Adding Artistic Flair to the Denim Category

Denim has been experiencing one of its cyclical upswings in popularity in the fashion world of late, and the category has been exhibiting both more creativity in design and increased collaboration activity than in the past. At the same time, artists are partnering for fashion collaborations of all kinds with ever-increasing frequency. So it makes sense that artists and denim labels are coming together for collections at an accelerated pace, although collaborations with artists are still relatively rare compared to some other property types.

Several examples over the past few years demonstrate the wide variety of creative execution that is possible when denim brands and artists join forces:

  • Just last week, the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a star of the 1980s New York art landscape, partnered with Lee for a collection of jeans, jackets, sweaters, overalls, and shirts. Some of the images integrated as standalone graphics or all-over prints come directly from Basquiat’s archives, while others use colors and graphics reminiscent of his work. Some pieces are also inspired by his fashion sense or what he wore in the studio, including overalls and a blazer and pant with a paint-splatter pattern. Separately, Basquiat’s work was featured in a collaboration last year with Australian brand Neuw Denim that included workwear jackets, embroidered jeans, and printed shirts. Basquiat is represented for licensing by Artestar.
  • Bráulio Amado, a Portuguese graphic designer and illustrator, and Unspun, a denim brand that markets custom-fit, 3D-printed pieces, announced their collaboration in late 2022. The collection used Jeanologia, an eco-friendly alternative to laser technology, and a waterless printing method to enhance the sustainability of the products. The three styles of jeans could be printed in one of three different patterns characteristic of Amado’s work, in a customizable thread color, with a choice of illustrations from the artist highlighted on the back pocket. Some of the proceeds from the $250 jeans benefited Planned Parenthood.
  • In summer of 2022, Finnish visual artist Linda Linko, who works with clients such as Penguin Books, Apple, Henzel (rugs), and Vimma (dresses and other apparel), paired with Hiut Denim as the brand’s fourth collaboration in its Artist Series. She painted sheets of ecru-colored denim fabric with her signature bold colors and shapes, and those were made into 20 pairs of one-of-a-kind custom jeans featuring all-over fine art, with a choice of four styles each for men and women. The $430 pieces were sold raw, meaning they will fade over time. Hiut is known for its small-batch, sustainable production.
  • In fall of 2020, eight different artists were part of a collaboration involving denim-centric brand Diesel and the Tokyo streetwear concept store GR8. Each of the artists, who hailed from Japan and other countries, contributed a small capsule collection involving their graphics printed onto Diesel pieces, all curated by Kubo, the owner of GR8. The total of 36 items, all unisex, included denim jeans and jackets as well as sweats and t-shirts, and the art styles ranged from calligraphy and illustration to photography and typography. The artist and artist-led brands highlighted in the initiative (some of them partnerships between multiple artists) were #FR2, Cali x Yuta Hosokawa, Detto K and his brand D.TT.K., Jun Inagawa, Koji Ueda c/o Kosuke Kawamura, Neglect Adult Patients, Revolver (with which Detto K is also involved), and Rogic.
  • Conceptual artist Jaffa Saba partnered with True Religion in early 2020 for an upcycled and bespoke couture collection. Materials including factory defects and overstock were used to create new denim pieces such as jeans, jackets, bucket and bomber hats, shorts, shoes, lighters, and tote bags. The look featured lots of layering and stitching; one pair of jeans featured pockets stitched across the entire piece. The collection was sold exclusively through Selfridges.
  • Back in 2019, Swiss-born artist Blanda Eggenschwiler paired with AG Jeans in a collaboration meant to celebrate AG’s completion of an ambitious initiative to dramatically reduce water usage. The collection featured black-and-white pen-and-ink-style line drawings on eggshell-white denim pieces including jeans, jackets, and skirts, as well as cotton t-shirts and sweats. The imagery celebrated water, sustainability, the female form (a theme for which Eggenschwiler is known), and the holistic nature of the human experience.

Some denim brand pairings with artists have focused on placing imagery only on accompanying pieces such as t-shirts and tote bags rather than on the denim pieces themselves. Such was the case with the 2022 collection between Australian label Outland Denim, known for its artist collaborations, and Australian artist Jakey Pedro, whose collection featured t’s and totes highlighting his pencil sketches with pops of color.

Meanwhile, fashion collections from labels not closely or solely associated with denim also often feature a few denim pieces as part of a broader fashion array within their artist collaborations. For example, photographer Steven Meisel’s partnership with Zara in September 2023, which incorporated some of his fashion illustrations, included pieces made of or detailed with leather, faux fur, cotton, and other materials, as well as denim.

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