Dedicated followers of fashion?
As luxury goods lose their economic lustre, the art world—despite its close connections—sashays on
By Melanie Gerlis. From Frieze daily edition
Published online: 09 October 2012
Hot on the high heels of consecutive fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris come the Frieze art fairs. This week’s round of openings, private views, dinners and the associated parties that fill collectors’ diaries owes much to the modus operandi of the fashion industry. Meanwhile, both the luxury goods market and the top end of the art market have demonstrated resilience over the past four years in the face of economic gloom. But last month, the high-end British fashion house Burberry warned that its profits would not meet expectations, wiping around 20% (£1bn) off its stock-market value in one day. The company’s chief executive, Angela Ahrendts, said that “the external environment is becoming more challenging”. Does this signal a warning for the art market, too?
A quick look in London’s high-end stores demonstrates the degree of crossover between the two worlds: the artists Elmgreen & Dragset have installed works among the Louis Vuitton bags on New Bond Street (including an oversized fairytale bed), while replicas of the artist Yayoi Kusama have moved out of the Vuitton store and into Selfridges (in conjunction with the designer, which sponsored Kusama’s Tate Modern exhibition earlier this year). Meanwhile, the artist Rob Pruitt is due to launch a “capsule collection” of shoes, bags and accessories this month in collaboration with Jimmy Choo.
The relationship between art and fashion is a sensitive subject, however—one that strikes at the core of what value in art actually is. Some dealers are quick to differentiate art from the mass-market appeal of fashion, pointing to the overriding differences between a coat and a fine work of art. “Collectors think about what they are doing for years, rather than making an impulsive decision according to a fashion trend,” says Neil Wenman of Hauser & Wirth (FL, C8; FM, B5). Alma Luxembourg of Luxembourg & Dayan, which is showing this week at PAD London in Berkeley Square, says that art “requires more from the participant”.
The businesses are certainly polarised in terms of size—the art market is estimated globally to be worth around $40bn, while the luxury goods market is worth around $300bn, according to Euromonitor International—but most dealers accept that the buyers are often the same. Thaddaeus Ropac (FL, F4), who has a gallery in central Paris and is opening a large new space on the outskirts of the city this weekend, says that people were “flocking [to] the gallery” during Paris Fashion Week at the beginning of this month.
Both industries share a visual product in which the value, or at least what people are prepared to pay, is not intrinsic to its materials or cost of labour. “We are both selling an item that transcends its use,” Luxembourg says. Tim Etchells, who co-founded the ArtHK fair and is opening a new fair in London next year, has worked with the organisers of London Fashion Week for more than 20 years (noting that the fashion market is more sophisticated in this area). He talks about the intangible value conferred by brand names in both industries. “The definition of a brand is a promise: White Cube [FL, F7] is a promise about the sort of art you will get from the gallery,” he says. And for contemporary artists, meeting the demand of the growing number of fairs and galleries has parallels with the fashion industry. “Fashion is now more about the volume of sales, just as artists now have to make a huge amount of work to sell across five continents,” says the art dealer Pilar Corrias (FL, H5).
Ropac says that “art flirts less with the fashion world than vice versa”, but some dealers believe that the reluctance to learn lessons from the marketing clout of fashion is a backward way of thinking. “Luxury [businesses] can connect the art world to a larger audience and the relationship is also, potentially, intellectually interesting,” says Emmanuel Perrotin (FL, F3). “At a time when the arts need as much funding as possible, what’s wrong with that?” Last year, one of his artists, Daniel Arsham, created three window installations for Dior in New York, Paris and Milan. Etchells says that the art world could “learn a lot” from the fashion industry.
There is a sense that a slowdown in luxury-goods buying may impact on the cheaper end of the art market, but the usual pre-fair optimism pervades as Frieze begins, especially at those galleries catering to the top 1% of wealth. “I don’t see a correlation at a certain level. If a collector is considering spending upwards of $100,000 on a work of art, they can most likely afford a new Burberry mac… it’s two different markets. But if the private-jet market declines, let me know,” Neil Wenman says.
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