How Artist Rodney Graham Helped Akris Find Inspiration for Its Latest Collection

It's the latest fusion of fine art and high fashion by the Swiss label.


Just how does a fashion-art collaboration come together?

For Albert Kriemler, creative director of Swiss fashion house Akris, his latest started with a trip to Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Zurich earlier this year. There, he got a glimpse of “Media Studies,” an exhibition by protean Vancouver artist Rodney Graham.

The show features works in Graham’s signature plethora of media, including collages and lightbox photos. But it was one work in particular that grabbed the designer’s attention. “There was a magnificent lightbox, fantastic in color, fantastic in expression,” Kriemler says of his moment of epiphany in a video the label created to announce the collaboration.

That work, Coat Puller (2017), features the image of a man captured in the middle of putting on a coat. Another spin on the theme, this one a black-and-white series of six images, captures the same act, step by step, giving it an unexpected drama.

L: Rodney Graham's Coat Puller (2017). Courtesy of the artist. R: Ernst Barlach's Der Mantelanzieher (1913). © Estate of Ernst Barlach.

L: Rodney Graham’s Coat Puller (2017). Courtesy of the artist. R: Ernst Barlach’s Der Mantelanzieher (1913). © Estate of Ernst Barlach.

Graham was channeling two separate influences. One was German expressionist Ernst Barlach’s Der Mantelanzieher from 1913, which depicts a figure bracing against some unseen wind as he pulls on an overcoat.

The other was Eadweard Muybridge, the father of serial photography, known for capturing the intricacies of movement. In the black-and-white images, a stark, gridded backdrop is a direct reference to Muybridge’s style of scientific photography.

Kriemler reached out to Graham, and a collaboration was born. “[Albert] seemed to have a genuine interest in the work, and I just intuitively trusted him,” the Canadian artist says in the Akris video.

Rodney Graham,

The various frames of the dramatic black-and-white series form a key part of Akris’s Fall-Winter 2017-2018 collection: The freeze frames, complete with the Muybridge-esque grids, have been emblazoned on handbags, scarves, and, of course, overcoats—putting pictures of coats on coats. The collection’s marquee coat continues the theme, showcasing in full detail the work that first sparked Kriemler’s imagination, Graham’s Coat Puller. 

The collection’s launch event climaxed with six models clad in Kriemler’s coats, arriving at the end of the runway, and pirouetting to reveal the step-by-step images of Graham’s series, unfolding on their backs.

Backstage Shot of the Fall Winter 2017/2018 collection of Akris. Photo: Courtesy of the Artist.

A backstage shot of the Fall-Winter 2017/2018 collection of Akris.

It’s not the first time Kriemler has mined a variety of artsy influences for his minimalist designs. In the past, he’s looked to the eco-friendly work of architect Sou Fujimoto, as well as, most recently, the abstract paintings of 102-year-old Cuban painter Carmen Herrera.

Graham is definitely on trend, however: The artist’s career retrospective came to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in England earlier this year in the wake of the Hauser & Wirth show, and arrives in at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in November.

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