The entente between art and luxury is infinitely more than cordiale. The two have been dating for a while, but the relationship has recently gained in passion. Exactly thirty years ago, Cartier paved the way for contemporary art foundations that were funded by leading luxury names. More recently, in 2005, François Pinault, founder of Kering, filled the Palazzo Grassi in Venice with his personal collections. Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Prada have followed suit, each opening its own foundation. The latest example to date is the Fondation Louis Vuitton which stands inside the Jardin d’Acclimatation on the western edge of Paris.
Botox for luxury brands
This recent inauguration gave French broadsheet Le Monde a chance to analyse the question with Christophe Rioux, director of the luxury and creative industries school at Institut Supérieur du Commerce and a lecturer in economics at Sciences Po Paris. He began by explaining how “luxury needs art because it is part of a complex equation. Highlighting heritage and craftsmanship through the applied arts is no longer enough. Artistic creation instils something new and transgressive into luxury.” As Rioux points out, a brand’s biggest nightmare is to appear has-been. The economist even ventured the comparison with Botox: art gives luxury brands an instant shot of youth. “It injects soul, but a handbag will always be a handbag, and it is still how we see an object that gives it its value. However, in recent years we have observed how “tangible” luxury, where the value of the product is the product itself, is becoming less essential. The customer is looking for an experience too. He needs to feel he is an aesthete, on entering a store, for example.”
with the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, has made his dream of a crystal palace real.
In a similar vein, Rioux points to how haute couture shows have become performances, and how luxury maisons follow their customers by opening pop-up stores wherever contemporary art fairs are being held. Meanwhile, artists are commissioned to design products, create window displays or decorate the walls of luxury boutiques. “Sometimes to the point of losing all meaning,” scoffs Rioux.
A new form of vertical integration
He considers a foundation as the ultimate stage in a process that models brands as altruistic, and situates them within a context of giving. “From a communications point of view, launching a foundation is a spectacular move. Scope for communication has considerably widened over time. Whereas a double-page spread in a glossy magazine used to be luxury’s sole means of communication, below-the-line promotion, and later corporate patronage and events are now prominent. A foundation is part of this prestige-oriented schema. Luxury has applied to contemporary art industry’s method to control the production chain from A to Z. This is classic vertical integration.” As Christophe Rioux concludes, “with [the opening of] the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive of LVMH, has made his dream of a crystal palace real. This foundation is a metaphor for contemporary luxury. It is the apotheosis of ‘artketing’, exactly in line with brand strategy to make art a part of communication.”