By  on November 21, 2006

In 2000, Sylvie Fleury, a Swiss artist known for her sly appropriation of consumer icons, created a silverplated brass sculpture emulating Louis Vuitton's famous Keepall travel bag.

A year later, eagle-eyed Vuitton chief executive Yves Carcelle acquired one, out of a series of eight, at a Phillips auction. After displaying it at the opening of Vuitton's Hong Kong fl agship last year, the heavy-metal work ended up in Carcelle's offi ce on Rue du Pont Neuf in Paris. Then Marc Jacobs saw the piece and was inspired to design a metallic version of the house's iconic Vernis monogram for Vuitton's fall 2006 runway. The bag is slated to arrive in Vuitton stores worldwide on Dec. 1.

As this serpentine story illustrates, the relationship between art and fashion is still going hot and heavy. Indeed, on the eve of Art Basel Miami (Dec. 7 to 10), the next convergence of the art and fashion worlds, links between the two realms are multiplying faster than fi gures in an Antony Gormley installation.

"It's a fascinating ping-pong game," Carcelle says of the art-fashion interplay. Indeed, only the night before he had dined with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, whose blockbuster collaboration with Vuitton has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of multicolored leather goods decorated with eyeballs or cherries. "I think the two universes work really well if it's done with total respect for the artist."

Fashion's interest in the art world is nothing new, but the scale of the projects—and the investments—has taken a quantum leap, in line with the giddiness of the booming art market. Architect Peter Marino, a longtime art advocate, recalls that, in 1991, when he and Simon Doonan collaborated to create the uptown Barneys New York, the retailer commissioned works for the store to be created by 20 artists, some of whom have gone on to become art-world superstars such as Tom Sachs. But Marino says the budget for that entire project was "what they spend on one photograph now."

With such fashion clients as Chanel, Vuitton and Fendi, Marino should know. And he's heartened that many luxury fi rms now routinely incorporate art not only into their stores, but within their entire brand credo. "I think the association with high culture is very smart," Marino says. "It's really an unbelievable brand reinforcement." In fact, he predicts art and artists soon will infi ltrate fashion advertising, and that luxury fi rms will start commissioning pieces of music, too.Vuitton certainly keeps upping the ante with its artistic collaborations. During Paris Fashion Week in October, its runway show featured an arresting video backdrop by artist Ange Leccia. In addition, displayed in the lobby for all to see as they fi led in was possibly the biggest art-fashion trump card yet: a model of the forthcoming Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, a permanent museum devoted to the arts in a cloud-like building designed by Frank Gehry—a Guggenheim Bilbao for the stiletto crowd. Slated to open in 2009 or 2010, the foundation has a budget of about 100 million euros, or $125 million.

Late next year, Chanel will launch a major volley of its own, with a traveling art exhibition housed in a pavilion designed by architecture star Zaha Hadid that looks like a spacecraft from some far-off galaxy.

Daring, too, are Vuitton's current holiday windows, featuring a glowing, eyeball-like Olafur Eliasson sculpture—and no merch. "That's having guts," Carcelle says. "But when you see that piece of art, you can't be indifferent to it. And you cannot really put any product next to it—that would ruin the art." So would that make it loss-leading art? Pshaw, says Carcelle: "People will be surprised and curious. They'll come in and ask about it," he says. "Our clients are more and more interested in design, creation and art."

Other brand executives agree, albeit with varied expectations about the return on their investments.

"[Art] does interest our top customers," says Cartier president Bernard Fornas. "The more we can get in touch with our clients and spend time with them, the better."

Cartier, an associate sponsor of the Frieze Art Fair in London, has long been present at major antique fairs in Maastricht and Paris, and its Cartier Foundation, a contemporary art museum established in Paris in 1984, welcomes some 600 visitors a day and dispatches its exhibitions as far afi eld as Tokyo, New York and Berlin. A major exhibition devoted to David Lynch is on deck to open in March.

"It was a bet," Fornas says of the foundation. "Today, we can only be very happy about that decision because contemporary art is booming. A lot of people are discovering contemporary art. It's becoming very hot worldwide." And fashion is rarely far from the heat. Visitors to the recent edition of Fiac, Paris' contemporary art fair, encountered a booth mounted by the luxury goods association Comité Colbert displaying objects designed by students for Hermès, Guerlain, Baccarat and the Champagne Ruinart. Elsewhere was a sumptuous and fragrant stand devoted to Giorgio Armani's new perfume, Code.The Italian designer also sponsored the fi fth edition of ArtReview's list of the art world's "power 100," topped this year by French retail and luxury titan François Pinault, who earlier this year christened Palazzo Grassi in Venice, a showcase for his vast collection of modern and contemporary art. "As long as I'm alive and healthy, I will continue to collect and be interested in emerging talent," Pinault says.

Fashion brands also have rushed to establish art prizes and link their names to burgeoning art fairs.

