Designer Museums: Where Fashion Meets Fine Art

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / Feb 3 2016 / 19:48 PM

Establishing their own museums, luxury fashion houses are inciting a closer connection between the two creative worlds

Designer Museums: Where Fashion Meets Fine Art
Iwan Baan
Frank Gehry's innovative glass and steel structure pays tribute to the ethos of 19th century France

Art and fashion have never been mutually exclusive. Both worlds have a rich history of finding inspiration in each other. Recent efforts by leading fashion houses are bringing art and fashion enthusiasts together in an unprecedented manner.

Exhibitions such as the sell-out retrospective, Alexander  McQueen: Savage Beauty, which toured from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and high-profile crossover collections by artists eL Seed and Yayoi Kusama for Louis Vuitton, have further entrenched this relationship. Whether its shrewd marketing tactics or legitimate art curation, luxury fashion brands are establishing their own museums to showcase not only their rich heritage but also works of art from contemporary masters.

Important works of art in themselves, the museums built by luxury powerhouses are envisioned by world-famous architects, all applying their own unique design DNA to these prestigious projects. Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel designed the Fondation Cartier, a museum dedicated to multidisciplinary contemporary arts, which moved to Paris in 1994, a decade after its inauguration in Jouy-en-Josas, near Versailles.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton harnessed the creative genius of the internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, who created a cloud of glass and steel situated at the edge of Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne area on the western edge of Paris. In October 2014, the first phase of the foundation was unveiled to 400 guests from the business, art and fashion sectors. Since then, the Dhs500million structure, supported by LVMH and its chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault, whose personal collection includes the works of Andy Warhol and Henry Moore, has showcased notable artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Olafur Eliasson within the museum’s collections. This month, Fondation Louis Vuitton presents Accrochage 3, a multi-sensory project featuring some of the biggest proponents of popism in art and music.

Andy Warhol presides over Accrochage 3 at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Meanwhile in Italy, Fondazione Zegna was founded in late 2000 to preserve the rich cultural history of Trivero, and the Gucci Museo took over the century-old Piazza della Signoria in Florence in 2014. But it is Miuccia Prada - who’s enviable personal collection led her to establish the Fondazione Prada in 1993 with husband Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada - who has focused the arclights on Milan again.

Early last year, the Fondazione Prada unveiled the Milan extension to its original premises in Venice after seven years of construction. The Largo Isarco district in southern Milan has undergone a magnificent overhaul at the hands of visionary architect and planner Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA. Renovating seven buildings in a century-old distillery complex, his team created spacious exhibition halls and a breathtaking cinema house clad in mirrors, and opened Bar Luce designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson.

While the overhaul of the complex is understated, respect for old construction was inherent in Rem’s vision for the project. In a last minute decision, he decided to clad the entire exterior of the older structure in 24-karat gold leaf, leaving only the glass of the windows exposed. He would later explain that as his way of adding value to a seemingly mundane and simple element.

Rem Koolhaas's view on reviving the old factory complex in Southern Milan features a 24-karat gold-leafed 'haunted house' and a cinema camouflaged by mirrors

Dedicated to art, cinema and philosophy, its new home affords the Fondazione Prada a permanent exhibition space and has become known for collaborating with celebrated artists such as Thomas Demand, Dan Flavin and Steve McQueen. Conceived by the Fondazione Prada Thought Council, its current thematic exhibition Recto Verso (closing February 14th) explores the “back” – artworks that consciously foreground the hidden, concealed or forgotten. While the focus centres on Prada’s enviable collection, Bar Luce, inspired by Milanese cafés of the 1950s and ‘60s, has become “the” place to be seen with the city’s fashionable social set. - Pratyush Sarup

This article appears in the January/february issue of Harper's Bazaar Interiors.