As the art world becomes increasingly enmeshed in the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, partnerships that circumvent the traditional line between fine art and other forms of creative expression have expanded exponentially. Examples of this from the design and music worlds, as well as collaborations between acclaimed fashion designers and artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, reveal an increased interest in redefining art’s place in society.
Blockbuster shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and other international institutions have highlighted the careers of noted fashion designers like Alexander McQueen, Charles James, Yves Saint Laurent, and Cristóbal Balenciaga. In October 2017, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is staging their first exhibition on fashion and design in over 70 years. Items: Is Fashion Modern flips the thesis of the 1944 show Are Clothes Modern? by examining the design elements of iconic garments like Levi’s 501 Jeans, a Burberry trench coat, and a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Institutions have also been examining celebrity style and fashion photography with shows like Diana: Her Fashion Story at Kensington Palace and Mario Testino: In Your Face at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Across the aisle, fashion houses and designers have revealed a desire to partner with artists in order to develop ever more sophisticated and intriguing articles of clothing and accessories. While these types of relationships developed before the advent of social media, the two worlds are increasingly coming together via platforms like Instagram. Today, social media allows for the discovery of new-to-you fashion designers and artists, which leads to professional opportunities for many rising creatives.
As the fashion world ramps up for Fashion Week in New York and London in September, our editors scoured the archives to find examples of fashion designers and houses that took the plunge into the deep end of the art pool. Read on to satisfy your taste for luxury.
Louis Vuitton Loves the Art World
During Marc Jacobs’ turn as the Creative Director of French design house Louis Vuitton (LVMH) from 1997 to 2014, he established numerous partnerships with world-renowned artists. After Jacobs left, Louis Vuitton continued this trend, most recently partnering with Jeff Koons on an art history-inspired line of handbags called The Masters Collection. Despite these recent collaborations, the brand’s most recognizable designs still hail from the Jacobs era today.
One of Jacobs’ early collaborative efforts was with Stephen Sprouse in 2001. Sprouse, an iconic fashion designer and graffiti artist who worked with Keith Haring and Andy Warhol in an earlier phase of his career, designed the oft-referenced monogram graffiti print for Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2001 Ready-to-Wear collection. Jacobs went on to design with Sprouse, and continued to design in his honor even after Sprouse’s death in 2004.
One of the longest running relationships between accessory giant Louis Vuitton and an art-world phenom is the brand’s collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Known for his exuberant use of color and fantastical character development, Murakami reinvigorated the brand’s classic monogram print with a multicolor design launched in 2003 and continued to add his unique twist to bags and other accessories from the brand until 2015. In a similarly revolutionary move, Murakami’s 2007 exhibition @Murakami at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles) featured a LVMH store inside the institution.
Yayoi Kusama’s infinitely-Instagrammable Infinity Rooms are the subject of the 2017 blockbuster show “Infinity Mirrors,” which is traveling from the Hirshhorn Museum in D.C. to the Seattle Art Museum and The Broad in LA. The exhibition relies heavily on Kusama’s obsession with polka dots, much like her 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton. The collection was met with much fanfare, particularly around the exclusive launch at Selfridges London – complete with a 24-window design by Kusama and a lifelike replica of the artist guarding the door.
The Art World Loves Comme des Garçons
The Costume Institute at the Met is known for its annual fashion exhibition and the fanfare surrounding the celebrity-packed Met Gala. The subject of the museum’s 2017 show, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” is the Japanese fashion designer who founded Comme des Garçons.
Since she started the label in 1969, Kawakubo has built a fashion empire with plenty of adoring fans. She’s also established partnerships with brands including Converse, Nike, Louis Vuitton, and H&M.
The Autumn/Winter 1994 Comme des Garçons ad campaign starred none other than preeminent feminist artist Cindy Sherman. Sherman, who is perhaps best-known for her series of self-portraits entitled “Untitled Film Stills,” photographed herself in clothes from the upcoming collection. The campaign’s subversion of fashion and beauty ideals was on brand for Kawakubo and Sherman, both of whom are known for bucking the norm in favor of modern depictions of the human form.
In 2014, Comme des Garçons launched GIRL, a scent by Pharrell Williams with bottle artwork designed by well-known street artist KAWS. This three-way collaboration straddles the art, music, and fashion worlds. It is also not the first time Williams has worked with visual artists – he is a known collaborator of Takashi Murakami, working with the artist on sculptures, music videos, and the visual branding for Complexcon.
Schiaparelli: Fashion World Phenom, Art World Darling
Many designers with close friends in the art world developed those relationships into professional collaborations. Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer who rivaled Coco Chanel, is an early example of this type of project. Schiaparelli counted among her artist friends photographer Man Ray, whom she was introduced to in 1920s New York. He captured the designer wearing her creations throughout the 1930s.
Schiaparelli also worked with Salvador Dalí on many Surrealism-inspired designs. The 1937 Lobster Dress is perhaps the most well-known fashion collaboration between the two. The white silk skirt is decorated with a lobster motif painted by Dalí, a riff off of one of his favorite subjects. Schiaparelli was also a maker of perfume. She commissioned Dalí to design the bottle for the 1946 Le Roy Soleil fragrance, which was created to celebrate the end of World War II in Paris by recalling the opulent days of Louis the Sun King.
Yves Saint Laurent: Inspired and Inspiring
Although not a partnership in a personal sense, designer Yves Saint Laurent popularized the use of Piet Mondrian’s geometric paintings in fashion with his 1965 collection of shift dresses, referred to as The Mondrian Collection. Examples of the dresses are now in the collections of the Rijksmuseum, the V&A, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Andy Warhol counted many celebrities and artists among his inner circle. One of his famous friends was Yves Saint Laurent. While Laurent was also known to derive inspiration from the art world, in this case he became the subject of a work of art himself. Warhol painted the young Laurent in 1974. When rumors spread that the designer didn’t like his portrait, Saint Laurent wrote a letter to Warhol explaining that he loved and appreciated the works.
Alexander McQueen: Celebrated by Icons
Björk + Nick Knight
Like Andy Warhol, the late designer Alexander McQueen counted many artists among his close circle of friends. Musical visionary Björk, who was the subject of a much-discussed 2015 MoMA retrospective, tapped the designer and photographer Nick Knight to help her create the iconic image on the cover of her album “Homogenic.” Based on a photograph of Devon Aoki in Alexander McQueen by Knight, the album cover featured Bjork in McQueen’s “Geisha” dress, which sold at Kerry Taylor Auctions in a 2016 sale dedicated to the musician.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of his iconic skull scarves, McQueen and artist Damien Hirst revamped the design in 2009. The collaboration consisted of 30 limited edition scarf designs adapted from Hirst’s “Entomology” series.