From Vuitton to Dior: a history of art collaborating with fashion

Louis Vuitton is the latest fashion house to embrace art, with its Masters collection by Jeff Koons. We take a look at the long history of such collaborations.

The Da Vinci Mona Lisa bag from Louis Vuitton's Masters collection. Courtesy Louis Vuitton.

Louis Vuitton has launched its largest collaborative project with an artist to date. Under the guidance of creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, the house has teamed up with American artist Jeff Koons to create a collection of bags, accessories and scarves entitled Masters.

As part of the worldwide launch, these pieces will be available in four cities in the GCC, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Created exclusively for Vuitton, the collection is a clear continuation of the work of Koons, and while it is an unusual medium for him, it is nonetheless a great opportunity for art enthusiasts to obtain an affordable example of his work.

For collectors of bags, it is the latest example of a long and exciting relationship between Vuitton and artists, which began under previous creative director Marc Jacobs.

The link between art and fashion is well-established, with an intertwined history dating back centuries to the days when the ruling classes would pose in their finest clothes for portraits, aware of the status and wealth conveyed by fashion.

It seems entirely natural, then, for a continuing cross-pollination of ideas. If art can be described as a mirror to society, fashion is perhaps part of the gilded image that is reflected.

Over the years, the lines between the two creative disciplines have become increasingly blurred. Artists such as Grayson Perry are now as famous for their clothes as their artworks, while fashion’s highest pinnacle – haute couture – is often described in terms of art.

Even Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief at American Vogue, when she took over the annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995 transformed it into the Met Gala, a star-studded fashion-fest for which designers spend years creating the gowns that will appear on the red carpet.

The idea of art and fashion merging is hardly new, then.

Today we think of Christian Dior as a fashion designer, but as far back as 1928, before he established the house that carries his name, he owned an art gallery showing the work of Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder and Joan Miró.

In 1937, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli created her surreal Lobster Dress and Shoe Hat, working with surrealist artist Dali.In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent was inspired by the work of artist Piet Mondrian to create the Mondrian Dress. Fast-forward to 1993, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood created a collection based around the work of graffiti artist Keith Haring, after meeting him in New York. The following year, the label Comme des Garçons teamed up with artist Cindy Sherman to create an advertising campaign, resulting in images that were anything but traditional.

Three years after Marc Jacobs took over as creative director at Louis Vuitton, he turned his passion for art and culture into its first collaboration with an artist, persuading Sylvie Fleury to turn her signature use of high-shine metallics into the “Vuitton Bag”.

Spurred on by its success, the following year he enlisted artist Stephen Sprouse to add graffiti over Vuitton’s monogram bags, and in 2003, asked Takashi Murakami to add his colourful imagination to accessories, resulting in charmingly playful “Eye Dare You” collection.

In 2008, Chanel brought the architect Zaha Hadid on board to design the travelling Chanel Pavilion,which she based on the classic Chanel quilt, most often seen across bags. That same year, Jacobs brought art onto the runway at Vuitton, opening the SS08 show with models dressed as the nurses, as homage to the work of artist Richard Prince. That year too, designer Raf Simons invited conceptual artist Sterling Ruby to decorate his Tokyo store and to help design a capsule fashion collection, in his style of splashed paint. The resulting store – which had paint literally thrown across the walls, was transformed into an off-kilter art space.

Another direct use of art as decoration came in 2011, when high-end Italian fashion retailer Fendi invited students at London’s Royal College of Art to create a window display for its new store. The winner was Meret Probst, who created a machine that dripped bright-coloured dye directly onto white bags and accessories, making pieces that were oddly beautiful, and utterly unique.

A broader approach to art was taken by some of the Italian houses, who felt compelled to act where the government was not, and to help restore parts of Italy’s illustrious Roman past. Shoe brand Tod’s began the lengthy and expensive process of restoring the Colosseum in Rome. Estimating to be costing the company more than Dh100,000,000, to date, stage one is complete and stage two is underway.

In 2013, Fendi too decided to support its unique hertiage and funded the restoration of the famous Trevi Fountain.

Another artist to create a highly successful line for Vuitton was artist Yayoi Kusama, who used her polka-dot artwork to create visually-arresting shop windows, clothes, bags and accessories.

In 2013, Damien Hirst collaborated with Alexander McQueen as part of the 10th anniversary of the skull scarf, creating a series of just 30 pieces, in a move that drew together two very anti-establishment thinkers. Vuitton’s men’s collection also picked artists known for highly-challenging work, when designer Kim Jones chose artists Jake and Dinos Chapman to decorate bags. The result was a collection covered in strange, slightly monster-ish drawings.

By October the following year, Louis Vuitton cemented its relationship with art, opening the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, a dedicated art space designed by architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Guggenheim planned for Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

Not to be outdone, in 2015, Prada launched its version of an art gallery, the Fondazione Prada, in Milan, that in typical Prada style is baffling and intellectually demanding. However, one of the most beautiful collaborations took place this spring, when John Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela teamed with artist Benjamin Shine to create a woman's face on a gown, created entirely of caught and stitched netting.