The Art Collaboration: Old Masters to New Blood


Sophie Maxwell | November 30, 2011

Sophie Maxwell, Insight Director at Pearlfisher, investigates the longstanding collaborative relationship between luxury brands and the arts

Dior’s most recent art collaboration, this time with Berlin-based Anselm Reyle, debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach 2011

Today, brands are finding new relevance, value and spirit via inventive, far-reaching and increasingly ambitious art collaborations. Creating a mutually beneficial relationship that opens out to new audiences and injects fresh talent into luxury’s timeless craftsmanship.

Back in March, the artist Sam Taylor-Wood posed for the first instalment of Double Exposure, a new campaign by Louis Vuitton. She was photographed using a 19th Century mercurial colloidon process and filmed with her most personal belongings, dressed, as you would expect, in Vuitton. The result was shown at a private view in London, at the Louis Vuitton Maison on Bond Street. The fashion house had chosen the artist to be muse, a part usually played by an A list actress or a top model to create a highly stylised and branded, and arguably more transient, image.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Prada. Although a tentative date, this is the year a long anticipated, art complex is set to open outside Milan: the new Prada Foundation HQ. The architect is Rem Koolhaas who designed the 2009 art pavilion, the Prada Transformer in Seoul. Ambitions are high with the intention of making it an art institution to compete on an international scale. Luxury design house and long-term collector and appreciator becomes patron of the arts – Getty, Guggenheim: watch this space.

Louis Vuitton’s Double Exposure campaign, featuring artist Sam Taylor-Wood

Luxury brands have looked to art for decades. Searching for higher meaning, maybe, but at heart, to draw inspiration and value from its palette. In the 1920s, Elsa Schiaparelli was working with Dali; in the ‘60s YSL took inspiration from Mondrian and Picasso. Designers also lacked the full time inspiration our ultra connected world provides so relied on the art exhibitions that circled the globe, visiting galleries for their inspiration and reflecting what they saw through their individual brands aesthetics.

And in 2002, Louis Vuitton triggered the current art-luxe wave under Marc Jacobs’ – highly commercially successful – creative direction. He understood the power of drawing influence from new places and of combining creative forces and commissioned the Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami to reinterpret the iconic logo. Its success demonstrated the potential in the art collaboration for the 21st Century luxury brand.

And now it’s 2011, post boom, the world in the clutches of economic flux. The luxury brand has had to revaluate its relevance and value. Its relationship with art is on a roll; if used with integrity, it can reinforce a luxury brand’s currency and attraction. So, just what are the new collaborations doing for luxury brands today?

“ The bar is raised; luxury is brought in line with fine art. In presenting its craft in a gallery context, the creation becomes, if momentarily, an art piece ”

In April, Dior held a couture exhibition, Inspiration Dior, at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. There, a collection of Dior couture from the last 54 years was displayed alongside fine art. Reports observed how for example, gowns with a floral theme were exhibited by a Bonnard garden painting or Jeff Koons’ silver plated roses in a mirroring of themes.

By aligning couture, that ultimate showcase for a luxury fashion brand, with fine art, the artistic concepts of skill, heritage, craftsmanship and authenticity are subtly transferred to the delicately bejewelled frock alongside. The bar is raised; luxury is brought in line with fine art (literally, in the case of Dior). In presenting its craft in a gallery context, the creation becomes, if momentarily, an art piece. There is also an element of unexpected delight in placing something exquisitely crafted from one discipline, next to that of another (Koons’ Kitch with Dior couture surely couldn’t help but raise a smile).

Every luxury product should continue to inspire delight. The artist collaboration, where a brand commissions an artist to design, illustrate or do something inventive with a product can do just this. It’s that classic theme of injecting fresh talent into timeless craftsmanship. It helps reinvigorate and rekindle desire for a new generation of luxury followers. In fashion, the Vuitton Murakami collaboration is the benchmark.

A Takashi Murakami installation in Louis Vuitton’s Omotesano store

This approach stretches to scent, too. Chanel repackaged No5 in the mid 90s with Andy Warhol’s screen prints of the iconic bottle, which was touched on at a Chanel pop-up showcase at Harrods in the summer. Artist-designers are consistently called upon to reinterpret the scent bottle, the vital outer casing and attraction point in an overcrowded market. Ross Lovegrove’s water inspired flask for Narcisso Rodriguez’ second scent, Essence and Ora Ito’s design for Guerlain’s recent floral blockbuster, Idylle are examples.

