When it comes to fashion’s love affair with collaboration, few of its unions sit quite as comfortably as that of leading designers and the art world’s most interesting talents. From walking works of art like Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Modernist collection, which featured his now iconic Piet Mondrian dresses, to complete creative exchanges that become part of a house’s DNA (see Kim Jones’s Dior menswear), these increasingly symbiotic relationships are fed by an enduring appetite for artfully erudite couture.
While many of us consider fashion an art form itself, both industries continue to collaborate to forge deeper creative conversations. Painters, illustrators and photographers have become important contributors to the fashion industry, their input often adding instant value to a collection. The direction is often set by the designer and fuelled by a mutual appreciation of each others’ work.
Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí were friends who shared such an appreciation, one of the earliest examples of the artistic cross-pollination that designers now seek. The Italian couturier’s exquisite surrealist evening gown featured a large Dalí-esque lobster painted across the crotch area – an exploration of sexuality.
The arrival of Andy Warhol in the ’60s signaled a new breed of cultural icon that reignited fashion’s appetite for art. Yves Saint Laurent and Warhol became friends and collaborators – Warhol painted a series of colourful portraits of the designer, while Saint Laurent designed his autumn/winter 1966 Pop Art collection, a sartorial embodiment of the artistic movement. Countless designers have featured Warhol’s work in their collections since – including Gianni Versace, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Raf Simons – cementing his status as fashion’s favourite artist.
Beyond Warhol’s enduring influence, Raf Simons, Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones have continued to call upon lesser-known artists to enhance their creative process – not just referencing the artwork, but featuring it front and centre. Prada’s standout collaboration was with French artist Christophe Chemin for the celebrated autumn/winter 2016 menswear collection.
In recent years, Louis Vuitton has been leading the charge in artist collaborations. During his time as creative director, Marc Jacobs helped establish a tradition of partnerships between the French house and global artistic talents. He commissioned Stephen Sprouse to reimagine its monogram print in graffiti form for Vuitton’s spring/summer 2001 ready-to-wear collection, and went on to forge a 13-year relationship with Takashi Murakami. The Japanese artist introduced the Multicolore monogram bag in 2003 which quickly became the It bag of the early 2000s. Jacobs was also inspired to work with provocateur Richard Prince for his spring/summer 2008 runway show, which featured models (including Naomi Campbell) dressed as nurses and yet another iteration of the Vuitton cult monogram print. Nicolas Ghesquière, the current creative maestro behind the French label’s womenswear lines, has continued to build on this heritage with Vuitton’s Masters Series, giving American artist Jeff Koons unprecedented freedom to play with the house’s signature canvas.
Elsewhere, former Vuitton menswear designer Kim Jones has begun to establish a similar culture of artistic collaboration at Dior Men. Jones teamed up with New York-based contemporary artist Kaws for his debut collection, which saw the artist reimagine the house’s signature bee logo for a capsule collection. Kaws also created a giant version of his BFF character made entirely from flowers that formed part of Jones’s runway set, as well as becoming part of Dior Men’s SS19 campaign imagery. And Jones’s latest pre-fall show in Tokyo featured an imposing 12-metre high robot by Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama – the artist also designed a limited-edition bag for the collection.
Art has always influenced fashion, but when designers move beyond references and subtle nods and instead work directly with artists, truly extraordinary and original work is created. Such collections – many now cult collectibles – occupy an exciting new space where the two fields meet, standing not only as works of art in their own right, but as fun, highbrow sartorial offerings that allow designers to create beyond the normal realms of fashion.