When Art and Fashion Meet
OPINION |

When Art and Fashion Meet

FROM SPONSORSHIP OF EXHIBITIONS TO MORE EXTREME FORMS OF HYBRIDIZATION, SUCH AS THE CREATION OF LIMITED EDITIONS OF PRODUCTS, THE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN THE TWO SEPARATE WORLDS BRINGS BENEFITS AND RECOGNITION TO BOTH

by Alex Turrini, associate professor at Department of Social and political sciences

Albeit often perceived as two worlds apart, art and fashion are increasingly converging in mutually advantageous ways, especially when it comes to luxury, one of the fastest-growing sectors before the pandemic. The phenomenon of artification has attracted both the praise of those who see in it an opportunity to “purify” luxury and fashion goods from their long-stigmatized link to unnecessary excess and amorality, and from the criticism of those who view it as “desecration” of art. To date luxury and fashion companies are carrying forward various artification strategies when they join the art world. On one end of the continuum synergies represent collaborations to achieve common goals like sponsoring exhibitions, patronizing artists even with barter agreements or granting awards for young talents.  Synergies do not radically affect the nature of either the luxury fashion companies and brands or the artists or arts institutions involved as the degree of detachment between them is still relatively high even when extensive corporate arts programs (like corporate arts collections) are developed. Contaminations strategies represent a step ahead in artification as a process. They occur when art’s key properties spill over onto brands, thus influencing consumer evaluation and awareness. At this stage, artification benefits luxury companies as they can upgrade their brand-infusing characteristics such as rarity and value, prestige, and legitimacy. 

This category encompasses those actions developed by fashion companies with a deeper commitment toward the arts: the organization of exhibitions like the Culture Chanel at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in 2011 or the Christian Dior exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2019, the opening of a corporate museum or exhibition spaces like Armani Silos in Milan, and the dedication of corporate foundations for developing artistic projects (e.g., Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Prada, and Trussardi) are examples of such practices.  Finally, at the very end of this spectrum hybridizations imply an extreme level of interaction. Through hybridizations, fashion companies artify  limited editions of their products  (like  John Galliano, who honored Gustav Klimt, reinterpreting his most important works for Dior’s 2008 Spring collection) or retailing (with in-store display of permanent or temporary artworks or the organization of live performance art events) or, more often, branding and advertising (like Stella McCarthy who collaborated with Ed Ruscha for  the  #Stellacares campaign).  

One might argue about the benefits of artification for luxury and fashion companies and, at the same time the benefits for the arts world. No studies have been carried forward so far but some of the advantages for companies engaged in artification might include not only enhanced legitimacy (by providing  a moral and aesthetic endorsement at the level of its high prices), but also enhanced authenticity (by stressing  the importance of traditional handcrafted and artisanal methods in the production), uniqueness and exclusivity (by reinforcing  the idea of distance and separation from what is a unique object and its copies) and enhanced emotional and aesthetic value  which, in turn, can lead to increased loyalty toward the brand.

On the other hand, artification by luxury and fashion companies might have some important impacts on society.  It is not only a matter of new cultural philanthropy, corporate social responsibility towards the arts or maecenatism. Artification can be regarded as a driver and a consequence of cultural democratization characterizing the postmodern era as it multiplies and extends the number of legitimating bodies, including the audience, newspapers, collectors, gallery or festival directors, sponsors, etc. Thanks to artification, genres such as breakdance, hip pop, video art, and computer art might swiftly acquire their aura and, above all, enhance their economic value and spread recognition.

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