The Evolving Marriage of Art and Fashion


Rebecca Anne Proctor | April 06, 2009

Over the last decade, collaborations between luxury brands and contemporary artists have gone beyond mere artistic partnerships towards a new kind of luxury branding.

Over the last decade, collaborations between luxury brands and contemporary artists have gone beyond mere artistic partnerships towards a new kind of luxury branding.

PARIS – Art and fashion have always developed side by side, for fashion, like art, often gives visual expression to the cultural zeitgeist. During the 1920s, Salvador Dalí created dresses for Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiapparelli. In the 1930s, Ferragamo’s shoes commissioned designs for advertisements from Futurist painter Lucio Venna, while Gianni Versace commissioned works from artists such as Alighiero Boetti and Roy Lichtenstein for the launch of his collections. Yves Saint Laurent’s vast art collection, recently auctioned at Christie’s in Paris, testified to his great love of art and revealed the influence of a variety of artists on his own designs.

In the 1980s, relationships between luxury brands and artists were advanced when Alain Dominique Perrin created the Fondation Cartier. In the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, a book marking the foundation’s 20th anniversary, Perrin says he makes “a connection between all the different sorts of arts, and luxury goods are a kind of art. Luxury goods are handicrafts of art, applied art.”

The Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemparain building in Paris

Perrin established the Fondation Cartier to explore further this interrelationship. “It has opened a window of freedom for art and artist,” he says. “We have voluntarily presented and exhibited in original ways all kinds of different people, from the very beginning until the present day. For example, Araki, Marc Newson, Philippe Starck, Murakami, and Matthew Barney, worked with us first in France… Moreover, the Fondation has given Cartier a positive image in the eyes of people who are not interested in jewellery or who would never in a thousand years wear a Cartier bijou. But now they look at Cartier more positively, with respect, and that’s exactly what I wanted.”

“The Fondation has also” he believes, “inspired others to follow our footsteps; it introduced companies to contemporary art.” Indeed, in recent years other luxury powerhouses such as PPR, Hermès and LVMH Moët Hennessy–Louis Vuitton have received attention for their collaborations with, and in some cases, patronage of contemporary artists.

What is more, it seems there has been a veritable fiesta of new creative collaborations, exploring fresh avenues for synergies and business development between the art world and the luxury industry. Today, luxury brands regularly collaborate with artists to develop products and marketing materials, and even mobile museums.

According to Pamela Golbin, Curator-in-Chief of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris, “Over the last ten years there have been even more collaborations; artists were taking a step in new directions that were not there before. They were coming into the fashion world because there is a lot of money.”

Highlighting the collaboration between art and luxury in a recent interview with France Magazine, President and CEO of Louis Vuitton, Yves Carcelle commented, “Luxury and art are both expressions of emotion and passion; therefore, the idea of integrating artwork in a store environment is a question of affinity. Collaborating with contemporary artists brings a new kind of creative fecundity to the product. It forces creativity that is different from that typically found in fashion.” For market strategists in the luxury industry, therefore, contemporary art has been very much a way to add value both in terms of prestige and profitability.

Such creative and commercial partnerships also break into the world of architectural design. Just look at Chanel’s travelling exhibition designed by renowned Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, or Rem Koolhaas’ designs for Prada’s flagship store in New York.

Architect Frank Gehry talks with Chairman and CEO of LVMH Bernard Arnault to announce the birth of the “Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création”

While a relationship between art and fashion has always existed, over the last decade, collaborations between luxury brands and contemporary artists have gone beyond mere artistic partnerships towards a new kind of luxury branding. And, this in turn has had an impact on the contemporary art world itself.

“Damien Hirst’s art auction last year could never have taken place without such developments,” Golbin explains. “There was a new kind of liberty that was not there before, and a structure that the artist had never had.” In a way, she argues, artists have more liberty now because they are free to move within the worlds of art and fashion — that is, between the commercial and artistic realms.

“Many seem to think that such a partnership is negative, but there is nothing wrong on either side. Both businesses, albeit different, are helping one another through a common language: creative expression,” Golbin adds.

But others prefer a more distinct separation. “The aim and spirit of the Fondation Cartier has never had anything to do with commercial gains. It is strictly linked to an image strategy as well as a subject of pride for the Cartier employees who, for the past 25 years, have defended the Fondation’s activities, its programs and challenges,” explains Sonia Perrin-Amara, the Director of Development at the Fondation Cartier. “Since the very beginning, it has always been very clear for us that we would give freedom of speech to the artists and therefore not interfere in the process of creation. If contemporary art has been saturated with brands lately, it is clearly not the image of the patronage of Cartier.”

However, Golbin notes that the nature and number of collaborations in the luxury industry may be changing due to the poor economic environment. Discretionary spending has been slashed and expenditures are under scrutiny. The high-profile tour of Chanel’s Mobile Art Exhibit designed by Zaha Hadid was halted prematurely after its New York showing.

But the economy won’t stop luxury brands from engaging in creative collaborations altogether. Prada’s recent project Iconoclasts is an example of the apparent shift towards focusing collaborations on the core business. The project opened in conjunction with each of the four major international fashion weeks, and featured four fashion editors reworking the visual identity of four flagship Prada stores.

Alex White of W magazine designed the Broadway store in New York; Katie Grand of LOVE magazine worked in London; Olivier Rizzo was busy in Milan; and in Paris, Carine Roitfeld of Paris Vogue called to the task . Thus, the Iconoclasts project was contained within the world of fashion. A few years ago, it might have been artists designing those windows, but today it seems brands are concentrating on their internal meaning.

Though it may be true that the sheer number and variety of collaborations proposed in recent years have somewhat diminished their impact, and that some may have got out of hand with exceedingly commercial intentions, ties between the goods industry and the art world should not be abandoned. There is no doubting the excellent results of some of the collaborations. Contemporary art infused luxury with a great energy that resonated with consumers; and for artists, a new world of commercial opportunity was opened, separate from the pure art world.

And, in light of the current economy, perhaps the art world and luxury need each other now, more than ever.

Rebecca Anne Procter, Paris Correspondent