The liaison between fashion and contemporary art has been continuously growing changing over the years.  Painters, photographers, visual artists, illustrators, performers and creative artists, are commissioned by top luxury brands of fashion and trendy stylists to create new collections, to design their websites, to redesign the concept of their stores, to bring elements of innovation to their catwalks, showrooms and fashion show or to contribute to publications.


This attraction between art and fashion is not totally new.  In 1930, the late-futurist painter Lucio Venna was commissioned to draft the sketches of the advertisement of Ferragamo’ shoes.  Gianni Versace used to commission works of art from artists such as Alighiero Boetti and Roy Liechtenstein for the launches of his collections.  But these were rather isolated events.


What has changed in recent years are both the dimension and the structure of the phenomenon. The connection between contemporary art and fashion is more and more widespread.  In other words, we are watching the “industrialization” of the relationship between contemporary art and fashion.


The immediate and more visible outcome of the transformation of this connection is the continuous birth of foundations dedicated to the arts and established by the owners of the top fashion brands.  The creation of these foundations is also thanks to the tax advantages derived from operating through a foundation and investing in the arts.


Beside the long time established foundations of top fashion luxury brands as Cartier, Prada, Fendi and Trussardi, new foundations linked to very well known fashion brands have recently appeared.  On the occasion of the first Contemporary Art Festival held in Faenza last May, a new Furla Foundation for Art was launched, as the natural development and the completion of a project started with the Furla Price for Art, established in 2000.  Located in a magnificent palace of the 18th century in Bologna, restored with contemporary solutions, the foundation hosts works of art of famous international artists, such as Kiki Smith and Joseph Kossuth, and of emerging Italian artists, such as Lara Favaretto, Eva Marisaldi and Sabrina Mezzaqui.  The foundation will be operational by the end of 2009, when the Biennale of Venice will be held.


Furla is one of the top Italian brands in the leather industry, a producer of handbags, shoes, small leather goods and belts handcrafted in Italy.  It is present in 64 countries with its 196 free-standing stores and in 9 countries with its subsidiaries (United States, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Australia, France, Spain, Germany and UK).


Another foundation, Fondazione Claudio Buziol, was also born last May.  Directed by Renzo di Renzo, the former director of Fabrica (the communication and innovation research center of the Benetton family) it is located in Venice, in an ancient historical building of the 18th century facing the Grand Canal.  It was founded by the family Buziol, creator and owner of the brand Replay, one of the top Italian brands for casual wear, reinterpreting the 50’s American style.


Perna Foundation, established in 2006 by Giovanna Palumbo Perna, the wife of Tonino Perna, businessman and collector, owner of IT Holdings, which controls top fashion brands such as Ferre’ and Malo, made its public debut in the exclusive halls of Villa Ruffolo at the Ravello Festival, on the Amalfi Coast, last June.  The exhibition, entitled "Mediterranean 2008", showcased works of art of 17 artists, all coming from Mediterranean countries, which narrate the richness and the complexity of their geographic area.


The dedication of the Perna family to the project is evident from the names of those on the committee for the foundation: Alanna Heiss, Director of P.S.1. Moma in New York, Vincente Todoli, Director of the Tate Modern in London, Marc Mayer, Director of the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, Paolo Colombo, former curator of the MaXXi in Rome and currently consultant for the Istanbul Modern and the Museum in Athens.


If industrialization of the relationship between contemporary art and fashion keeps on growing, the long time established foundations linked to the top brands of the fashion industry will likely changing their structure, aware of the importance of both creating new form of expressions and performing groundbreaking initiatives to promote their name and image.


As to the Prada Foundation, it is planning within 3 years to build a museum area covering more than 17,000 square meters in Milan, where the Luna Rossa’s headquarter offices are now located, through an investment of 25 million Euro.  This area, thought of as a showcase for any sort of work of art, will host new projects and works of art of the existing Prada collection, also related to cinema, design and architecture.  The architect Rem Koolhaas has been commissioned to lead the project and the artistic direction has been assigned to world famous curator Germano Celant.


As to Fondazione Trussardi, it set up an unusual temporary exhibition in Piazza del Duomo in Milan last July. For a month, two hours a day, videos and films of the most interesting emerging international artists have been projected on the hugest led screen in Europe, the led wall of 500 square meters of Palazzo dell’Arengario. The installation of temporary exhibitions in the city streets has in fact become the distinctive feature of this young and innovative foundation.


As to Fondazione Fendi, it staged a theatrical comedy in the marvelous frame of Circo Massimo in Rome last spring.  The Village People too performed on the stage.


On a separate but related note, new connections between fashion and art have shown up both on catwalks and in the collections of high fashion.  Many fashions designers, always looking for new inspirations, try to find them in arts, by using works of art to make their fashion shows unforgettable events and to turn their clothes into a work of art.


If the designer is going to use works of art protected by copyright to create its collection and sell the corresponding items within a certain territory for a certain duration, it could be necessary to enter into a license agreement with the artist or with the owner of the economic rights, if they are different.  It may be  necessary to obtain the artist’s previous consent in connection with its moral rights on the art work anyway, depending on the applicable law.


If the designer is going to use one-off works of art protected by copyright (especially for a fashion show or clothes), it could be preferable to sign a simpler agreement, setting forth only the amount to be paid to the artist and the general conditions for use of this work of art ( possible authorized alteration, quoting the name of the artist and so on).


Copying famous sculptures and placing them along the catwalks or reproducing on artwork images (famous paintings or photographs) on branded t-shirts without the previous consent of the artist are acts of infringement of the artist’ s copyright in those works of art, provided that these rights are still effective.


Sometimes having been too late to sign a license agreement or obtaining the right to use the work of art, designers have been forced to sign settlement agreements to avoid the bad publicity of a criminal or a civil action, not to mention the bad publicity should the outcome of any such action be a finding of infringement against the designer.  Normally the settlement requires the designer (i) to pay a lump sum to cover moral and economic damages of the artist and legal costs; (ii) to destroy the infringing goods and (iii) not to make any further use of the infringing items.  Needless to say, damages paid for previous unauthorized use are normally much higher than the fees that the designer would have paid had he requested a copyright license before reproducing the artworks.


In this regard, the assistance and the consultancy of specialized copyright attorneys are fundamental.  New contractual forms have to be shaped and customized for these new realities. Contracts need to be both more flexible and more clear in setting out the respective rights, consents and authorizations.


As to the foundations, traditional forms fit for traditional foundations have to be modified and reinvented according to the different purposes of the foundations established by the fashion industry to work with and in arts.


Selecting a copyright attorney with experience in these specific matters can help to avoid annoying surprises, save high costs for damages and avoid the risk of bad publicity.


Please visit Studio Legale Jacobacci & Associati for more information.