The art of a successful fashion collaboration

By Lucy Maguire

5 minute read

Fashion and art have collided throughout history.

From Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli’s lobster dresses in 1930s Paris, to Halston and Andy Warhol’s collaboration in the days of Studio 54, artists and designers have long inspired each other – and continue to do so today. 

In a world of logomania and hyper-connectedness, artist-designer collabs can bring a more academic narrative, adding depth to luxury fashion collections and, in some cases, elevating them to iconic status. 

While artists might not have a logo, their signature styles, colours and motifs can be just as powerful as any brand. 

Reworking a classic makes for highly coveted collectibles

Paris Fashion Week Louis Vuitton
Top: Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí in France, 1950; photography by Shutterstock. Above: Louis Vuitton bags backstage at the spring/summer 2005 show in Paris; photography by Getty Images

Reworking a classic makes for highly coveted collectibles

Many designers cite Marc Jacobs’ Louis Vuitton era as the catalyst to today’s fashion collaboration market. Jacobs took Louis Vuitton’s monogram leather, the house’s most iconic product, and allowed various artists to reimagine it during his tenure at the brand. First, he collaborated with artist Stephen Sprouse, in 2001, on the famous graffiti collection. Then, Vuitton entered a 12-year collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who delivered limited-edition capsules of Monogram Multicolour bags from spring/summer 2003 until 2015, including ‘Cerises’ and ‘Cherry Blossom’. Now iconic pieces, the Murakami bags have had a resurgence of late, worn by models from Bella Hadid to Kendall Jenner, as the Y2K trend continues amongst Gen Z. 

Other notable Vuitton collaborators include Richard Prince (2007), Yayoi Kusama (2012) and most recently Jeff Koons (2017), who imposed world-famous oeuvres from DaVinci and Rubens onto Vuitton accessories, in collaboration with current creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. 

The luxury market is still an acquisition market, notes analyst and author Erwan Rambourg in his book Future Luxe: What’s Ahead for the Business of Luxury. This means in order to thrive, brands must constantly reach new audiences. Artist collaborations from the likes of Murakami or Koons transcend the ubiquitous LV monogram, imbuing it with fresh cultural currency, while ensuring these are pieces that will outlive trends. 

Interestingly, Gen Z shoppers in particular dedicate half the time they spend making a purchase to either seeking inspiration or inspiring others, according to Boston Consulting Group. And more than 70% of Gen Zs make purchase decisions at the inspiration stage. Artists and designer collaborations then are well placed to spark this inspiration.  

Balancing blockbuster and lesser-known creatives

Celine Peyer Miles Blanket
Celine x Peter Miles, Bangers & Mash Blanket

Balancing blockbuster and lesser-known creatives

In our interactive world, exclusivity is no longer a matter of price. People are searching for cultural currency in the pieces they buy; whether that involves queuing for the latest fashion drop, collecting band merch, or discovering and wearing an artist’s work via your favourite brand. Like any collaboration, the blockbuster names work well to boost reach. But success also lies in the unexpected – one of the biggest collaborations of 2020 was McDonalds x Travis Scott.

In 2018, Phoebe Philo-era Céline brought in British graphic designer Peter Miles to reimagine the visual identity, logo and packaging. The series of blankets he designed were fun, creative collateral, which now stand as artefacts of his work with the much-missed former creative director Philo, who is yet to design again. 

Elsewhere, Kim Jones has embedded art firmly in his vision for Dior Men, collaborating with a different artist each season since his appointment in 2018. He’s shown pastel pinks from KAWS (SS19), cartoons from Warhol contemporary Kenny Scharf (AW21) and painted prints from Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo (SS21). In the era of the digital fashion show, this new approach to each season creates buzz and drives demand. The stream of the Amoako Boafo x Dior SS21 collection, for example, garnered 23 million views.

Helping young Dior fans to discover Boafo was important to Jones. “Young people, when you meet them, they’re asking questions about anything! It’s like they don’t just come for the obvious things – they want to know about where you saw this artist’s work and what you think,” Jones told The Face shortly after the SS21 collaboration show. 

Unofficial artist collabs can create buzz, if brands allow it

Dior Homme: Runway Paris Fashion Week Menswear Spring/summer 2019
KAWS x Dior during the Dior Homme Menswear spring/summer 2019 show in Paris, 2018; photography by Getty Images

Unofficial artist collabs can create buzz, if brands allow it

Artist collaborations are not always authorised. Brooklyn art collective MSCHF – dubbed “the Banksys of consumer culture” – often break the internet with their unofficial reinterpretations of coveted items. Fascinated with interrogating the idea of luxury, back in October the collective turned Hermès Birkin bags into 10 pairs of Birkenstock-style sandals retailing at $76,000 a pop. Most recently, the artists produced 666 pairs of Nike ‘Satan’ shoes, released in March 2021 in collaboration with Lil Nas X, featuring a single drop of human blood. 

Brands react in different ways when artists reinterpret their work. Both Hermès and Birkenstock let the MSCHF creation slide. Gucci famously welcomed Dapper Dan into the fold after his successful bootlegging career in Harlem. Tommy Hilfiger has worked with a range of contemporary artists and bootleggers in new-fangled Tommy’s Drop Shop limited collections. But the unofficial collaborations can backfire: Nike filed a lawsuit just last week to sue MSCHF for the Satan shoes and a judge halted deliveries pending legal review. 

Be it official or unofficial, there’s no denying the power of artist collaborations to capture today’s luxury fashion consumer. Nothing is more recognisable than a brand logo or signature silhouette. Allowing artists to play with that and enhance it can produce new hero pieces, collectible for years to come. 

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