By Rachel Matthews-Frederick
Throughout the last century fashion and art have flirted with each other; most famously was when in the 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli joined the surrealist hierarchy to create gowns that would spark an ongoing discussion into whether fashion can and should be considered as an art form. Today fashion design and art collaborations (FDAC) are occurring more often than ever. Louis Vuitton, Prada and Hermes have all united with artists to create collaborations that bridge the gap between the ‘jealous cousins’. But why after nearly a century of history, are we now seeing such a furious re-emergence of fashion and art collaborations?
Zac Posen in 2009 posed an interesting question of patronage that offers one answer. “Throughout history fine artists have been funded by the greatest luxury brand of them all: Christianity. Why in today’s more secular climate, should anyone be surprised they have simply moved on from a religious brand to fashion brands?”(cited in Flynn 2009) Contemporary Art in its global commodification, is lapping at the heels of the fashion industry. While in turn the fashion industry is utilizing contemporary art to create experiential luxury.
One only has to look to Louis Vuitton to see to what extent such patronage and partnership goes. Since Marc Jacobs brought with him his passion for contemporary art to Louis Vuitton in 1997, the fashion brand has invited numerous artists to revisit the famous monogram and shake up the brands codes (Yusof 2012). While these product and marketing collaborations have proven to be extremely lucrative, Louis Vuitton’s support of art goes beyond generic product collaboration, with new boutique stores built to incorporate exhibition spaces.
Louis Vuitton Island Maison, is no exception. The flagship store in Singapore boast an art space underwater. The area, which acts as a tunnel connecting the store to the Marina Bay Sands shopping mall, immerses visitors and sets the scene before their arrival to the store. Vita Wong Kwok, Vice President of Cultural Development for Louis Vuitton Asia, commented on the company’s commitment to art, “We want to share art and culture with the public because it’s the spirit of the brand… More than a million people have come through since the opening. They have stopped and interacted even though they were not expecting to see art on entering the store. That’s all part of the Louis Vuitton experience.”(Zipel n.d.) It is easy to see the experiential marketing tactic in Wong Kwok’s words… Through Louis Vuitton’s benefaction of the arts and through incorporating art within their stores they create an experience for their customers- an experience that only that brand offers: ‘the Louis Vuitton experience’.
In turn contemporary artists are exhibited to a new market of buyers and their artworks (products) become part of the luxury lifestyle. This win-win situation is not the sole cause for the recent re-emergence of fashion and art collaborations, as they are no doubt broader spanning than what is suggested here. But what is evident is that FDAC are no longer purely carried out with the aim of transcending fashion into art, as Schiaparelli once did with her partnerships. Today’s increase in the number of collaborations can be seen as a sign of the times, as artist Charwei Tsai, who herself worked with Louis Vuitton, summarises best, “The recent phenomenon of artists and fashion groups working together on mass produced goods reflects on the current rise of globalisation and capitalism. Contemporary art has become a part of the luxury lifestyle – along with fashion”(Tsai cited in Yusof 2012).
Yusof, H 2012, ‘Fashion, art converge: Helmi Yusof looks at how these two creative arenas have joined hands to turn heads’, Business Times, 23 November, viewed 16 August 2014, via ProQuest Central database.
Flynn, P 2009, ‘Commercial collaboration’, Financial Times, 26 September, viewed 18 August 2014, via ProQuest database.
Zipfel M, Wn.d., Louis Vuitton Island Mansion – Singapore, viewed 20 August 2014, < http://en.luxe-immo.com/reportages/louis-vuitton-island-mansion-singapore>