The intrinsic connection between art and fashion has been so perfectly expressed by none other than the illustrious Giorgio Armani who selects his garments “as if they were works of art and art chosen and exhibited with all the brilliance of fashion.” It is unsurprising, then, that in a world dictated by constantly-updating social media feeds that the two industries are using one another to stay relevant. The forerunners in both industries from large fast-fashion brands and conglomerate museums to haute couture houses and unknown artist are all gloriously collaborating with one another pandering to consumers whose attention consistently needs to be attained. Consequently, this trend in cross-pollination is giving a gravitas to brands & artists enabling them access to markets they could only dream of entering. Back in 2016 we saw the high-street brand COS join forces with The Guggenheim to create a collaborative line of Agnes Martin inspired clothing which radically altered their better known fast-fashion aesthetic. Whilst at the other end of the spectrum we have reveled in Gucci’s collaboration with Trevor Andrews better known as ‘Gucci Ghost’. Such a radical composition chaperoned Gucci into a successful street-style aesthetic that has not only appealed to the common consumer but also to celebrities such as Rihanna all the way up to Elton John. Such a contrast in brand, artist and successful outcome is fascinating; this world of symbiosis is not only changing the face of the art market but also the boundaries of fashion.
Art as an entity is often sought after because it’s a ‘one off’ – the less there are, the more they are worth – is a common rhetoric at any art auction or sale. So how does a mass-produced brand use art to make both, the artists and the brand more successful? How is it that making original artwork more accessible makes it more profitable? Well if one is to look at the early days of Supreme, Jebbia decided to create ‘drops’ of limited-edition clothing, commercially akin to Warhol’s multiples in order to upmarket the price on ‘exclusive clothing’. Other brands caught on to the success of Supremes’ ‘art-fashion’ model and began to produce in the same way. Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami’s collection made with Louis Vuitton sold at prices higher than the luxury brand’s basic pieces signaling to the consumer, the rarity of this collaboration. In keeping with the art markets exclusivity, brands use ‘limited edition’ to keep both relevant in this fast-paced world and also to retain the ‘integrity’ of the artists name. Evidenced by Vuitton’s prominence in the public eye being credited for its propulsion of Murakami into the global art market. It’s clear that fashion has an accessibility to commercialisation that art had never before had access to and this is a strong benefit for their unison of creativity. However, its shelf-life seems to be deteriorating to nothing more than a tokenistic trend where these obvious strategies no longer challenge the face of fashion.
Artistic integrity, fashion and commercial culture enjoy a tenuous relationship even when the influence extends vice versa, for artists using fashion as stimulus. Elmgreen and Dragset’s ‘Prada Marfa’ land art installation that creates bountiful discussion and personal interpterion that even the artists didn’t expect. The work itself is a reconstruction of a Prada shop placed outside the city of Marfa, Texas. Not only is the store stocked with real Prada items, it was even vandalised and burgled on its opening night. The irony doesn’t stop there however, the real-life exclusivity of Prada is replicated in their ‘Prada Marfa’ work’s visual exclusivity being that one has to take a pilgrimage to get there. As a comical and fascinating interjection in the fashion world, Elmgreen and Dragset’s are benefitting from the cult-followings of fashion houses which has introduced new audiences to their art. However, one can now begin to see that such successful collaborations are few and far between.
One just has to look at the infamous Vuitton partnership with the king of commercialisation Jeff Koonz which was heavily panned by critics due to its unoriginality, tacky appropriation and its clear disrespect to the works of Old Masters – it was even famously described as “fashion terrorism”, the ultimate symbol of appropriating artists’ work for consumerist goals. For those unaware of this disaster Koonz pasted paintings from various Old Masters including, Rubens, da Vinci and Titan onto Vuitton’s bags, tactlessly adorned by garish primary colors and Koonz iconic bunny. Perhaps the question remaining is whether these art and fashion collaborations need to do anything more than entertain the fast-paced changing aesthetic of the modern-day consumer whom are willing to pay the price.
It is easy to see how expensive designer brands can collaborate with successful artists to make their exclusive clothes even more desirable. Yet more interestingly, one may claim that when collaborations allow art and fashion to reach a wider audience, directly or indirectly, this outweighs the underlying issues of tokenistic commercialisation. For example, in 2004 Uniqlo released Andy Warhol prints on their clothing in order to follow in Warhol’s rhetoric of art for the people thus began their illustrious journey of combining contemporary art with their ‘affordable’ brand. Today, Uniqlo are partnered with MoMA in New York symbiotically printing artist work that is housed in the museum from Basquiat to Kruger in an attempt to bring divergent audiences to both Uniqlo’s store and to MoMA. Such a powerful symbiosis extends over the pond to The Tate in London who similarly paired with a high-street store, Dr. Martens, to garner a wider interest in the galleries permanent collection. Incorporated with the classic Doc aesthetic William Blakes paintings adorn the shoes leather depicting some of his most famous scenes. Dr. Martens and The Tate noted that like Doc’s “Blake is a true rebel and the ideal artist to elevate DM’s shoes and accessories.” Both of these major collaborations are seemingly doing a lot to encourage visibility of the arts as well as expanding their own brands cultural aesthetic. Therefore, these successful examples are forging a path for other artistic collaborations to comfortably find their place within commercial culture.