For most art fusion collaborations, brands choose one of two approaches: they develop a group of related products—the ‘one-of-many’ approach—or an exclusive ‘many-of-one’ product. Fashion brands like Comme des Garçons, Louis Vuitton, or Lacoste have favoured the ‘one-of-many’ choice, while brands like Evian, Absolute Vodka, or Domeau & Pérès have been known for limited-edition, art fusion releases of a single product. As long as the art fusion collaboration has a relevant story to tell, socially or culturally, we believe there’s no right or wrong.
Developing a narrative based on a collection of pieces (the ‘one-of-many’ approach) may sound like an easier task. But don’t be fooled. It takes skill and artistic vision to make this work. Each piece of a collection, like a character in a story, needs to embody a unique personality or the collection as a whole will fall flat. Be it a jacket, pair of sneakers or pants, a chair or a breadbox – each has to be able to go beyond its fundamental function and form. Good design of form and function is still essential, of course, but in order to nourish a sense of longing, the intention needs to go deeper.
If effective storytelling is measured by its emotional impact, then an art fusion collaboration consisting of a collection of pieces is no different. It needs to create a momentum we can’t help but to gravitate towards, to experience it and thus to own it. In a recent The New York Times Style Magazine article titled Perfect Pairing, Bruce Pask provides as colourful a commentary on the fall/winter 2014 collaboration of Belgian designer Raf Simons and the Los Angeles artist Ruby Sterling as the collaboration itself. “Together, they showed that fashion can become a work of art in its own right,” Pask notes. In this one-off collection for the label, presented in place of Simons’s eponymous line, Ruby decked out the runway with his signature large-scale sculptures. Shaped like red-white-and-blue fangs dripping from the ceilings, the artwork set the scene for the colorful clothes: khaki trench coats artfully appliquéd with brightly colored fabric strips and various articles emblazoned with words like “father” and “Abu Lang,” which Ruby explained stood for the phrase “abusive language.” “We loaded a lot of things into the clothing, both in terms of iconography and also our own path,” Ruby added.
On the other hand, Evian has been building its brand strategy one story at a time, by releasing a limited-edition single bottle, “Eau Couture,” annually for the last seven years. Evian’s narrative stands for beauty and purity. Their latest collaboration, with Lebanese fashion designer Ellie Saab, serves as an additional tribute to these qualities. “We are thrilled to see our bottle dressed by Elie Saab,” remarked Evian’s president, Martin Renaud. “This masterful artist designed a unique, subtle lace gown for our glass limited edition that elegantly underlines its purity while capturing how unique and precious the Evian water is.” For Evian, the ‘many-of-one’ approach has proven highly effective. Maintaining continuity and consistency has been essential; however, due to its innovative approach, Evian’s art fusion collaborations never feel repetitive–only refreshingly beautiful, each and every time.
What’s the rule of thumb? If brands decide to use art fusion collaborations based on the ‘many-of-one’ approach, then continuity and consistency are key. After all, building a narrative over a period of time demonstrates maturity and confidence. But be warned: missing a beat is that much more noticeable in this approach. On the other hand, while the ‘one-of-many’ approach requires less long-term commitment and offers more flexibility, the collection’s narrative needs to engage instantly. ‘One-of-many’ can be much less forgiving, but also tremendously rewarding.
Stay tuned for our next post that will focus on how to plan a successful collaboration.