Ito’s vision moved Guerlain a step further, and into the realms of the conceptual. He wrapped an 18 carat gold, 30 thousand Euro, Idylle bottle in rippling glass, thus locking the scent inside. It was only accessible through smashing the glass. And there’s the rub – could you do it? In becoming effectively, a sculpture, the boundary between art and luxury fused as a luxury item became an art collector’s booty. Is this the ultimate achievement for an iconic brand?

Fine jewellery has the interesting postscript. The Louisa Guinness Gallery works with leading artists and sculptors to design jewellery, including Anish Kapoor, Michael Craig Martin and Dinos Chapman. These smaller art pieces are a way into the luxury of collecting, with the added bonus of being wearable. This gives additional value to a luxury item.

“ Today, as with everything, the luxury brand needs to justify its price. And an artistic imprint adds value, which is further swelled if released as a limited edition ”

Today, as with everything, the luxury brand needs to justify its price. And an artistic imprint adds value, which is further swelled if released as a limited edition. One caveat comes from the artist, Marcus Tomlinson: ‘Quality is craftsmanship and that is not a wealth thing – it’s a respect between yourself and the product. In our society, it adds a big cost on, because it’s people’s time.’

He strikes several chords. First, the idea that craftsmanship is about the relationship between the craftsman and the work. This is central to making something of quality. Next, time which comes into play as an integral part of that process. All this is what lends a piece of art, or a truly luxury item its inherent value aside from its monetary value. Call it authenticity if you like. Yet, once an alliance looks mercenary, it ceases to work. This is why any art and luxury branding initiative requires consideration. But get it right, and the rewards are palpable.

For a handful of heavyweights including Dior, Ferragamo, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton and BMW wishing to expand into China, this proved to be in partnering with local artists. They hung their artworks in their stores, sponsored exhibitions, or commissioned artists to design pieces for collections. A recent example was the collaboration between Lacoste and the upcoming artist, Li Xiaofeng. His porcelain dresses couldn’t help but attract a forward thinking design house – it was Lacoste who commissioned a series of porcelain shirts and a limited edition polo shirt.

The opening of the “Inspiration Dior” exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

If the cynic sees uncomfortable reminders of colonialism in patronage such as this, the counterbalance is through the opportunity it gives to an upcoming artist. What’s more, this approach isn’t confined to a brand’s wish to lull a new market.

The Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project, which launched in 2010, centres on London’s upcoming artists. Run in conjunction with five of the capital’s leading art institutions including the RA and the Tate, this three year programme gives new artists access to the contemporary art world. On its board are leading lights including Tracey Emin, Gary Hume and Michael Landy. The culmination this summer was Recreative, an online art platform for young people.

Yes, the luxury world likes art, especially its bosses. Both François Pinault (Gucci, YSL, Christies) and Bernard Arnaud (LVMH) are forces in contemporary art. Pinault with his 2000-strong collection and his Foundation in Venice; Arnault with his forthcoming Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in Paris. This feeds back to the luxury consumer by way of showing art pieces as a part of the luxury experience – in other words, on the shop floor.

“ At the end of the day luxury has to connect and in the same way as all other iconic brands it has to remain relevant by evolving with the changing culture around it. ”

As Bernauld Arnault says ‘Working in the context of ultra-famous brands like Dior and Vuitton, creative spirits are always going to feel reined in. It’s important that they are free to develop ideas. And rather than detracting from the principal job, it reinforces it. I think of that money as venture capital. It’s not a big investment.’

Hotels and even luxury hair salons have also taken on this idea, in a bid to glorify the guest or client experience. Original paintings and drawings line the dining room walls at the Dean Street Town House a hotel from the Soho House stable in London’s Soho – spot the Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. Paintings by Gary Hume and Martin Malone hang at the new atelier style salon, Josh Wood Atelier, in London. Le Méridien has its own cultural curator in Jérome Sans, who has recruited a 100 strong group of creative innovators, including painters and photographers, to build on the guest experience.

At the end of the day luxury has to connect and in the same way as all other iconic brands it has to remain relevant by evolving with the changing culture around it.

Analysis | Arts | Fragrance