Hugo Boss established the biennial Hugo Boss Prize, one of the contemporary art world's top juried prizes, in 1996. The fi rm also sponsors a string of museum exhibitions and pavilions at the Venice Biennale. "For us, it's an image thing, and we don't measure any return on our investment. We see the prize as completely free of commercial value," says Philipp Wolff, worldwide communications director for Hugo Boss. "We want this company to be seen as a credible supporter of the arts, and we also want to create awareness of the arts in the public sphere. We also feel very strongly about not juxtaposing fashion and art. You're never going to see a Boss suit designed by Matthew Barney or Frank Gehry, and you'll never see our product anywhere near the art."

Of course, Gehry clearly enjoys his relationship with the fashion world, hence his collaboration on a line of jewelry for Tiffany. At the time of its launch last year, Gehry said of the collaboration: "I've watched fashion over the years because there is relevance in it for me. It is a way of taking the temperature of the world."

Another fashion company with an arts prize is Max Mara, which set up the Max Mara Art Prize for Women last year. It's an award for emerging U.K.-based women artists who don't already have dealers, and who have yet to stage their fi rst solo shows. And next month in Miami, Bulgari again will sponsor the Art Basel Conversations event. The forum, which Bulgari has been organizing for three years at both the Basel and Miami editions of the fair, encourages an exchange of ideas between art collectors, museum directors, gallery owners, artists and others. This installment's attendees will include painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, Brazilian art collector Gilberto Chateaubriand, New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art chief curator Richard Flood, installation artist Dan Graham and actor Dennis Hopper. As part of the festivities, Bulgari will display a selection of approximately 30 one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces including a 118-carat sapphire necklace.Men who shop at Dior Homme surely have encountered designer Hedi Slimane's long-standing fascination with emerging artists—in the fi tting room. Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Doug Aitken and Banks Violette all have been commissioned to create works for the changing rooms, conceptualized by Slimane as the site of transformation. "There is nothing such as a return on investments," Slimane insists, "but rather the idea of a dialogue, producing new pieces—and an architectural collection of spaces, within the same concept of transformation." To be sure, many fashion designers thrive on the ideas that crackle through the art crowd.

Other fi rms take it even further. Hermès, for instance, has attached galleries to many of its stores worldwide to exhibit everything from contemporary art to photographs by the likes of William Klein and Doug Aitken. Prada has set up its very own foundation for the arts.

"I'm with the most intelligent people in the world at the moment," quipped Miuccia Prada, who established her foundation some 13 years ago, at the 51st Art Biennale in Venice last year. "I've already been proposed at least 600 different projects. I love to be a catalyst of ideas, to put minds together and always create something new."

Germano Celant, artistic director of the Fondazione Prada, stresses that its objectives are purely cultural ones. "We are not interested in the art market, advertising or anything that has a commercial context. We want to produce ideas," he says. "[Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli] not only have a passion for art, but they see a symbiosis between the different, creative ways of thinking." The Fondazione is working on two projects: an exhibit of Thomas Demand, due to bow at next year's Venice Biennale art show, and the co-creation of a new fi lm by Tobias Rehberger.

To be sure, the boom in the art market—just look at the record-setting $491 million art auction at Christie's in New York early in November—and the growing popularity of contemporary art means many consumer brands are eager to jump on the bandwagon. But several observers stress that such associations need to be credible to have any impact, up to and including having a designer with a sincere interest in art."It needs to be coherent with the brand," says Valerie Hermann, ceo of Yves Saint Laurent, which last year sponsored a major Dada exhibition at the Pompidou Museum in Paris. "For me, [YSL] has always been a brand that's linked with what's happening in the culture."

Over the summer, YSL designer Stefano Pilati hosted the annual party in London to fete the Serpentine Gallery's summer pavilion, which this year was created by Rem Koolhaas and gawked at by the likes of Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. Hermann says further art-related events are in the works for YSL next year. "To have a relationship with customers is not only bringing them into the store," she says, also noting that artists have a unique and often prescient point of view on the world that can be relevant to fashion companies trying to stay in tune with the evolution in lifestyles, values and interests.

But what's in it for the artists, besides the money?

Exposure, says Marino. For example, an estimated 5 million people saw a video work by Michal Rovner that was projected on the towering, LED-equipped facade of the new Chanel boutique in Hong Kong last year. "You can't come near those numbers in a museum," Marino says. Chanel commissioned another Rovner work for its Tokyo fl agship in Ginza, and the 10-story-high images of walking fi gures morphing into tweed attracts crowds of gawkers nightly. And Gucci signed up artist Shozo Toyohisa to do an art installation for its new eight-story Ginza fl agship, which opened early in November.

Meanwhile, the fashion fi rms and artists alike profi t from abundant editorials about their collaborations, plus the brands tap into another monied customer base and readership via art magazines. "I'm always trying to steal money from advertising for the art budgets," says Marino. "Trust me. Count the pages of editorial to understand the return on investment."

This article appeared in WWD Scoop, a special publication to WWD available to subscribers.

With contributions from Samantha Conti and Amanda Kaiser

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus