Why Designers Need Artists (And Vice Versa)

A new book, out from Chronicle, extols the benefits of blurring the line between fashion and art.

In 1951, fashion photographer Cecil Beaton shot a now iconic spread for Vogue that featured gown-clad models posing in front of Jackson Pollock paintings. The backlash was brutal: Art critics lashed out at Beaton for using Pollock’s work as a backdrop in a fashion spread, claiming that fashion—and the commerce that’s associated with it—sullied the paintings.


There’s long been a contentious divide between the art and fashion worlds, with the latter most often thought of as a lower art form. But as a new book Art + Fashion: Collaborations Between Icons, points out, when art and fashion aren’t pitted against each other, brilliance often ensues. The book collects the many labels, collections, and photo shoots that have benefited from blurring of lines—from Elsa Schiaparelli’s famous Salvador Dali-painted lobster dress to Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits in vintage Chanel—both classic and contemporary.

© Martin Schoeller/AUGUST

“The heart-stopping brilliance of collaborations comes when two extraordinary people combine to make something greater than the sum of their parts,” authors E.P. Cutler and Julien Tomasello write in the forward. “This synergy defies the nature of mathematics, allowing for 1+1=3.” Take, for example, the influential fashion designer Raf Simons, whose longtime friendship with artist Sterling Ruby led him to create a collection for Dior featuring the artist’s prints on couture gowns. In 2014, Simons put his two-decades-old menswear label on hiatus and replaced it with “Raf Simon/Sterling Ruby,” a line of collage-like, bleach-splattered pieces that both partners describe as a complete collaboration.

Tim Roeloffs. Nov. 9th, 1988: Berliners celebrate the fall of the wall, Collage, Circa 2005© Tim Roeloffs

Other collaborations between major couture houses are not as one-to-one, but still produced stunning results. When Donatella Versace commissioned Holland-born, Berlin-based collage artist Timotheus Paulus Roeloffs to create original pieces to print on her dresses, she asked that he depict Berlin to honor her late brother, Gianni Versace, and his love for the city. But she also gave him ample sources for inspiration, such as rare 1960s wallpaper books that once belonged to Gianni, and vintage imagery from the fashion house.

© Raymond Meier/Trunk Archive. Nick Cave © 2015 Nick Cave

Then there is Vogue‘s 2010 eight-page spread of Nick Cave in his Soundsuits, the wild, intricate, multicolored wearable sculptures the artist has become known for. Fashion photographer Raymond Meier pitched the idea to Vogue after he saw a solo exhibition at Fowler Museum in L.A., but when he reached out to Cave the new works were still traveling the museum circuit. The eight neon, furry, surreal, 10-foot tall costumes that Cave wears in the “Monsters, Inc.” spread were created especially for Vogue.

For more brilliant art and fashion collaborations, check out the the slideshow above. Art + Fashion is available from Chronicle Books.

All Photos: courtesy Chronicle Books


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.