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Elegantly Connecting Fashion and Art

On the eve of Art Basel Miami Beach, BoF talks to the powerbrokers cross-pollinating fashion and art about the intersection of the two worlds.
Michael Govan, Katherine Ross, Kyung Turrell, James Turrell, and Eva Chow attend the LACMA 2015 Art+Film Gala | Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
  • Lauren Sherman

MIAMI, United States — The official start date of Art Basel Miami Beach might be Thursday, December 3rd, but major players from the fashion world have already descended on the city for a flurry of private dinners and parties.

On Sunday night, Harry Winston hosted a dinner with Cultured magazine at its Design District store, highlighting the works of hot-shot lighting designer Lindsey Adelman. On Tuesday, Panerai chief executive Angelo Bonati interviewed Swiss designer and entrepreneur Yves Béhar at a media event. That same evening, the US chief executive of Hermès, Robert Chavez, honoured the Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc at a private dinner on the rooftop of the brand’s new Miami store.

And that's just the beginning. On Wednesday morning, Tiffany is set to host a brunch with Interview magazine. That evening, Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Fendi and Giorgio Armani will fling open their shop doors for cocktail parties, while Chrome Hearts will end the day with a late-night celebration co-hosted by Balthazar Getty, Asdru and Atlanta de Cadenet. Then, on Thursday, as Art Basel Miami Beach officially gets under way, Valentino will throw what might be the last big fashion party of the week.

The slew of events — and the exhibitions accompanying them — reflect the value fashion puts on art and vice versa. From Marc Jacobs' Louis Vuitton bags dotted with Takashi Murakami characters back in the 2000s to the Serpentine Gallery's annual summer party in London, tie-ups between the two worlds can be mutually beneficial. Art has the power to bring creative energy and cultural depth to fashion brands, while fashion can bring gloss, currency, exposure and deep pockets to art. But successfully blending fashion and art isn't easy and driving much of the cross-pollination is a network of well-placed powerbrokers, many of whom happen to be women.

The behind-the-scenes connectors knitting art and fashion together include Eva Chow, co-chair of LACMA’s annual Art + Film Gala, which took place in Los Angeles on November 7th. Chow, a fashion designer and artist married to famed restaurateur Michael Chow, was invited to help develop the event, which is now in its fifth year, by LACMA director Michael Govan. Much in thanks to Chow’s connections, the Art + Film Gala, which this year honoured artist James Turrell and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, now draws comparisons to the Met Ball for its star-studded guest list and red carpet arrivals.

Chow's early contributions included bringing on Leonardo DiCaprio as a co-chair and Gucci as a sponsor, as well as pulling together an impressive list of attendees from across the worlds of fashion, music, film and art. (A collector of both art and fashion, her designer friends include Riccardo Tisci and Azzedine Alaia, although she is reluctant to chat about these relationships on the record.) Chow says it wasn't hard to convince Gucci to come on board as the lead sponsor of LACMA's Art + Film Gala a half-decade ago. "Gucci has always been supportive of the arts, and of film, too," says Chow. "I pitched my story, and with generosity and elegance they said yes." This year, the event raised $4 million, while the red carpet showcased dozens of dresses designed by Gucci's still-fresh creative director Alessandro Michele, worn by stars including Chloë Sevigny, Gwyneth Paltrow, Dakota Johnson and Salma Hayek.

The commercial benefits of the partnership between LACMA and Gucci are clear. The arts organisation gets much-needed funding, while the luxury brand gains media impressions and direct access to the some of the fashion, art and film world’s most influential executives and talents. In that way, the relationship is transactional.

Yet Chow believes the increasing overlap between art and fashion goes deeper. “We used to be much more formal about categories,” she says, sipping on a glass of her signature pink champagne in the living room of her gilded home, nestled between Beverly Hills and Bel Air. “The two worlds are as close as they’ve ever been before. Designer friends are interested in art and know about art. Twenty years ago, they knew about Andy [Warhol], but they weren’t that interested. Now, art is a part of their life.”

