From Masterpiece to Merchandise

by Scarlett Baker

A spectacle can be created when the fusion of two disciplines come together, most notably between the fashion and art world. Entering the critical debate as to whether fashion is truly “artistic” or rather an “art form” itself, the past ten years within the fashion industry has been shaped by the voice of fine artists infiltrating the catwalk.

Whilst 2017 saw the fetishisation of concert merchandise, endorsing celebrity world tours such as Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour, 2018 has paved the way for canonical artists to give a renaissance to their masterpieces. That is to say, a physical rebirth in the form of a new medium: on the catwalk, rather than the gallery walls. The experiential process has thus changed. The question of the gaze is no longer a static union between a spectator entering the gallery space, entering – what seems – almost a two-dimensional experience from the canvas that hangs passively amongst the blank walls of the gallery. Instead, the spectator is invited to undergo a new stimulating experience, one that offers movement and invigoration as a classical piece is transformed and carried by the movement of two legs simply walking, but commanding global attention.

Viktor & Rolf’s SS16 undeniably sought inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s Woman in the Hat (1961), regenerating fragmented structures of a sculpted face, and reworking the physiognomy into a dress. The abstract, yet iconic collaboration  moulded together binaries of the past and present, traditional and classical, working to change our experience with classical pieces of art, yet still  providing the opportunity for Picasso’s work to remain relevant and appreciated. This renaissance of sorts, the “rebirth” of a painting and our perception of it duly changes, from viewing Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses with the naked eye, to actually feeling the sublimated mastery printed onto bag, hanging off your arm. It opens up the idea of “experience”, one that is  more tactile and tangible, rather than visionary.

Recognising the needs of the individual to proclaim a particular taste in art and subsequently make an eminent display of it, designers are beginning to recognise this, exposing the niche gap in the marketplace to satisfy consumer needs with artistic talent.  Situated amongst the critical divide of “art appropriation and popular idealism” sits Jeff Koons, argues the Financial Times reporter Jo Ellison. The American artist renowned for his monumental work (the Balloon Dog) invites interdisciplinary collaborations with a habitual chutzpah. Symbolically deconstructing the classical frames and moulding the masterpieces into purposeful commodified goods, Koons, amongst other fashion houses have sought to change our aesthetic experience with artwork.

Image result for jeff koons louis vuitton

Whilst few artists would dare to grapple with the ancients of the canon, Koons has boldly stamped his initials alongside that of Rubens, Fragonard, Monet, Bucher and Da Vinci to create ekphrastic handbags. His curatorial vision follows alongside creative campaigns such as Raf Simons, Comme des Garçons x MoMa and Virgil Abloh who are paving the industries obsession for collaborations between art and fashion. In this process of replication, Koons came under deep scrutiny for the exorbitant price tag that detractors found ridiculous for simply sublimating an image onto a handbag. Yet, they failed to recognise Koons’ ambition within the collaboration. He compliments and works towards the demands of both the fashion and art world that that are obsessed by exclusivity and the enticement of ‘limited edition’, thus changing the DNA of the paintings by offering them a new canvas, and a life beyond four constrained walls. But, unfortunately their aren’t six billion Mona Lisa’s to go around the world, so if we can’t get the original, then a handbag is good enough.


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