Like the music and fashion worlds, art and music have an ongoing love affair that shows no sign of fizzling. Artists (from Rembrandt to Warhol) have long featured fashion in their work, designers constantly look to paintings and photos for inspiration (for the fall 2017 Navy collection, Jil Sander referenced photos by Serge Lutens and paintings by Georges Lacombe; Co’s Justin Kern and Stephanie Danan were guided by Yelena Yemchuk’s creations), and art and designer collaborations hit the runway season after season.
Among the latest collab of the sort is that of Italian fashion house Gucci and photographer-slash-artist Coco Capitán — it debuted to an A-list crowd that included Jared Leto and Florence Welch on Wednesday, the first day of Milan Fashion Week. The makings: a series of Gucci logo T-shirts, very much like the $600 cotton basics that have gained a cult following, that were seemingly scribbled on by Capitán with phrases like “Common sense is not so common” and “Tomorrow is now yesterday.”
Capitán, a 24-year-old Brit who has gained notoriety shooting campaigns for luxury brands (Mulberry, Miu Miu) and editorials for a variety of fashion publications (Dazed & Confused, Vogue), is the second artist Alessandro Michele has teamed up with in a year. Last February, he pulled in graffiti artist Trevor Andrew — nicknamed GucciGhost for his signature tag: a double-G, modeled after Gucci’s logo — to add flair to a selection of bags, sneakers and leather jackets.
Gucci x GucciGhost on the Gucci Fall 2016 runway (Image via nytimes.com)
Of course, Michele wasn’t the originator of the concept; designers have been calling on artists to embellish their designs for decades. Standout examples to date include Damien Hirst x Alexander McQueen, which launched on McQueen’s Spring 2003 runway (and inspired a plethora of copycat skull scarves); Nicholas Kirkwood x Keith Haring in 2011 (think: “Safe Sex” and “Radiant Baby” emblazoned on bright ankle boots); and Louis Vuitton x Takashi Murakami, a union that lasted 12 years and resulted in iconic collections — Cherry Blossom, Monogramouflage and Monogram Multicolore, to name a few.
And already this season, there have been multiple collaborations on top of Gucci x Capitán: Marc Jacobs linked with artist Urs Fisher for a line of bold gold pendant necklaces that accessorized his New York Fashion Week Fall 2017 runway collection. In Milan, Miuccia Prada unveiled a series of dresses and separates printed with erotic book covers by illustrator Robert E. McGinnis.
Prada x Robert E. McGinnis on the Fall 2017 runway (Image via vogue.com)
The fact that these partnerships aren’t rare, one-off happenings goes to show that they’re consistently a draw to both teams involved.
According to Peter Fields, an attorney and partner at Ritholtz Levy Sanders Chidekel & Fields, whose clients include designers Nicole Miller and Brandon Maxwell, artists often see dollar signs and exposure of their work to a new, wider audience. (To note: Gucci has 12.8 million Instagram followers, Coco Capitán has 68,000.) For designers, on the other hand, it’s both about building “street cred” and pinpointing an opportunity to serve material to the press.
“A lot of times, these collaborations don’t even make a lot of money,” Fields said. “It’s something for the press to talk about it, which boosts [designers’] social following, That’s a newer development. Five years ago, we weren’t doing things with the focus of, ‘How does it help my social media presence?’”
Designers are also looking to bring innovation to their brands, said Alec Monopoly, a NYC-based graffiti artist who has been involved in fashion collaborations aplenty: a capsule collection with Forever 21, a line of limited-edition watches with Tag Heuer (where he was recently named creative director), a yet-to-be-released ready-to-wear collection with Philipp Plein, a must-mention custom Birkin with Khloé Kardashian.
Custom Birkin bag by Andrew Monopoly (Image via womansday.com)
“Artists give designers a way of reimagining their aesthetic and a way of doing cool, limited-edition releases,” he said. He noted that, like the artists, designers are looking to build brand recognition. “Collaborations broaden the demographic and consumer base of their products.”
According to Fields, the deals can be complicated, but they do indeed work to benefit both parties.
“The deals come in many shapes and sizes,” he said. He described the most basic scenario as one in which a design house pays a flat fee to an artist. “’You’re going to create three graphics that I’m going to use on my T-shirt line or in my greater clothing line, and we’re going to pay you X amount of dollars,’” he offered up as an example.
A second case involves royalties instead of, or on top of, the initial fee: “Basically, the artist will share revenues of the line,” he said. The deal that’s selected is pretty dependent upon the popularity of the artist: “The more well-known they are, the more leverage they have to get a participating interest, otherwise known as royalties.”
Finally, a third format is a joint venture, which Fields said is more common of deals involving celebrities. Celebs want a piece of the business; with artists, it’s often a one-time thing.
The temporary setup is not usually because of personal differences or creative conflicts. (“They’re two different genres, so there’s little to no competition,” said Fields). However, there are instances of collaborations gone wrong.
“A bad partnership can backfire and alienate both collaborators’ fan bases and clientele,” said Avery Andon, Alec Monopoly’s manager. That applies to high-fashion and mainstream brands alike.
One that seems to consistently get it right is Uniqlo, which has taken part in T-shirt collaborations with artists since 2014. Next week, in collaboration with MoMA, it will be launching a collection celebrating the “great masters of geometric form,” including Sol Lewitt and Josef Albers.
If it’s like those that preceded it, included styles will prove hot commodities. (Last year, Uniqlo’s Kaws collab sold out almost immediately.) Many will scoop up the styles as collector’s items or resell them online for a profit.
On the downside, as with any popular style, they’ll also be prone to knockoffs. “It’s a copycat industry,” Fields, who has much experience with copyright cases, noted. And it seems especially easy to get the look when it comes to styles featuring artwork: In the case of Gucci x Coco Capitán, fans can simply grab a Sharpie.
Image via vogue.com