Kering

State of the Art: When Stella Met Ruscha

Ed_Ruscha_for_Stella_McCartney_Stellacares_fashion_editorial_Harley_Weir_Winter_2016.jpgStella McCartney’s F/W 2016 Campaign

This season, Stella McCartney teamed up with legendary artist Ed Ruscha on her Fall 2016 ad campaign. Shot by Harley Weir and starring Amber Valetta, the ads showcase the label’s core tenant of cruelty-free fashion, with Ruscha’s unmistakable typeface spelling out “No Leather, Feathers, or Fur,” “Veg Out,” and “Meat Free” across the images. This brilliant collaboration sets McCartney apart from her luxury rivals and lower-tier imitators as the undisputed queen of “vegetarian” fashion, and gives her heavyweight artistic credibility, when her famous friends and celebrity clients can sometimes overshadow her importance as a designer and fashion innovator. The campaign is also an unprecedented project between designer and artist that spawns a new chapter in the fashion-as-art debate: can fashion advertisements be art?

The collaboration was born when Ed Ruscha and Stella McCartney appeared together on an episode of Sundance’s Iconoclasts. The two are very different at first glance: Ruscha is a 79-year old Oklahoma-born American Artist whose text-centric art routinely passes through the doors of major auction houses, and is synonymous with a wry west coast cool; while McCartney is a British fashion designer forging a Kering-backed empire of sustainable fashion, and spawn and pal of celebrity. But the two come together seamlessly on the desire to communicate a large, important idea in a pithy and accessible way. Stella has the message, and Ruscha has the medium.

Fashion label-contemporary artist collaborations are nothing new, and the list of ventures is long and varied. Typically, however, we see artist collaborate on the design of a piece of apparel or accessory –  like Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, and Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton; Sterling Ruby for Raf Simons and Dior; and, most recently, Alex Katz for H&M. This territory is not new for Stella McCartney, who collaborated with Jeff Koons on rabbit pendants in the mid-2000s, which are now going for a pretty penny at auction.

The McCartney-Ruscha partnership, however, as an ad campaign, is a different animal. The closest thing to this kind of collaboration was when David Lynch photographed a campaign for Christian Louboutin in 2008. No other major artist has engaged in the advertising process so explicitly, and so adjacently to his own canon: the McCartney collaboration is an interesting extension of Ruscha’s work as a pop artist, and as an artist concerned with consumer culture, Hollywood, and, in fact, advertising itself.

McCartney’s label was one of the first ‘environmentally friendly’ labels when it was founded in 2001, eschewing the use of leather, fur, and feathers, and promoting organically grown fibers and sustainable fashion. Today, that message tends to be overlooked, and Stella McCartney is seen only as a British luxury label favored by celebrities and Team GB. With sustainability becoming a much-discussed topic and high priority within the fashion community, now is the perfect time for McCartney to remind the fashion world and its consumers of her pioneering status in the field and capitalize on the industry’s priority shift. The best way to remind conscious buyers of the brand’s tenants is visually, which is where the collaboration with Ruscha comes in. Ruscha’s paintings typically feature a word or phrase in a signature blocky font. His deadpan works frequently play on the tension between the opaque and the obvious, and modern life and nature, as many of the words are set against a landscape.

In the McCartney ads, however, the message is nothing but clear and not in the least ironic – Ruscha spells out the line’s ethos and reminds viewers of the label’s status as the only “vegetarian” luxury brand. This explicit visual reminder does wonders for repositioning McCartney as a model for companies seeking to create ethical fashion, and as the crown jewel in the Kering stable in terms of sustainability, which is one of the conglomerate’s biggest corporate goals. It also lends the label gravity and serious artistic credibility, and situates it as unique among labels as a pioneer in the advertisements-as-art field. This is also an interesting opportunity for Ruscha, allowing him to play in the advertising medium for a worthy but ultimately commercial cause, instead of lending tongue-in-cheek critique of consumerism from ultra-expensive paintings.

I’m of the opinion that fashion advertisements are art. They’re a perfect distillation of a brand’s meaning in a few photographs, and thus often more narratively full and than an editorial photograph. The McCartney-Ruscha partnership is the first of its kind, and I imagine an important milestone in positioning advertisements in a more artistic, and less commercial, light. I hope to see more to come – how about Tracy Emin for Gucci?

