THE ART OF FASHION ; Partnerships between Artists and Fashion Designers Have an Illustrious History: Think Dali and Schiaparelli, or Cocteau and Chanel. Penny Martin Introduces a New Set of Collaborations between Today's Leading Lights, from Stella McCartney, Jeff Koons, Christopher Bailey and beyond. Photographs by Richard Burbridge

By Martin, Penny | The Independent (London, England), February 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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THE ART OF FASHION ; Partnerships between Artists and Fashion Designers Have an Illustrious History: Think Dali and Schiaparelli, or Cocteau and Chanel. Penny Martin Introduces a New Set of Collaborations between Today's Leading Lights, from Stella McCartney, Jeff Koons, Christopher Bailey and beyond. Photographs by Richard Burbridge


Martin, Penny, The Independent (London, England)


Dress Art is a series of 15 commissions in each of which a fashion designer has partnered an artist to create a wearable piece of artwork. Broadly speaking, most of our pairings interpreted the idea in one of two ways - divided between those who stayed true to the "wearability" stressed by the original brief, and those who stepped beyond the realm of dress.

The first group of collaborators stuck to their own field of expertise - with the designer creating a structure on to which the artist added their embellishment. This is perhaps most apparent in the dress designed by Christopher Bailey and the artist Annie Morris ( overleaf), in which a Burberry trenchcoat forms the upper section from which no fewer than 25,000 of Morris's hand-painted clothes pegs fan out to create the splendid train.

Also observing their professional roles were the French designers Agnes b and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. The latter's silk column dress was screenprinted with gothic rock graphics by the American glitter-montage artist Meredyth Sparks while Agnes b's flirty cotton shifts bear swirling digital-organic prints created by New York- based artist Ryan McGinness.

At its most basic level, the second group of collaborators is characterised by their distinct lack of wearability. More interesting than these works'potential as saleable commodities, however, is what they reveal about the creative ambitions of most fashion designers. Working with an artist clearly gives some designers licence to be more abstract and obscure than they are able to be in their commercial work. "It's neither art nor fashion," muses Riccardo Tisci, while contemplating the vast, pyramidal cape that he and the Italian artist Paolo Canevari made from tyres.

It's a two-way process. Just as a designer's personal projects are flavoured with their commercial proclivities, so their experimental work finds its way back into their collections. Certainly Stella McCartney and Bernhard Willhelm think so. So delighted were they with their creations - some dinky bunny pendants made in collaboration with Jeff Koons and three linoleum "Carpetmen" based on a drawing by the Swiss artist Olaf Breuning, respectively - that they couldn't wait for Dress Art to be published, sneaking the fruits of their labours into their Paris shows.

But it is perhaps in creating "fashion objects"rather than catwalk spectacles that designers feel most free to explore the same unconstrained creative process as that enjoyed by an artist. What might appear to be an entirely wearable, albeit eccentric, "garment"by the designer Sophia Kokosalaki and the artist John Isaacs - an electrically illuminated leg caliper - is also tethered to one spot by its plug-in flex. The outgoing designer for Issey Miyake, Naoki Takizawa, and the fted Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara also chose an installation format for "Mountain", their magnificent, hand-painted coat fashioned out of corrugated paper so stiff it can stand by itself once it is fanned out of its own custom-built crate. "You cannot move freely wearing this," says Takizawa, but then, it was always intended to be a "folly".

What knits the Dress Art creations together is the shared atmosphere of creative optimism in which they were produced. As the fashion industry places more pressure on key figures to produce collections, designers are finding less and less time to do research, let alone for collaborations that cannot be worked into the productivity of their company. It has never been more crucial that they look outside the industry for inspiration.

Penny Martin is editor of SHOWstudio. com. Dress Art is curated by Emma Reeves. This article can be seen in full in 'Another Magazine'. Issue 12 on sale now or online at www.anothermag.com

Riccardo Tisci & Paolo Canevari

In March 2005, 10 years after the retirement of its founder Hubert de Givenchy, the Italian designer Riccardo Tisci was appointed creative director of the Givenchy label.

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THE ART OF FASHION ; Partnerships between Artists and Fashion Designers Have an Illustrious History: Think Dali and Schiaparelli, or Cocteau and Chanel. Penny Martin Introduces a New Set of Collaborations between Today's Leading Lights, from Stella McCartney, Jeff Koons, Christopher Bailey and beyond. Photographs by Richard Burbridge
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