That collaborations between artists and fashion designers occur presupposes that artists aren’t fashion designers and fashion designers aren’t artists. Things, obviously, aren’t so simple. Nevertheless, meaningful cross-fertilization is rare. “Often brands collaborate with artists to augment their cultural capital,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. “The result is often more arty than art.”
But in the best collaborations, the result is chimerical. Take the partnerships between Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali in the 1930s, or Yves St. Laurent’s Mondrian collection of 1965, which kept the painter’s spirit alive even though he had died a decade earlier. Perhaps the most striking recent example of this is Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with the reclusive Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Kusama and Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs may have overlapped in New York City in the late ’60s when Jacobs was a fifteen-year-old stock boy and Kusama, then a mid-career artist, was riding the tail-end of Fluxus. They never met, and soon thereafter Kusama returned to Japan to live, voluntarily, in a mental institution. Jacobs, meanwhile, to put it mildly, moved up the ranks.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Jacobs visited the artist in her studio, that their collaboration appeared in the offing. “The fact that [Kusama] never veers from her vision is really admirable,” Jacobs says. Six years later, the result debuts in June: a collection of textiles, accessories, handbags, and footwear that are emblazoned with the polka dots with which Kusama has been obsessed since the 1950s. Collection highlights include precious silk dresses, a plastic trench coat, a bonded cotton coat, intricate charms, and a minaudière [ornamental case] reminiscent of the artist’s classic pumpkin sculptures. Perhaps the apotheosis of the collaboration is a pattern in which Kusama’s polka dots are fused with the Louis Vuitton logo. It’s neither simply art nor merely fashion. Instead, it confounds the separation between the two and creates a vital living hybrid.
Photo by Joshua Scott