 

 

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The Triumph of The Non-Designer: Justin, Alexa and More

Alexa Chung and Justin O’Shea, fashion’s most exciting new designers, are not designers at all, depending on whom you ask.

 

Justin O’Shea, former buying director of MyTheresa and the coolest, most hard-boiled guy in the fashion business, debuted his first collection for luxury menswear label Brioni this month to enormous success: the ultra-cool collection for men and women was sexy, immaculate, and exuded an almost Tom Ford-level of slickness. O’Shea has taken an uncompromisingly “lad” approach to the brand – Brioni logoed beer cans were omnipresent at the event and Metallica fronts the new ad campaign – but in a way that’s sophisticated, self-aware, and almost retro without seeming kitchy. He’s proven himself to be a fantastic creative director, even if he is not a typical choice to helm a luxury label, because he gets brand so completely.

O’Shea’s brilliant debut was the perfect backdrop for Alexa Chung to announce that she is launching her own clothing line in the spring of 2017, to the desperate, raucous joy of young women everywhere. The brand will encompass everything from denim to eveningwear, and follows on the heels of Chung’s multiple collaborations with a wide range of brands – she’s collaborated on design for Marks & Spencer, AG Denim, Madewell, Maje, and cosmetics brand Eyeko; and has served as a brand ambassador for Mulberry, Longchamp, and most recently Gucci, when she temporarily took over the label’s Snapchat. But instead of drawing a parallel between Chung and O’Shea, rock-and-roll, much beloved fashion outsiders, The New York Times wondered if Chung might, with her long-hoped for eponymous line, become Britain’s Tory Burch – a theory predicated upon the fact that neither woman were trained as designers.

Chung and Burch could literally not be more opposite. This comparison is incredibly sexist (O’Shea got no press so insulting), out of touch, and the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard for several reasons, most egregiously so because Tory Burch is anti-fashion in the way that Michael Kors is: it’s what upper middle class women wear when they want to be invisible and embarrassingly nondescript; it’s a giant empire of nothing. Alexa Chung is all about individuality and instincts when it comes to her personal style and the kinds of things she has designed and endorsed in the past. Why on earth would she want to be anything, anything like Tory Burch? In terms of contemporaries, the Times should have likened her, obviously to Justin O’Shea; or to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, who studied to be architects; or Humberto Leon and Carol Kim of Opening Ceremony and now Kenzo, who started as retailers before they were co-creative directors. These “untrained” designers, unlike Tory Burch, create fashion, and not logoed lifestyle brands for people with french manicures. Secondly, Chung has had a string of collaborative design experiences, more than any other public figure, and is incredibly well-situated to take on her own line – she is much better positioned to design than Burch was when she launched Tory Burch on a dark day in 2004.

Grouping Chung and Burch together for being “untrained” is not only bizarre, but simultaneously incredibly out of touch with the direction in which fashion creation is moving: it’s not just the realm of trained designers anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. It will become even less so after the smashing success of the likes of Leon and Kim at Kenzo and O’Shea at Brioni, Kate Moss for Topshop, and even Victoria Beckham’s eponymous line. Truly exceptional fashion is about instinct, which thoughtful and innovative stylists, retailers, bloggers and brand managers have in abundance — perhaps more than some trained designers do.  Personal style and understanding of brand has become the new and most important qualifications for design, and for this Chung and O’Shea are insanely qualified. Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada were not technically trained, and many designers today, including Raf Simons, do not sketch. Bloggers like Vanessa Hong and Elin King, whom I love, and Rumi Neely, whom I used to like as a teen but about whom I am now ambivalent, have all started fashion labels. Olivia Palermo, Erika Bearman, Lauren Santo Domingo, Miroslava Duma, and Maja Wyh should all be next. Some of these women, I’m sure, are afraid of the celebrity-label brushoff, and/or the Rachel Zoe hyped-line-that-isn’t-really-very-good effect; I think Chung’s foray into the arena will help dispel these fears and help further validate a “celebrity” line, when the celebrity in question is qualified.

If anyone, Alexa Chung should have been likened to Elsa Schiaparelli, who was a little offbeat, had many famous friends, and an innate knack for knowing what looked good. Untrained in the traditional sense, Schiaparelli went on to become one of the most iconic designers of the 20th century. This kind of path is one that makes sense for Chung, and should be aspirational to both trained and untrained creators of fashion alike – not a bulky, empty empire. If that’s not clear to the New York Times, I question their relevancy, and  their conception of success in the fashion world.