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When artists and brands come together

Art and commerce have not always mixed very well. Art tries to be individualistic and unique, while commerce is about marketability and saleability. However, we live in the age of capitalism, where art and commerce have managed to co-exist and work in tandem. No better example of this equilibrium exists than the artist-brand collaboration. What started as a novelty in the early twentieth century has now become a frequently occurring model that works for both parties.

In recent years, collaborations between artists and brands have become increasingly common, encompassing sectors as diverse as fashion, beauty, home décor and tech, to name a few. In an increasingly competitive market, these collaborations are a great way to catch attention, create buzz and ultimately generate revenue. At the same time, these collaborations raise the artist's profile, reaching a wider audience and making art accessible.

Apple watches and straps displayed on colourful boxes and a pink background by Alex Azabache
Apple Watches, Alex Azabache

Some of the earliest artist-brand collaborations started in the mid-twentieth century. Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau to create clothes that blurred the line between fashion and art. Later in the 1980s, artists like Keith Haring collaborated with brands like Swatch, creating designs that electrified the market and became permanently associated with that era. 

Today, brand and artist collaborations are happening more frequently while growing in terms of partnership types, artistry, quality and scope. Artists are not only involved now in the design of the product but often have a say in the packaging, merchandising and marketing of the products. Consumers appreciate these collaborations because they value superior design, unusual pairings and limited availability. In certain fields like fashion, frequent collaborations have given rise to a thriving market for luxury collectibles where these products are not only valued for their aesthetic appeal but also for their rarity and historical significance.

These collaborations push the boundaries for both the artist and the brand by allowing them to explore new mediums and experiment with new techniques, allowing the creation of truly unique designs. In 2006, fashion designer Alexander McQueen worked with luggage company Samsonite to create distinctive hard luggage pieces with the imprint of a human torso where the ribcage was outlined in the front of the case and the backbone on the back. 

Since art has been typically associated with a certain level of elitism and exclusivity, these collaborations allow artists to make their work more accessible to a wider allowance. The artist Damien Hirst has been prolific in his collaborations (skateboards with streetwear brand Supreme, Swirl pattern on Levis jeans, butterfly motifs on Converse sneakers) and believes art should not be confined to the gallery but be something you live with. 

Finally for artists, collaborations function as an alternative source of income besides boosting their visibility and allowing them to showcase their work in different mediums. These collaborations almost become like a virtuous cycle, where consumers become more appreciative of good design and artistry. This in turn incentivizes the brand to seek more exciting collaborations.

By Vikram Naik


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