Collectors’ items

Fashion’s relationship with art is often viewed with suspicion, as if low-brow fashion is out to milk all the cultural cred it can.

“Of course, fashion is underwriting exhibition X and show Y,” the thinking goes; “of course, brand owners are opening art foundations right and left; they are trying to buy their way into creative legitimacy”. But is that true? Or does such thinking miss the point? For as much as fashion likes art, artists (and those who work with them) love fashion.

Such is the case this weekend as the well-dressed (participants and viewers alike) flock to the Frieze Art Fair in New York. Each evening has its parties and dinners. Collectors are in town to buy specific pieces, be they art or fashion.

New York gallerist Suzanne Geiss has already made her spring/summer fashion buys. “I’m really into the new designers at Valentino,” she says, “and I’ve dabbled with the new Saint Laurent. I’ve not fully gone there yet but I’m debating one of the long, long dresses. I did get one of the giant hats. Maybe I’ll debut it at Frieze.”

Geiss has worked on many fashion exhibitions in art spaces, from a Stephen Sprouse show at her alma mater Deitch Projects in 2009 to February’s “takeover” of her gallery by DIS Magazine in New York Fashion Week. Neither she nor her gallery stick to one genre: “I like to play dress up,” she says. “It’s pretty wide-ranging. Depending on how I dress, some people don’t even recognise me. I don’t know if it’s better to have an ever-changing style or a signature look.”

One of her favourite looks at the moment is a crushed velvet floor-length dress from last season by Junya Watanabe, worn with jazz shoes. “It feels a little Game Of Thrones, mixed with jazz age via Tokyo,” says Geiss. She clearly doesn’t fit the stereotype of the gallerist who only wears black.

It is an enthusiasm that designers reciprocate. “What I like in women who collect art is that their reactions and choices are less consumerist-driven,” says London-based fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic. “It gives us designers more freedom to create fantasy, rather than thinking constantly about making a dress at the right price that loads of people will buy.”

Valeria Napoleone with designer Osman Yousefzada

Valeria Napoleone, a London-based collector, says her wardrobe is dominated by pieces from Ilincic, Mary Katrantzou, Osman Yousefzada and Peter Pilotto. “Fashion came into my life long before art,” she says. “For the past three years, I’ve been wearing clothes by young designers from London and I really connect with them. Since I’ve started wearing them, I can’t go back.”

“I respond to cuts, to shape and to something that makes you look great and feel attractive,” she adds. “These designers maintain a conceptuality in the way they work but they are not designers whose clothes you hide yourself behind; they don’t conceal you. There are some designers I would not wear because I’d feel lost in their clothes.”

This focus on appearances is found throughout the art world. “The artists who have little money often dress the best,” says Emily King, a critic and curator who happens to be married to Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover. “They are visual people and they know what they are doing.”

King thinks the link goes beyond the vagaries of fashion. “I don’t think it’s as much fashion as it is clothes,” she says. “Someone like [British artist] Jeremy Deller is such a dandy but it’s not fashion. It’s dressing.”

Indeed, artists themselves often have a particular relationship with fashion. “My grandmother would always remind me how fastidious I was at the age of five,” says Francesco Vezzoli, who is preparing for his international retrospective later this month, opening across three venues: Maxxi in Rome, PS1 in New York and Moca in Los Angeles. “I had to choose for myself my outfits for the beach, and I always wanted matching armbands.”

Vezzoli’s choice of the moment is “a very, very old bottle-green Jil Sander leather jacket, Acne pale green sweatpants, Nike trainers and a Prada T-shirt.” Vezzoli has strong links with Prada, creating the Prada 24 Hour Museum in Paris for it in January. “I don’t care about the item, I care about the designer and his or her brain,” says Vezzoli. “Mrs Prada’s brain is beautiful, complex and challenging, just like her fashion.”

Vezzoli himself is serious about the importance of fashion – especially for the state of the Italian economy. “At the moment,” he says, “I think the fashion industry is the only one that can save my country from crisis.” Of course, the key players from that industry have all bought tables at the fundraising gala for Vezzoli’s opening on May 26.

Which brings us back to corporate sponsorship and donation. Such is the way that these two disciplines, art and fashion, are intertwined.

Junya Watanabe at

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