Luxury brands are pre-empting the creations of artists and designers by commissioning their own projects. Does this undermine the philosophy of art — do such brands have a motive for such collaborations beyond PR for themselves? Some argue that commercial involvement need not be a commercial sell-out and that the artistic scope of such projects is ever-expanding. After all, the wealthy and powerful have been commissioning art since the Middle Ages and Renaissance times.
Billionaire rounds up four of the best recent collaborations featuring artists and designers sponsored by luxury brands.
Ruinart — Jaume Plensa
Renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa collaborated with Ruinart on a sculpture that pays tribute to Dom Thierry Ruinart, uncle of the Champagne house’s founder. Plensa is best known for his oversized human figure sculptures — heads or entire bodies sprouting from the ground — made of cast iron, bronze, or marble and weighing many tonnes each.
Plensa’s latest artwork is a commission from Ruinart, which invites one artist annually to give his or her interpretation of the values and heritage of the house. Plensa was drawn to Ruinart’s origins, particularly to Dom Thierry Ruinart, the uncle of the Champagne house’s founder, Nicolas Ruinart. The insightful Benedictine monk had predicted that the new “wine with bubbles” — produced in his native Champagne region and which the European royal courts cherished — had a bright future. Plensa wished to pay tribute to the scholar who had studied art, history and theology and published numerous texts in French, Latin and Greek. The result is a stainless-steel sculpture 2m tall and weighing 145kg, whose contours are formed from the signs and letters of eight different languages, thereby echoing the multilingual writings of Thierry Ruinart. Launched recently in Paris, the sculpture will travel throughout the year to the three Art Basel fairs worldwide and Frieze New York and London.
As part of the collaboration, Plensa also designed a box for a magnum bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, made by the historic workshops of Orfèvrerie d’Anjou. Consistent with his work of a mosaic of letters and numbers in cut metal, the frame of this box lets in light to reveal the bottle.
Fendi — Cristina Celestino
Fendi has history in this arena, having initiated the Craft Punk movement back in 2009. In 2012, Fendi invited Studio Formafantasma to develop Craftica, a collection made out of skin and leather left-overs. It also unveiled a retail space by designer and architect Johanna Grawunder in 2015. In December 2016, at Design Miami, Fendi sponsored Cristina Celestino’s Happy Room as a bright take on materiality, transforming fur into a design component.
“Fendi has always thought against straightforward vulgarity. In decontextualising fur, Cristina Celestino took away the status symbol. She used it as a new material,” says Silvia Fendi. “Fur is naturally soft; she gave it strength and solidified it.”
Celestino created a new special fur treatment under resin: seen in fur panels, the alternating and contrasting materials give the fur an almost frosted, 3D look. “The frosting of fur is almost a way to make it eternal, yet it adds a touch of lightness,” says Celestino. On the stand, one felt the softness of the fur through the resin, petrified yet sensual.
Louis Vuitton — Tokujin Yoshioka
In 2016, Louis Vuitton commissioned Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka to imagine the Blossom Stool. The Japanese designer started researching a four-foil motif and how he could best turn it into a natural structure. His approach is also symbolic, and a clear reference to the Louis Vuitton monogram with petals. Sculpted out of laminated wood and covered in leather, the four petals, similar in shape, compose a timeless structure. Cast aluminum with gold-chromed finish, the petals seem to be whirling, infinitely. As to whether form or function came first, Yoshioka says: “Neither shape nor function. I invent beyond forms, to create iconic objects that are universal and timeless.”
Perrier-Jouët — Andrew Kudless
For Champagne house Perrier-Jouët, San Francisco-based Andrew Kudless looked back at design history. “I was interested in the way that strands, fibres, branches and vines are at the basis of the Art Nouveau language, from paintings to architecture,” he says. Presented at Design Miami 2016, his Strand Garden unfolded as a standalone structure composed of three curved screens evoking tree trunks or vines. “The curving strand motif evokes nature and movement over time. I wanted to look at four of Perrier-Jouët’s emblematic materials — wood, chalk, glass and grapes — and see how I could create strands out of each one.”
The robotically milled oak tops of his interlocking benches evoke the Champagne industry’s riddling racks and wine presses, while the concrete of their legs has been specially treated to resemble the chalk that shelters the maison’s cellars and nourishes its vines. Finally, Kudless collected ground Chardonnay skins to 3D-print a burgundy-coloured ice bucket.