For most of the year, the worlds of fashion and art are apart, going about their business in their own little corners of the galaxy without disturbing each other.
But every few months, they remember the other exists and come up with reasons to jump into bed together. It’s not a steady relationship, just one that’s rekindled whenever they need to scratch each other’s backs, like longtime friends with benefits.
This story first appeared in the May 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
So when Art Basel was under way in Miami, a flock of fashion brands flew down to Florida like snowbirds to help out their cash-poor, if more highbrow, friends in the art world the only way they know how, with parties and celebrities. And just like clockwork, when Frieze kicked off in New York, the conga line of events was back up and running.
On Tuesday, a day before the fair’s vernissage, Burberry threw a dinner for the British artist Ed Atkins. Envoys of both worlds circled each other at Lafayette, warily sizing each other up, unsure of what to make of their counterparts — Naomi Campbell mainly huddled with Bethann Hardison and “Empire” kingpin Lee Daniels; the artist Nate Lowman talked shop with master auctioneer Alexander Gilkes.
Before the dinner, Atkins, whose work appears in the New Museum’s Triennial, performed a piece of political theater at the museum, a diatribe about the general election in the U.K., and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the strange fashion creatures flitting about in the crowd.
“No one knows who or why they’re corralled together. There’s just this kind of malaise of, like, ‘Can I just get a shot of you next to Naomi?’ She didn’t even f—ing come to the thing,” he said, indignant. “Art in this context is just some catalyst for money.”
And yet, here he was. “I got a flight over here from Burberry. That’s great,” he said.
So, if artists get patronage, and fashion brands have become the new Medicis, what is it that the brands are getting from the artists? The question was before Italo Zucchelli on Wednesday night in Central Park.
It was now Calvin Klein Collection’s turn to sponsor a dinner, the kickoff for Creative Time’s spring outdoor exhibit, a series of interactive works including a fishing boat called the S.S. Hangover that circled the Harleem Meer much to the amusement of the likes of Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss and Lauren Santo Domingo.
“I can tell you as a designer, what I get from art is total inspiration,” he said, and for designers, really, it’s that simple. He wore a colorful Pointillist suit inspired by the work of the photographer Paul Graham.
The artist Kehinde Wiley, a longtime favorite of designers, said there’s something else, too. “Fashion decays rather quickly,” he said. “Art occupies a space in time that sort of challenges death. It says, ‘In this piece, there’s an opportunity for your portrait to live longer than you.’”
And then, there’s also the perverse joy fashion gets out of brushing up against the underground. “Artists, painters and sculptors — they can’t afford to live in the best parts of town,” Wiley continued. “Luxury wants to be able to have that, this affinity toward the urban, but at a distance, right?”
Right…just every few months, whenever there’s an art fair.