The art of collaborating

9 Oct 2018

Whether it’s Louis Vuitton and the Chapman brothers or Damien Hirst and Converse, brand and artist collaborations are becoming the new norm. In the US, brands will spend more than $1bn on cultural sponsorship this year and a large chunk of this will be based around artistic partnerships. This could involve a brand creating special artwork for a product, doing a mural advertising campaign, or even championing new artists.

Brands collaborating with artists can gain credibility with customers, make a political statement and, ultimately, become a part of art history. We’ve taken a look at five ways brands can ensure artist collaborations are an enduring success.

Choose wisely


Before browsing through the portfolios of emerging artists or hiring an art consultant, brands need to identify exactly why they want to collaborate with an artist and what they can expect from it. There are countless forms of collaboration and picking the right one is only possible if brands know their end goals. Do you want to make your brand more known among a younger audience or within artistic circles? If this is the case then developing a product with an artist who is praised by millennials is probably a better idea than sponsoring the Venice Biennale. Gucci’s partnership with Trevor Andrew to design a streetwear collection is a great example of how an established brand can win the hearts of younger customers, with these collaborations giving it an instant bond with the respective artist’s Instagram followers.

Have clear, consistent messaging

©Louis Vuitton

One of the biggest risks for a brand and artist collaboration is to be misunderstood by your audience. This is what happened to Louis Vuitton when the brand launched Masters in 2017, a capsule collection in collaboration with Jeff Koons, with controversy starting way before the collection even hit Louis Vuitton’s stores. Koons revisited famous Louis Vuitton bags, luggage and accessories by printing reproductions of some of the most famous paintings of artists such as Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Rubens. But the meaning of the collaboration was lost on followers of the brand, who expressed confusion over the aesthetics of the bags. Were they genuinely fresh takes on masterpieces or items that would be better suited to touristy gift shops? Was Jeff Koons trying to question mass tourism in cultural institutions, or did he just want to make this collaboration a commercial success by featuring mainstream paintings? The fact we’re asking so many questions is a great indicator of why the collaboration failed; you must have clear, consistent brand messaging if an artist collaboration is to bare fruit.

Make a long-lasting impact

©Galeries Lafayette

Rather than creating limited edition products, brands can have a more long-lasting impact on the art world by helping emerging artists to find work. This could come through sponsoring exhibitions at museums or galleries, starting a fund to help young artists, or co-hosting shows to help them share their work with the public. French department store chain Galeries Lafayette’s Lafayette Anticipations foundation not only exhibits artwork by young artists but also offers them resources so they can create. A studio has been built inside the flagship store to welcome artists while they work on their upcoming shows.

Don’t cut corners


When brands and artists decide to work together on a short deadline, using existing artworks can sometimes be a more flexible option. But reproducing an artist’s work should be done with caution, and the artist’s full approval must be sought out. Earlier this year, H&M photographed models in front of a street art piece by REVOK for a marketing campaign, without asking the artist for permission. REVOK’s lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to H&M, requesting the posters to be removed. When H&M decided to sue the artist, all it gained was anger and isolation from the street art community, especially on social media. Therefore, it’s imperative not to cut corners and to do things as faithfully as possible. Communication with artists is everything.

Make art more accessible

©Museo del Barrio

Art comes to life in front of an audience, so why not help as many people as possible get access to it? Brands can sponsor museums, art centres and artistic events by offering their customers free access to shows, concerts and performances. This is exactly what Target did by funding hundreds of exhibitions and cultural events in locations such as New York’s Opera as well as the city’s Museo del Barrio museum. More than 100 institutions benefitted from this sponsorship program and were offered free or reduced entry. For a brand with a large audience who may not have easy access to art, democratising art is a powerful way to engage with customers and show you really care about the industry.