Artist-brand collaboration is not a new phenomenon.
One of the most notable collaborations between an artist and fashion house was created in 1937 with Schiaparelli’s famous lobster dress, which featured the work of Salvador Dalí. The dress is but one of many collaborations between fashion houses and celebrated artists.
More recently we have seen partnerships between Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen, which explore their mutual interest in skull iconography, and Takashi Murakami and Louis Vuitton, which combined Murakami’s Superflat imagery with the house’s classic accessories. Lately, this trend has broadened to include more visual artists who do not necessarily create joint collections but display their art at shows.
Jenny Holzer’s neo-conceptual works were displayed in the background of Virgil Abloh’s 2018 Spring/Summer Off-White collection, framing Abloh’s collection within a context of global unrest in order to create an experience that went far beyond the aesthetic realm.
Part of the reason behind the increasing number of these collaborations is because the definition of art is constantly being expanded.
The parochial world of ‘high art’, which held a more orthodox view of what art could be, was limited to the few who could afford to engage with it. However, Pop Art actively engaged with popular culture and broke the boundaries of ‘high art’ by mimicking advertising, making art feel more accessible and relatable.
Equally, Andy Warhol redefined the limits of art through his multimedia experience the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which featured his films, the music of The Velvet Underground and the work of notable dancers, thus melding art, music and dance into one experience. Furthermore, Warhol democratised access to his work by producing the band The Velvet Underground and featuring his artwork on their first album cover. More recently, Takashi Murakami’s work with sculpture, painting, graphic design and film have further expanded the boundaries of art, and his Superflat movement, much like Pop Art, seeks to make art more accessible.
We can see the impact of this in the world of luxury fashion.
Virgil Abloh’s aforementioned show created a multimedia experience by collaborating with Jenny Holzer, and the pieces he designed were as much a part of the show’s commentary on global conflict as Holzer’s projection of poetry that provided their backdrop. Abloh’s collaboration enabled him to transcend the traditional boundaries of fashion, much like Avant Garde or Haute Couture has done, and yet still make a marketable, consumer friendly, ready to wear collection.
Not all collaborations are between established brands and acclaimed artists, increasingly up and coming artists are being invited to collaborate with companies. These partnerships provide artists with a wider audience to engage with, which allows them to gain notoriety for their work and potentially act as a platform for greater things.
Three of the up-and-coming artists who are part of the MISA Discoveries exhibition at Berlin Art Week have previously collaborated with fashion brands. Tim Bengel helped to design a sneaker with Sioux that evoked his minimalist style, and Ana Karkar designed the print for a collection with Sera Studio, which was then featured in Vogue Italia. Max Siedentopf collaborated with Gucci for their Goldie Red Lipstick advertising campaign. These collaborations have undoubtedly helped these young artists to reach a wider audience and gain exposure.
In return, these brands, like Abloh’s Off White, are able to legitimise claims that their products are art, and yet still make marketable items.
Recently, more up and coming artists and independent brands outside of fashion have joined together to collaborate.
Consumers of these brands already appreciate their artisanal ethos, and collaborations with local artists often add to the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind products these brands produce.
These collaborations are often limited edition and seek to give the artist a new platform on which to display their art; democratising access to art much like Murakami, but on a smaller scale. Equally, because the companies and artists are small scale ventures, they often work together out of a mutual respect for each other’s crafts and passions. Whilst we have seen this in Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen’s partnerships, this type of egalitarian relationship is not always common in collaborations.
KANA, a London-based artisanal ceramics brand, has collaborated with a multitude of artists. Their collection with the British artist Alexa Coe, known for her drawings of the female form, combined handmade ceramics with Coe’s artwork to create a unique set of homewares. KANA is run by Ana Kerin, who studied fine art and sculpture and wanted to apply her passion to functional ceramics. Through her collaboration with Coe, she not only provides a platform, but is able to fulfil the vision and purpose of her brand.
Equally, Pepita Coffee, an independent coffee shop located in Kentish Town, has collaborated with various local artists to create the tins in which they sell their coffee. Like Kerin, the founder of the company has a passion for art and wanted to integrate this into his branding in order to showcase different artists and democratise art by turning a standard coffee tin into a collectible item. The collaborations span both well known artists, such as George Fox, an illustrator who worked with rapper Fat Boy Slim for his latest design, and street artists such as PEZ.
Writer : Aisling Lynch-Kelly
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