The limited-edition Hennessy V.S. featuring a design by American graffiti artist Futura.

Art Meets Luxury Branding

Bridge of sighs.

Maurice Hennessy, the brand ambassador for Hennessy cognac, has his office in the same space as his grandfather’s painting studio. Part of the LVMH group, Hennessy has recently launched a cognac whose bottles bear the art of graffiti artist Futura. Mr. Hennessy likened the process behind making an excellent bottle of cognac to that of creating a visual masterpiece: “Cognac is a small-quantity production, which takes years to make, made by artists of blending and distilling: why should we not associate the two?”

The line between luxury and art has, historically, been blurred since antiquity, when opulently adorned villas and palaces were decorated with richly painted frescoes and beautifully cast bronze statues. A recent collaboration, however, between the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, formerly the Tsar’s Winter Palace, and a new luxury hotel in St. Petersburg could, to some, be a step over that line. The museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, and the hotel’s general manager announced an agreement in December 2012, confirming that the aptly named State Hermitage Hotel had been designed with the help of museum staff. Not only would the spaces within the hotel evoke the museum’s many beautifully restored period rooms, but even such details as the porcelain and staff uniforms would also relate to the museum’s collections. To more sedate tastes, this collaboration may seem over the top. But for others, an opportunity to occupy such sumptuously modelled spaces might be just the ticket. Despite what one might think, the new Hermitage Hotel is part of an increasing number of collaborations between the art world and luxury brands. Part of the discussion is what each party might gain from such an arrangement.

Sarah McCrory, director of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, recently observed: “Collectors are part of the demographic that many luxury brands are trying to reach … being associated with an intelligent, contemporary, and forward-thinking creative world looks good for their brands.” Commercial entities use art as a bridge to break into another potential client base. This formula has certainly proven successful for Louis Vuitton, which regularly collaborates with individual artists, commissioning original works with which to decorate their stores as well as to create designs for their iconic handbags. In the past decade, Louis Vuitton has worked with Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami—whose collaboration was probably the most commercially successful—and most recently Yayoi Kusama, with her flamboyant polka dots. When asked about “straddling the line” between the world of luxury brands and art, Murakami said, “I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line.”

It would seem that the most successful collaborations are those in which artists do not significantly change their strategies, staying true to the essence of their work. Jeff Koons is often seen as an artist who has deftly negotiated the luxury world in his art. After a number of series that comment on life’s luxuries, he took the next step in 2010, designing an “art car” for BMW. His design was applied to a race car, which was displayed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and later included in a race at Le Mans, France.

Such collaborations always hold the potential to backfire. Diego Della Valle, one of the owners of Italian luxury brand Tod’s, faced significant criticism when he offered to pay €25-million for restoration work on Rome’s Colosseum. Critics felt that he might take the opportunity to cover the scaffolding for the work in advertisements for Tod’s. Legal wrangling ensued over the use of the Tod’s and Colosseum logos, but this was settled, and work has begun on the three-year project. Bulgari faced similar criticism for its significant billboards covering the Bridge of Sighs in Venice during its restoration in the last decade.

Despite public outcry over the “sale” of Italy’s patrimony, these luxury brands offered significant funds toward the protection of these buildings. It is undeniable that the continued production of art requires a fecund market and constant topping up of funds. The fashion world represents a new realm of collectors who may never invest in a significant number of prints or paintings but may collect a “work of art” in the form of a handbag or bottle of cognac.


Post Date:

June 26, 2013