There’s a real opportunity for retailers to transition into the world of art, in particular the exhibition. Why? Because people visit an exhibition, gallery or museum to evoke the senses; to feel, to think, to experience something new. Whether to relate to an artist, or unravel new meaning from their work, these venues represent destinations of cultural and emotional celebration. If brands can harness the essence of the exhibition to inspire similar emotional connectivity in their customers, then they are curating the perfect human experience.
The relationship between art and fashion is by no means a new one. Outlandish and avant-garde, timeless and often outrageous. Outfits that grace the catwalks are arguably pieces of artwork in themselves, and like art, often with political statements attached to them as a powerful tool to comment on topical social issues. The Council of Fashion Designers of America partnering with Planned Parenthood to raise awareness at New York Fashion Week in February is a fitting example of this. So, it can be said that the line between high-fashion and art is a fine one. The boundaries often blur. Or in the case of the collaboration, they completely overlap and intermingle to create something brilliant.
You only have to look at collaborations like Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the V&A in 2015 which broke the museum’s attendance record, enticing more than 480,000 visitors to the exhibition in five months. The popularity of it was so great that it even stayed open throughout the night during its final two weekends to keep up with the sheer demand. Then back in 2000, the Guggenheim Museum opened its doors to Giorgio Armani: A Retrospective. Museums are playing host to the designer as an exhibit. Welcoming them in as a piece of art.
Then of course there are product collaborations. In 2012, legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama joined forces with Louis Vuitton to create a collection inspired by her signature bold spotted pattern. As part of the launch, the infectious spots made their way to Selfridges in London where a concept store was transformed into an explosion of marvellous red polka dots.
Art meets retail.
So in the same way that museums can host the designer, retailers can transform their stores into the venue- the destination- where products are not only elevated to artistic status, but where visitors are awed and immersed by the entire brand exhibit. They come for the experience, maybe even leaving with a token of the visit.
Galeria Melissa, the Brazilian plastic shoe brand, is leading this field, designing their stores as quirky boutique galleries and futuristic light installations. Their stores in NYC, London and São Paulo were designed by artist Muti Randolph- the man behind the captivating light show ‘Beyond Vision’ at the 2016 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.
‘Art is about creating interesting experiences and should not be limited to museums and galleries,’ says Randolph. ‘Shopping should be an interesting experience. In fact, human experience in general should be as interesting as possible, no matter what you’re doing. This is what my work is all about.’
We like this thinking!
In a similar vein, Fortnum & Mason is currently collaborating with art collector Frank Cohen for the second year in a row, entitled ‘Fortnum’s X Frank’, exhibiting the work of Scottish artist John Bellany. Fortnum’s is creating cultural connections by association; a mutually beneficial relationship between retailer and artist, elevating both.
Apple has also opened it’s new Michigan Avenue store in Chicago last week, described by the brand as “a space for the next generation of creative pioneers to come together, connect, and share their talent.” As part of the launch Apple partnered with two local artists– a celebration of Chicago’s cultural, musical and artistic roots- where local hip-hop artist Saba performed and his lyrics were brought to life by typography artist Matthew Hoffman, spanning the outside of the store.
The collaboration kicks off the brand’s new plans for the store, including the ‘Today at Apple’ programming which is a series of skills-based talks and sessions that will benefit the local community- featuring a discussion with Hoffman on typographical art. Through a common appreciation of the arts- be it visual or the spoken word- the retail space transforms into a cultural venue, bringing the community together, leaving behind the store as a monetary transactional space. It now becomes a transactional hub of the sharing in talent and ideas.
These days, art is far more accessible. It’s certainly no longer just for the elite like in days gone by. The concept of retail space-turn-gallery, like an exhibition, has the appeal of being a flexible environment of changing and dynamic content; the curation of a sensorial, aesthetically immersive cultural experience. Meanwhile, artist takeovers have the ability to drive brand conversation, and when brand and artist are united in their principles and ideologies, it’s a powerful alliance, that becomes a conversation of authority.