I find it exciting when fine art fuses with fashion, and while Louis Vuitton’s recently announced collaboration with Yayoi Kusama may produce some spectacularly spotted goods, it just looks like another standard crossover meant to produce sellable items. Why aren’t artists and fashion designers taking more risks?
As of late several fashion designers enlist the help of fine artists to pump up their game; just last year we reported on numerous examples, including Anselm Reyle and Christian Dior, KAWS and OriginalFake, and Proenza Schouler and Harmony Korine (although the less that’s said about that fucked up collaboration, the better.) But it seems, particularly in the case of East-meets-West fusions, that fashion designers are interested in an artist’s work so long as it is capable of producing (somewhat) beautiful and (definitely) commercial goods. That’s not a revelation. In fact, it’s just good business. Artist/designer relationships are largely about generating press for both parties, and that’s fine.
Most fashion, no matter how off-the-wall, needs a certain prettiness factor to make it to the racks. Sure, you could look at the runways and think not even the drunkest of clowns would wear some of the gowns, but in boutiques the goods are all uniformly pretty (Patricia Field’s notwithstanding).
Even if the “regular” girl (or irregular boy) might not carry a Louis Vuitton bag with alien anime eyes or multi-colored polka dots, there’s a definite customer base. But it gets harder and harder to stir excitement at these pairings when the results are just generically odd-but-still-pretty accessories. Kusama’s LV bags will be beautiful, I’m certain, but they might not be anything new.
Interestingly, the Kusama/Jacobs collaboration coincided with a story about a supposed “new work” by former LV collaborator Takashi Murakami’s newly unveiled installation at Qatar Museums Authority, which witnessed a departure from the Japanese artist’s signature Superflat subject matter. Gone are the masturbating shonen cowboys and acid-trippy flowers, replaced with compositions constructed of cardboard and backdrop paper. Are we witnessing a new style from the Japanese Andy Warhol? Not quite. It turned out to be a deadpan post, and the expected kawaii art works will be on display. But I think it says something that we at Hyperallergic were more excited to see a ramshackle installation over a played-out explosion of Superflat.
I think there’s potential in broadening the scope of what we find “beautiful” in terms of both art and fashion; a pared down aesthetic can be just as loud as a garish print. A line of handbags by Slow And Steady Wins The Race exemplifies this concept: the designs of “it” bags (the Hermes Birkin bag, the Chanel quilted purse) are rendered in canvas and muslin, removing the shiny hardware and expensive leather that make these objects irresistible. In these bags the blankness is palpable, and almost says more than the fey plethora higher-end designers mass-produce. There’s a heightened appreciation of craftsmanship and form pioneered by the Diors and Guccis of the world.
But, there’s always a step beyond simply minimalism. If we look at the trifecta of postmodern Japanese designers (Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto) we witness a stark contrast to most Western fashion. The clothing produced by these artisans highlights form and drape in an exploration of the materials’ relationship to the body of the wearer. Prototypical examples from these designers (predominantly in the early ‘80s) illustrate an entirely different aesthetic from Western fashion of the era, where broad shoulders, tight waists and overall tightly structured silhouettes reigned supreme. Japanese fashion embraced looseness, an askewed sense of composition and glamour. It’s unpolished, raw, transgressive, yet meticulously conceptualized and executed.
If I’m not mistaken, it hearkens to the Japanese aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, an embracement of transience, a look that strives to express the “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” It’s no surprise Western Fashion designers have really yet to be this daring in their work. Even the notable rebels of raiment (Jean Paul Gaultier certainly comes to mind) continue to respect the cut and technique of their European ancestors. It looks as though any help they enlist from artists only serves to complement this aesthetic.
It might be time for both Marc Jacobs and Takashi Murakami to shift their aesthetics slightly and try their hand at innovating new works. Make the offbeat commercial. There’s nothing more creative than that.