The global fashion industry–faced with increasing competition, a dramatically shifting media land-scape in which monthly magazines compete with a relentless internet fashion news cycle, the rise of e-tail, manufacturing challenges and price demands–is looking to the art world as a source of inspiration and content, for that extra “something”.
Conversely, art also stands to benefit. Fashion in the 21st century is an economic force in its own right; luxury conglomerates drive huge levels of consumer spending and are stock exchange listed, meaning fashion is given considerable editorial coverage in leading financial journals. Fashion and art go hand in hand, too, at the big end of town; art collectors wear luxury labels and fashion houses acquire the work of major artists. It’s a mutual admiration society with commercial benefits.
Some of the world’s largest luxury brands have taken a distinctly philanthropic approach to engaging with art, establishing foundations and, in some cases, their own galleries.
Fondazione Prada operates across two Rem Koolhaas-designed spaces in Milan and Venice, boasting a collection many public galleries would kill for, and Prada regularly sponsors art events. Francois Pinoult, founder of luxury conglomerate Kering, shows his fabled art collection through two galleries in Venice, while Fondazione Trussardi commissions large-scale works for public exhibition.
These foundations and their curators have the approbation of the art world. Massimiliano Gioni, director of this year’s Venice Biennale, has a day job as director of Fondazione Trussardi. This is not fashion playing at art; it’s serious business.
Well-established labels such Hermès and Bally have ingrained artists in their work. Collaborations can take the form of limited edition collections (Tracey Emin for Longchamp), one-off prints (Gary Hume for Marni) or advertising campaigns (Cindy Sherman for Balenciaga). Such alliances allow traditional houses to reinvent themselves, making them relevant in a contemporary context.
In what amounts to a calculated risk, a house like Louis Vuitton can successfully thwart its own status quo at the same time that it reasserts itself as the original tastemaker, thus assuming a position of cultural sophistication. Under creative director Marc Jacobs, Vuitton has realised some of the most recognisable collaborations, with artists such as Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and more recently Yayoi Kusama.
Such associations mean fashion acquires for itself what it lacks: an intellectual framework. Even more importantly, art imbues fashion with longevity. Fashion is by its very nature changing, moving forward, only looking back in order to go forward. Teaming with an artist potentially turns a consumer into an art collector, a humble T-shirt into a collectable.
The new millennium has also witnessed the advent of mega architect-designed stores: Peter Marino for Christian Dior and Zaha Hadid for Chanel. Hermès built its first store on Paris’s left bank in a heritage-listed swimming pool. These are places where brands can preach explicitly to their followers, despite the pressures faced by bricks and mortar stores.
Andy Warhol famously predicted this logical outcome, declaring that all department stores would become museums and all museums would become department stores. Such secular temples are a hybrid of art, fashion and architecture, and are the new meeting places for ideas as well as traditional commerce.