Katherine Ross, the ex-LVMH and Prada strategist who has spent her career floating between art and fashion, has also observed — and driven — the melding of the two worlds. "Today, I'm less interested in straight collaborations," says Ross, who is married to LACMA's Govan and curates the seasonal collection Wear LACMA, for which she has commissioned Los Angeles-based designers like ready-to-wear label Co. and jewellery designer Anita Ko to create pieces influenced by works in the museum's permanent collection. "It's less about looking at the product itself and more about cross-pollination. It's making people look at this art with new energy, in a new way," she said.

To be sure, the dialogue between designers and artists still plays a pivotal role in the development of fashion collections, But as official product collaborations between artists and fashion brands veer into more commercial territory, they risk losing their lustre. “Marc Jacobs only did four [artist] collaborations at Louis Vuitton. He could have done one every season,” says Hervé Mikaeloff, who advises and curates for LVMH. Mikaeloff formally introduced Louis Vuitton and the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, with whom Marc Jacobs collaborated in 2012.

“Collaborations have become more ubiquitous, multiplied by a factor of 10 by the Internet and, more [pointedly], Instagram,” added Cary Leitzes, whose New York agency Leitzes & Co. connects art world stars with big companies. (The agency’s tagline is “creative partnerships”.) “You have to think about things with a 360-degree view.” Leitzes brought together the artist Rob Pruitt and J.Brand for a 2014 project at Barneys New York, where Pruitt set up spray booths to create one-off, hand-painted denim pieces inspired by his colour-gradient canvases. “Yes, it was a collaboration between Rob and J.Brand, exclusively sold at Barneys. But conceptually, it was also a performance art piece,” Leitzes said.

As fashion brands make a concerted effort to leverage art more authentically, they are increasingly looking for connectors with equal standing in both worlds. “I am usually hired to translate or curate, to problem solve through collaborating with entities that are outside of the company,” explains Hikari Yokoyama, founding member of the online auction house Paddle8 and an art consultant for fashion brands including Gucci, which sponsors London’s Frieze Masters fair. “Brands come to me because they want to find expression outside of simply turning over money. They want to find a more powerful message that transcends basic and mundane commercialism. This bigger message is a key part of growing a business and every business I work with has huge ambitions.”

Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, owner of the New York art gallery Salon 94, sees the fashion world as a positive place for her artists — including Laurie Simmons, Jon Kessler, Katy Grannan and Marilyn Minter — to earn exposure. "Marilyn Minter shot a Tom Ford ad campaign. Laurie Simmons often collaborated with Isaac Mizrahi. I felt like it would loosen them up in a different way; expose them to a broader audience. Indeed, artists seem more comfortable working in fashion than they have been in the past. "Cindy Sherman would not have done her clown portfolio had she not photographed her Balenciaga and Chanel for Vogue Paris [in 2007]," said Greenberg Rohatyn.

The inverse can be said for fashion photographers and illustrators, whose work can benefit from doing less commercial projects. “When we started Visionaire, we were mostly publishing fashion photographers’ and illustrators’ personal work. They had no place to show it,” recalled co-founder Cecilia Dean, who debuts the publication’s latest effort at Art Basel this week. “Now, you can have a website, you can have a gallery show. Fashion photographers are represented by galleries now.”

But both Greenberg Rohatyn and Paris gallerist Almine Rech caution that the art world must protect its talent from the demands the fashion world bestows upon its own. “The relationships have always existed, but the fashion world has changed. It was a totally different world, the branding did not exist,” says Rech, whose artists — including Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Julian Schnabel — often have a foot (or two) firmly planted in fashion. “Artists today must be very careful of what the fashion world may ask. Many artists refuse to go into a rhythm. It’s not good for their creativity. Because of the huge scale, one has to be very careful. They must know what they can and cannot do.”

"What we need to keep in mind is that there are certain codes with each field which are very important to them and we should not bastardise," added Brian Phillips, the New York-based founder of Black Frame, a PR agency and creative consultancy with a client list that straddles art and fashion. "I think they can coexist together, but there's a different set of conditions now."

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