year’s event seemed to vibrate with energy—part of that is how the intention of these events has become clear. It’s been a few years now… everyone gets what they’re coming to, even if we have some new tricks up our sleeves, and people bring their best selves. 

How do you approach planning and selecting the themes for each edition? 

The party is always an extension of the collection’s overarching narrative. For Act III, which dove into my Persian heritage, I wanted to create the fantasy of a pre-revolutionary nightclub in Tehran, which we called Club Pars. I conceived Interlude as a suite of furnishings for an imagined, long-shuttered concert hall, so the party became about imagining the opening night of a forgotten opera, something suspended in time. Operatic was actually the dress code listed on the invitation and became the de facto name guests used to reference the party. But all of these choices are about transporting people beyond just creating an atmosphere—it’s about delivering the full package—the mood, the music, the scent, and almost as importantly, the anticipation. 

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater. Photography by Dina Litovsky
Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater. Photography by Dina Litovsky

This year’s setting in Hamilton Heights took everyone to church. How did you find it and what made you select it?

I remember having a very clear vision of a crumbling theater with a secret entrance in an alley and a dance floor behind the proscenium on the stage. I described it to Jonathan Beck, our dear friend and the production designer who has been our longtime collaborator for our parties, and he brought on an incredible location scout that has been working with Annie Liebovitz for years. It was a pretty special day scouting locations and imagining how the evening could unfold in each of them. As soon as we walked in to the Hamilton, it felt like it leapt out of my imagination. But the space was entirely raw. We had to do a lot of work to fulfill the fantasy—acres of carpet, building a bar and a dance floor. Transforming it with Jonathan was a dream. We were both theater kids in high school, so it really scratched that itch. It’s wild to do all of this for one night, but that moment when the room is full and the energy is buzzing, and you see the look of wonder in people’s eyes… it’s intoxicating. 

The moodboards you distribute beforehand are stellar. What goes into curating these, and what sources do you pull from? 

Most images I encountered while developing the collection. Fashion is a major source of inspiration so I’m always getting lost down couture rabbit holes and finding something amazing to riff off, whether it’s a detail or a feeling. The images come from everywhere: books, research, Instagram. It’s all to build excitement about what to expect, and that anticipation is very important. It’s almost a contract we enter into with the guests. We promise something special, but expect everyone to contribute by becoming the characters in the fantasy. It’s so rare that people dress up to go out, and when you ask someone to do that, you have to provide an experience that honors that commitment. When that relationship between the hosts and the guests really build on each other, magical things happen. 

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater 16
Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater
Photography by Dina Litovsky
Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Operatic at RKO Hamilton Theater

Last year’s edition sparked debate about attendees misinterpreting Club Pars, resulting from lazy interpretations of Middle Eastern stereotypes. Your Persian heritage informs much of your recent work (most notably Act III). How did you initially react to this discourse? 

I was a bit taken aback at first. The collection was a way for me to try to connect with a place that I only knew from a distance, being a first-generation American born to parents who left Iran in 1979 on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. I grew up with my parents’ stories of this magical time in 1970s Iran. For them, it was a cosmopolitan place that celebrated music, literature, and art, and I wanted desperately to connect to that version of this place that in some ways no longer exists. Parties and gatherings were one of the most direct ways I got to experience this connection as a child, particularly through food and music, and our party became a way for me to try to share those things—and my pride in them—with our community. We took great care to be very specific with images we circulated. Each one had a direct connection to Iran. One of the most gratifying experiences I had was a tearful interaction with a guest who had been in Tehran in the ‘70s and felt like she had been taken back to what was a magical time and place for her. 

To put it simply, the collection was very personal and the event felt very personal. To have the focus shift from what I, and many Iranians, experienced as a specific, well-researched, rich cultural exchange to a few guests who didn’t do their homework felt like a shame. I don’t disagree with the sentiment of the critical discourse, and after reaching out to the writer of the piece, I know that he has specific life experiences that brought those unfortunate choices into sharper focus for him. More than anything, I wished I had had a chance to speak with the author before the piece was published and to offer my perspective. In Persian culture, hospitality is sacrosanct. I wish that generosity had been afforded me in return. 

Operatic is a broader, arguably safer theme. Was this intentional?

One thing I’m most proud of about Apparatus is that we make choices very deliberately and with intention, so they don’t need to be “safe.” Our choices say something about our perspective and the work we are creating. Operatic fit the collection and the influences we were working with this year. It felt natural and fun while supporting the overarching narrative. That’s always the goal. 

Gabriel Hendifar. Photography by Dina Litovsky

Since the party coincides with your annual showroom refresh and collection launch, do you find that each component plays off one another? 

Absolutely. It’s all part of the same narrative. Each component enables us to tell a different aspect of the story. Our collections are informed by and reflected in our exploration of space—real or imagined—so reworking the showroom and imagining how guests will experience a space at the party are how I think most clearly about what we do. 

What’s next for you? 

We’re working on Act IV and everything surrounding it: the collection, the studio, the film, and the party. The day after Operatic, I was already texting Jonathan with ideas for next year’s party. It becomes a beautiful, intoxicating cycle.

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