When two worlds collide: art and commercial fashion

Laura Duffy

Credit: MyModernMet.com

On August 3rd, footwear powerhouse, Vans, dropped its latest collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum, including clothing and footwear inspired by worldly renowned impressionist painter. 

The now almost sold out collection was considered a huge hit among customers and art enthusiasts alike, as an accessible representation of the late artist’s work at affordable high street prices.

What makes this drop so interesting is the rarely successful pairing of  an artist and fashion brand and therefore the lack of controversy surrounding the collaboration.

Art and fashion have worked in tandem for many years now, although until recently, it has mostly been reserved for the world of high fashion. Artists and high fashion designers have collaborated with great success many times in recent history, however, they hardly ever come without some controversy or debate.

One of the first, and most memorable being the collaboration between the Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dalí, and the legendary Italian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. Together they created a silk summer evening gown which featured a print of an over sized lobster that dangled down from the waist.

The gown clawed its way into cultural recognition when the American socialite Wallis Simpson wore it for a photo shoot in Vogue magazine in 1937. The famously garish gown graced the issues of Vogue in the same year as Simpson’s intended marriage to the British King Edward VIII, causing a constitutional crisis that led to Edward’s abdication.

The bold collaboration between Dali and Schiaparelli certainly caused a lot of controversies while also inspiring the countless infamous artist and fashion designer collaborations in the future.

Despite the numerous artist-design partnerships that emerged from then on, the vast majority to this day, are exclusive to a very small percentage of the public that can afford to spend their money high price collaborations.

Seeing high street brands such as Vans, jumping on the collaborative bandwagon has been widely welcomed by its audience.

However, it doesn’t come without its risks. It can be argued that art and commercial fashion brands have inherently different values and priorities, and these differences can easily trigger tensions when the two worlds collaborate.

Artists often create their work with the aim to create something that transcends trend. However, fashion is seasonal by its definition and can be considered disposable. Pairing these two paradoxical worlds is bound to trigger tension if not carried out with great care and consideration.

It can be difficult for artists to know which fashion brand is right to partner with. And it can be just as tough for the brand managers to accept the uncertainty that comes with artistic collaboration. How do they find the artist that best represents their brand’s story? And how can one fashion brand create an environment in which art can thrive?

If done correctly, collaborations such as the Vans x Van Gogh Museum can provide a new level of cultural dignity for fashion brands while also allowing great artistic works to reach a wider audience within popular culture.

Laura Duffy

Image credit: MyModernMet