In an unprecedented fashion world move, Calvin Klein has entered into a four-year agreement with the Andy Warhol Foundation that will allow the fashion company to license Warhol’s art across its collections and activations. Through 2020, Calvin Klein will have access to the full breadth of Warhol’s creations—including never-before-published works—and the ability to use them (mostly) how it pleases. Calvin Klein will financially contribute to the foundation’s endowment that provides grants for contemporary visual art. The news of the partnership follows the arrival of Calvin Klein’s art-obsessed chief creative officer, Raf Simons, who has made a habit of collaborating with artists like Sterling Ruby, Peter Saville, and the Robert Mapplethorpe Estate for his eponymous menswear brand. Simons’s first campaign for Calvin Klein, depicting models in CK underwear, was partially photographed at the Andy Warhol Foundation and featured Warhol’s works Skull (1976), Elvis 11 Times (Studio Type) (1963), Ambulance Disaster(1963–64), and Statue of Liberty (1962). The brand’s Spring 2018 runway collection also included Warhol prints, this time a series of images taken between ’63 and ’82, including two of Sandra Brant and Dennis Hopper.
“I’ve come to realize that Warhol’s genius goes much deeper than cheerful Campbell’s Soup paintings,” said Simons in a release. “He captured all sides of the American experience, including sometimes its darker sides. Warhol’s art tells more truths about this country than you can find almost anywhere else.”
This is not his first time partnering with the Andy Warhol Foundation, either. While Simons was the creative director of Christian Dior’s womenswear operation, he secured licensing rights for Warhol’s drawings for Dior’s Fall 2013 ready-to-wear collection. At the time, Style.com critic Tim Blanks described the whimsical shoe and floral embellishments on the Dior runway as “embroidered fragments that induced a fugue state of reverie (for Warhol fans, at least).” In the time since the Dior collaboration, the Warhol estate has added Uniqlo and Comme des Garçons to its list of collaborators.
What’s also true of today’s fashion world is that fashion and art are more intertwined than ever. At the Spring 2018 shows, you were hard-pressed to see a collection that did not reference art in some way, from designers interpreting the style of an artist herself to others partnering with artists on prints, set design, or specialty items. The invitations to Art Basel Miami Beach, which takes place next week from December 7 to 10, have already begun rolling in, and represent a 50-50 split between art world events and fashion ones. It’s not all quote-unquote exclusive takes on art, either. Uniqlo has a special range, SPRZ, that licenses art in all forms for T-shirts. Before collaborating with Louis Vuitton, Jeff Koons once made a bag with H&M. On Etsy, you can even buy a skirt with Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring printed across it.
The practice of calling upon artists established and on-the-rise has become so par for the course, you could argue that the luster fine art could bring to fashion is irreparably dulled. When everyone has an artwork printed on a T-shirt, what’s the value of that T-shirt? Or of the artwork, for that matter?
Calvin Klein’s innovative new partnership has potential to transform—or at least inspire change—in the way fashion deals with art. By embarking on a multiyear project, the brand has the opportunity to plumb the depths of the Warhol archive, to make interesting discoveries, to work with a scholar or historian, and to innovate in the way art is presented alongside fashion. It’s too soon to even detect the direction Calvin Klein will go with this opportunity, but Simons seems the right man for the job. He’s made his name collaborating with artists in unexpected ways and maintains a personal art collection. The Warhol folks seem to think he’s the ideal candidate, too. The foundation’s director of licensing, Michael Dayton Hermann, said in a release: “We are proud that Raf’s visionary work at Calvin Klein will unabashedly embrace all facets of Warhol’s work and generously contribute to the foundation’s endowment.”
We’d advise fans to keep a close eye on Calvin Klein’s many projects to see exactly how the Warhol effect takes form, particularly in its brick-and-mortar retail stores. When the brand’s Madison Avenue flagship in New York was redesigned earlier this year, the yellow paint job and scaffolding was declared “temporary.” Where better to kick off four years of Warhol projects than a dozen-odd blocks north of the original Factory?