Fashion's Bridge to the Art World
c.2014 New York Times News Service
LONDON — Fashion and art have long had a love affair, from Salvador Dalí's shoe hat created with Elsa Schiaparelli, to Jeff Koons’ balloon dog image plastered on H & M handbags. And often there has been a third party operating behind the scenes to bring the two worlds together: an art adviser.
Now a new generation of advisers is appearing, often focusing on younger clients and emerging artists.
Nicholas Campbell, 27, founder of Narcissus Arts in London, recently took on his first art-fashion collaboration, helping Alice Ashby of the avant-garde knitwear label Blake London. And inspiration can appear anywhere.
“While I was visiting an art gallerist in her home, I went to the loo,” he said, and noticed that the wallpaper was peeling. The effect turned out to be the work of the Italian artist Ludovica Gioscia.
“It would be perfect for knitwear, which is all about layers,” said Campbell, and he is now working on bringing artist and fashion designer together.
He recently took one of his clients, the model of the moment Edie Campbell, who happens to be his cousin, to the Frieze London Art Fair. And for another client, a former model, he matches a new work of art to her tastes every month.
Campbell is specializing in artwork selling at less than 10,000 pounds, or roughly $15,700, and has spoken several times on the current art scene at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. (Last month, the British magazine Spear’s selected him from among five finalists for its Young Turk Award in art advising.) His clients are turning to him, he said, because “maybe they’ve just gotten their first bonus, or bought their first apartment” and they want to buy some “real” art.
Chaz Sargent of New York, who recently became an art adviser with partners in London and Paris, had the good fortune of attending the American University of Paris at the same time as members of the Saudi royal family and classmates who are now working for Saint Laurent and Helmut Lang. He is advising them on acquisitions and staging exhibitions to expose them to the work of emerging artists.
He sees his job as similar to one notable fashion trend. “Fashion and art can make people nervous by their exclusivity,” he said. “Collaborations, like those with Uniqlo and H & M, provide access to that exclusive world.”
Another adviser well known for bringing art and fashion together over the last 20 years is Yvonne Force Villareal, the wife of the light artist Leo Villareal.
In 1996, before her marriage, Villareal worked with Vanessa Beecroft, then 28 and largely unknown, on what seemed to be an impossible project: taking over the Guggenheim Museum in New York for an installation of 20 women, some naked, some clothed, to explore female power and the role of fashion.
The problem was, there was virtually no money to buy any fashion. So the adviser persuaded Tom Ford, then at Gucci, to donate some bikinis and sandals. The project took nearly two years to pull together, but in 1998, some 1,500 people attended the one-night performance. It was, in Villareal’s opinion, “one of the first great art works where fashion and art meet and heighten the entire experience.”
It certainly started something. In 2000, Villareal and Doreen Remen founded the nonprofit Art Production Fund that has worked on such projects as getting Miuccia Prada to donate handbags and shoes for Prada Marfa, the sealed store created in 2005 in Texas by the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.
“Now it’s common” to have such collaborations, Villareal said, “but back then it was very special; it was radical.”
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Similarly, Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, who worked at Sotheby’s and Christie’s before starting her own art advisory agency, was doing research for the 2012 Ellsworth Kelly retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when she came across a 1952 photograph of a color-blocked shift dress designed by the artist. After persuading Kelly to work with her, she persuaded Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein to make the dress. He was the right choice “because of his skill at craftsmanship and attention to detail,” she explained.
Bringing such art and fashion giants together isn’t always smooth sailing, Hurowitz acknowledged. “I know Ellsworth and his studio and how he operates,” she said. “How things are done for an artist is different from how they’re done at a fashion house. They were two different cultures.” Notably, manufacturing deadlines were a concern at Calvin Klein, “but not for a 90-year-old world-renowned artist.”
But the finished products now are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Sometimes art advisers find their roles extending into fashion’s retail sector. Siebe Tettero of Amsterdam and New York, who was trained as an architect and art historian, used to have a close relationship with Rolf Snoeren of Viktor & Rolf. When the designers told Tettero they “wanted to turn the world upside down,” he took them at their word and in 2005 created a boutique in Milan where everything was attached to the ceiling. (It closed in 2008.)
“We talked a lot about art. It was a massive part of our lives,” Tettero said, recalling when he could see its influence come down the runway. “Every fashion show was inspired by art. And they were extremely cutting edge, so they in turn also influenced art.”
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A look at the racks in Lisa Perry’s Madison Avenue boutique (site of the former Gagosian Gallery retail shop) also shows just how directly art can influence fashion. Perry and her husband, Richard, a financier, are major art collectors, and her designs include a dress of Barnett Newman-like bold color blocks and a top and skirt that look as if Jackson Pollock personally paint-splattered them.
Even Perry, with her art connections, has turned to art advisers using “different advisers for different things.” She asked Dominique Lévy, for instance, to make an introductory call to Robert Indiana so Perry could ask about adapting his numerical artwork to a dress.
“I know all the art advisers — Yvonne, Sharon, Dominique,” Perry said. “They’re my girls.”
Lévy, who has offices in New York and Geneva, is very well known to the fashion world. François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of the Kering luxury group, appointed her to set up the private sales division at Christie’s.
“It’s about opening some doors,” Lévy said of the adviser’s job. “Or sourcing works of art if they are looking for something. Advising on the market value to see if the pricing is justified. Consulting on condition, and if it’s authentic.”
But there is one area she does not advise on: taste. “Anyone linked to fashion has a very clear taste of their own.”