Spotlight on: Grayson Perry’s fashionable collaborations

Grayson Perry as Claire with his Louis Vuitton trunk, photo Terry Pengilley at independent.co.uk

If we divert our attention away from the proliferation of designer/fashion chain collaborations, and give a moment to the somewhat more considered though less commercially driven (in most cases at least on the surface) collaborations between fashion brands and visual and conceptua artists, we may find ourselves both enriched and enlightened by the experience. I am sure to not only speak for myself when I admit to having felt a bit ashamed and empty following buying into fast fashion designer fixes. For debate on this topic, enter through Brenna’s Fashion Byte on the Missoni Target collaboration.

In particular, this autumn, London is abuzz with new works, exhibits and collaborative projects between British artist Grayson Perry, and the British Museum and Louis Vuitton. Grayson Perry is one of Britain’s most visible and prolific contemporary artists, known equally for his array of witty and sometimes satirical ceramics, prints and textile works as he is for his female alter ego, Claire. By its nature, his work often addresses clothing, identity and the processes of making, and last winter I was honoured to have him speak at the Royal Academy’s Fashion Salons which I co-curated. Earlier this year I posted on my visit to Perry’s exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery, in which historic dress, museum collections and clothed identities were prevalent themes. This autumn, the Turner Prize winning artist, stages a new work The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, at the British Museum. The museum’s exhibition page describes it:

Grayson Perry (b. 1960), The Rosetta Vase, 2011. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Grayson Perry curates an installation of his new works alongside objects made by unknown men and women throughout history from the British Museum’s collection.

He’ll take you to an afterlife conjured from his imaginary world, exploring a range of themes connected with notions of craftsmanship and sacred journeys – from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture.

Vases covered in witty captions, elaborate tapestries and the centrepiece, a richly decorated cast iron coffin-ship, will be displayed alongside objects from the past two million years of culture and civilisation. From the first great invention, the hand axe, to a Hello Kitty pilgrim hand-towel, you will discover a reality that is old and new, poetic and factual, and funny as well as grim.

‘This is a memorial to all the anonymous craftsmen that over the centuries have fashioned the manmade wonders of the world…
The craftsman’s anonymity I find especially resonant in an age of the celebrity artist.’

Grayson Perry RA, Turner Prize winner

There are an array of events, screenings and lectures organised in conjunction with the exhibit, a few of which I’ll be attending and reporting on after the 11th of Novemrber.

Coinciding with the exhibition, is Perry’s stint as guest artist at the London Louis Vuitton flagship store, where he has designed a Vuitton trunk as shrine on display in the store’s gallery space. Read more about this collaboration here, and also read the Independent’s articles on other art/fashion collaborations of note. We could be critical of this venture, and let cynicism make us deem it a thinly veiled marketing ploy, but in its format and relatively specialist milieu we can better appreciate the project’s intelligent and interesting aspects. Perry’s female alter ego, Claire, professes an affinity for the iconic luxury of the Vuitton bag, and as an artist engaged with notions of the archive, the shrine and the wardrobe, the use of LV as a medium so to speak is alluringly clever. The trunk he designed for the LV project was made by the company’s craftspeople to Perry’s specifications, and was inspired in part by his notion of both a “portable shrine” and a vessel for one’s wardrobe.

Potter Grayson Perry, in a cotton and multi-coloured crochet frockette designed by the Central Saint Martins graduate, Martine Svetlova, photo: telegraph.co.uk

Even more exciting is that Perry annually commissions dresses for Claire’s wardrobe from among design students at Central St. Martins. This year’s winning outfits are displayed along with the trunk in the exhibit. Supporting young designers, and collaborating with the fashion stars of tomorrow is a practice to be commended, so all the more reason to check out both Perry’s installation at the British Museum and his trousseau at Louis Vuitton.

And just in case you are still feeling like shopping, you can see some pictures of the Versace for H&M collection here so you can decide what to buy before lining up outside the store…

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