‘Fashion Must Stand for More Than Simply Selling a Product’: Top Luxury Designers on Why They’re Collaborating With Artists Like Never Before

We spoke with creative directors across the fashion industry to understand how they're working with artists in a moment of profound change.

Maria Grazia Chiuri, Jonathan Anderson, Natacha Ramsay-Levi, Hedi Slimane, and Daniel Lee. Photos courtesy Getty Images and Bottega Veneta.
Maria Grazia Chiuri, Jonathan Anderson, Natacha Ramsay-Levi, Hedi Slimane, and Daniel Lee. Photos courtesy Getty Images and Bottega Veneta.

It’s no secret that most industries have struggled in recent months. And for the luxury market in particular, times have been especially tough: with spending down almost across the board, financial firms like Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company are estimating that luxury sales will fall between 20 and 35 percent this year. And according to their reports, those sales figures won’t rebound fully until 2022 at the earliest.

Yet while those numbers paint a bleak picture, luxury designers are using this difficult moment as an opportunity to reassess what their work stands for.

“It’s time for the industry to have some open and frank discussions about its future, which I have to say have been happening, which is great,” Bottega Veneta creative director Daniel Lee tells Artnet News. “We know that fashion must stand for more than simply selling a product.”

As these discussions swirl, brands are seeking to reach new audiences by collaborating with artists in novel ways. Aided largely by social media platforms, designers and companies are hosting talks, film screenings, and other events that connect them to the art world and elevate their colleagues working in the visual arts.

“The situation has shown the fashion industry’s ability to express solidarity, and that a sense of empathy for others is something every global system should have as a core focus,” Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri says. “We are all connected, now more than ever, certainly. I hope this idea of unity prevails in fashion.”

We spoke with six brands to learn about how they’re facing the moment.

Collaborating With Artists

In mid-March, Dior launched the Dior Talks podcast, which features conversations exploring the house’s position at the intersection of art, culture, and society. In the first episode, Grazia Chiuri discussed the ways in which feminist art has shaped her sense of purpose as a creator.

“Artists are central to my creative process,” she tells Artnet News. “And women artists in particular have the ability to communicate ethical values that are essential for the next generation of women to learn.”

But beyond connecting with Dior’s already loyal customer base, the series is also meant to grow the house’s clientele, and to tie the brand to the worlds of art and design. A slew of visual artists—from Tracey Emin and Penny Slinger, to Tomaso Binga and Judy Chicago—have appeared as guests in the show’s first 13 episodes.

“My interest here is definitely to engage with a wider audience to start a global conversation on art and fashion today,” Grazia Chiuri says, adding: “I believe more than ever in sharing stories and knowledge, and also in the role of art to open our minds and help us shape a bright and progressive future.”

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By Tyrone Lebon

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Daniel Lee of Bottega Veneta is also leveraging his connections with artists to reach the wider public. The brand’s new Instagram-based digital residency program, through which Lee is offering artists he admires a platform to explore their cultural interests, was one of the first branded art initiatives to launch this spring. 

“It is important that we use our platform and privilege wisely during a time like this,” Lee tells Artnet News. “Our residency program is an opportunity for us to entertain our audience while many of us are isolated. We are celebrating—and collaborating with—some of the artists we find most inspiring and stimulating. And we are also emphasizing that supporting culture and creativity right now is absolutely vital.”  

So far, Bottega Veneta has invited artists such as Walter Pfeiffer and Tyrone Lebon, as well as dancer M.J. Harper and stylist Marie Chaix, to participate in the residency. For each iteration, the guest is given carte blanche to explore their favorite artworks, films, books, and other inspirations on Bottega Veneta’s Instagram over the course of a week.

“There is something unifying about our cultural content being presented on a digital medium, and I like the idea of providing a moment of connection when we are so disconnected physically,” Lee says.

Lee is also working with his alma mater, Central Saint Martins in London, so that graduating students from the school’s fashion program can present their work virtually in lieu of an in-person showcase.

“I think bigger brands have a duty to support emerging creatives now more than ever,” Lee says. “It’s so hard to even exist right now in the creative industries. The current situation favors the bigger brands, or brands that have more funding. So I am leveraging the teams and resources that we are lucky enough to have access to, to help the Central Saint Martins students, employing the help of our creative and communications teams and our production company—essentially, the resources that allow us to keep innovating.” 

Do It for the Gram

The Spanish house Loewe, meanwhile, has launched Loewe En Casa, a series of Instagram Live workshops in which skilled designers and craftspeople give instructive lessons on subjects such as metalwork, weaving, ikebana, goldsmithing, textile-making, and ceramics. Among the artists featured in the initiative thus far are Koichi Io, Sophie Rowley, Julian Watts, and Adi Toch. 

The project is the brainchild of Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson, who has long supported young creatives through his annual Craft Prize competition, which awards rising artists a €50,000 grant and the chance to exhibit their work at a major museum, such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

“This really reflects the essence of what Loewe is all about,” Anderson tells Artnet News of the new initiative. “I was just talking to the team one morning, and I was like, ‘We should really do an education program!’ And I thought about this idea of casa, of home, and using this environment and moment to explore the art of making and the craft that’s behind it.”

Chloé is also using Instagram for its newly launched Chloé Voices series, which includes talks, events, studio visits, and live performances that together reinforce positivity through the work of women artists across different fields.

Participants include Langley Fox Hemingway and Ellie Goulding (both friends of Chloé creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi), as well as visual artists who have collaborated previously with the house, such as Rithika Merchant. 

“That’s what Chloé is about,” Ramsay-Levi says of the project. “It’s a space for women’s voices and a space for dialogue between those voices. It’s meant to help open the Chloé community up to different ways of spending our days in our moving and changing society.”

Ramsay-Levi had been planning the series, which streams live every Tuesday, for about six months before it launched.

“Then when all this happened, I was like, ‘Now’s the moment to start this,’” she says. “And the whole team was ready to go for it. In a very selfish way, it’s really rewarding to do this—to watch these women whom I admire so much living in the clothes and making their art. To me, it’s best thing to see.”

Movies and Talks

For his part, the Paris-based creative director of Celine, Hedi Slimane—who has always been a film buff—is using this time to collaborate with the video-streaming service Mubi to line up a series of great films for his audience to indulge in. 

Available for anyone through the end of May, Slimane’s curated selection includes Hollywood classics like Charade and Apocalypse Now, alongside cult favorites such as Paris, Texas, Night Tide, and Persona

Watching classic movies helps me tremendously during these uncertain days of endless quarantine,” Slimane says. “I was wondering what I could possibly share, what could be reassuring, and what could serve as a comforting escapist gift. Mubi, with its culture and fine selection of cult movies, was the perfect template for this improvised project.”

Slimane has also been using Celine’s Instagram TV to host virtual studio visits with artists such as Charles Harlan, and performances by musicians including Joan Jett and Beck.

And to stay in touch with its audience, the Italian heritage house Prada has organized Prada Possible Conversations, a series of Instagram events that has included contributors such as filmmaker Francesco Vezzoli and philosopher Emanuele Coccia, who together discussed the meaning of love in the time of coronavirus. Each talk has also coincided with a donation by Prada to UNESCO to benefit the 1.5 billion students worldwide affected by school and university closures.

“It is only through conversation and confrontation that you can grow as a human being, but also take whatever you are working on to the next step,” the brand said in a statement.

“Whether in fashion or in the work of the Prada Foundation, we have had the privilege to work and collaborate with an endless number of talents in diverse fields. It was very natural to bring some of them together and share with our Instagram audience their thoughts on subjects dear to them.”


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