Down to a Fine Art

The concept of “artist series,” consisting of in-and-out collections featuring the imagery of a variety of artists, has been with us for decades. But the strategy is certainly experiencing a surge in recent years. Apparel, accessories, and footwear are the most frequent sectors where artist series take place; however, marketers in a growing number of categories are employing the technique as well.

A handful of the many recent initiatives in this space illustrate the trend:

  • Puma announced a collection this month with Frida Kahlo, which is part of its new Female Artist Series by Puma initiative to celebrate equality and empower female voices. The series is set to include both classic and emerging artists, with products sold in Puma stores, on, and in select retailers globally. Puma’s past initiatives have included the Africa Artist Series a decade ago, which paired the African soccer teams Puma sponsors with artists from each country, including Godfried Donkor (Ghana), Hasam & Husein Essop (South Africa), Bartelemy Toduo (Cameroon), and Ernest Duku (Ivory Coast), among others.
  • relaunched its Sporti private label swimwear line this month with a series of collaborations, including with artists Tyler Wallach, aLILscribble, Mat Chavez, Damian Orellana, and She Is This. The initiative marks the first time Sporti has entered into a collaboration. The first artist drop, centered on Tyler Wallach, includes colorful swimwear and accessories designed with LGBTQ+ swimmers and their allies in mind. Proceeds go to the It Gets Better Project.
  • This past March, Psycho Bunny introduced an artist series consisting of t-shirts integrating original artworks by Jason Naylor, Mich Miller, Matt Cliff, Kyle Confehr, and Surge. The images highlighted some of the local communities where Psycho Bunny has stores, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Miami, with each artist creating an image for a location with which they have a close connection. The label has worked with artists in the past for individual programs.
  • Craft beer brewers often use artist series as a component of their quest to continuously offer small batches of something new. New Belgium’s 2022 series includes Monique Aimee and Cymone Wilder, who created limited-edition glasses, bottle openers, and posters, while Spring House Brewing Company debuts new Artist Collaboration beers monthly featuring images from independent local and regional artists on the cans. The brewers join a number of other alcoholic beverage makers who have put together artist series over time; champagne marketer Taittinger had a long-running series from 1983 to 2016, featuring artists including Victor Vasarely, Roy Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Amadou Sow, André Masson, Hans Hartung, and Imaï, among others. In 2021, it offered offered the full collection of 13 bottles, some of which had become scarce, as a complete set for £5,300 ($6,477 at today’s currency conversion rate).
  • Fit + Fresh, a maker of insulated lunch bags and related products, partnered with Jewel Branding and Licensing this spring to create a palette program of hand-painted lunch kits (insulated lunch bag, tumbler, food containers, and reusable ice pack) featuring the artwork of Alja Horvat, Kendra Dandy (Bouffants & Broken Hearts), Cat Coquillette (CatCoq), and Jessi Raulet (EttaVee).
  • A number of pro sports teams have paired with local artists for collections of t-shirts or other products that feature the artists’ takes on logos, mascots, or other team iconography. For example, MLB’s Minnesota Twins partnered with five local artists this season for a t-shirt giveaway featuring reimagined logos, with the first 5,000 fans at one Tuesday game each month receiving a shirt. Artists, all based in the state, included illustrator Alxndr Jones, illustrator Lindsey Made This, designer Emiko Rainbow, pop culture designer Sotagraphics, and muralist Jimmy Longoria.
  • Camber Coffee features a different artist each year as part of its ongoing artist series. In 2022, the creator highlighted is Jhonny Núñez of Colombia. The artwork is found on a limited-edition range of coffee packages, a mug, a jigsaw puzzle, and other items.
  • Gap’s artist series features collections of t-shirts, typically with about 8 to 20 SKUs per artist, in a dedicated online shop. Some of the artists currently highlighted include Frank Ape, Bailey Elder, Demit Omphroy, Yen Ospina, Lauren Martin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring.
  • The Disney Theme Parks have an artist series available in their in-park stores that consists of t-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks, hats, and other products sporting images created by some of their in-house artists and other Disney employees from around the world. The artwork reimagines the company’s characters, especially Mickey Mouse and the other Disney classics. Some of the artists involved have included Bret Iwan, Deborah Salles, Rafael Faria, and Nanako Kanemitsu.
  • Life is Good partnered last year with five artists, all of whom convey optimistic messages that align with Life is Good’s positioning. Each artist created an original and exclusive t-shirt design that integrated the Life is Good brand name. Artists involved with the venture included poet Atticus Poetry; pop artist DONKEEBOY; Jamaican illustrator Melissa Koby; L.A.-based brothers Shelby and Sandy, known for their bright colors; and Steffi Tsai, a nature-inspired illustrator and muralist.
  • The NBA is celebrating its 75th anniversary season in 2021-2022, and paired with Bleacher Report to create an artist series in which five creators produced original artwork inspired by the league, each of which was then translated into hand-signed giclée prints in editions of 75. A capsule collection of apparel spotlighted all five artists’ images. The artists included Sue Tsai, who also curated the collection; comic book illustrator Frank Miller; conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas; luxury jeweler Greg Yuna; and vintage upcycler Pat Peltier and his label Bandulu.
  • The Surf Station, a retailer of surfboards and related merchandise in Florida, has an artist collection of surfboards, t-shirts, caps, and mugs designed by artists including Justin Melton, Bobby Morgan, Brian Brown, Chase Berenson, Edward Jiminez, Kristina Cancelmi, Ryan Leonardy, and Karen Pedone.
  • The Funko Pop artist series adds an artistic take to vinyl character figures developed under the company’s many licenses, with examples including Batman, Marvel superheroes, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Disney classics, and WWE wrestlers. The unique reimaginings by unnamed Funko artists are typically retail exclusives for key company partners including Walmart and Target, or for the Funko Shop.
  • Champion Athleticwear debuted an artist series last year highlighting diversity, with four street artists from New York, Chicago, and Seattle participating. The first drop was based on the art of Ricardo Gonzalez, who uses typography as his medium, for a collection of hoodies, graphic tees, and shorts for men and women. The other artists were Steffi Lynn, Merlot, and neon artist Adam Fu. The collections were sold in Champs Sports and Footaction stores, as well as Champion’s physical and online shops.
  • WS Game Company (formerly Winning Solutions), a Hasbro licensee that makes high-end versions of the company’s classic Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley board games, launched an artist series of custom Monopoly editions by artists including Kathleen Keifer and Charles Fazzino.
  • Hot Sox’s artist series of socks for men and women is focused on classic artworks from the world’s leading museums. The many images in the collection include Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and “Starry Night,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Hokusai’s “Mt. Fuji Over a Lake,” Monet’s “Water Lilies” and “Houses of Parliament at Sunset,” Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon,” Klimt’s “Portrait of Emilie Floge,” Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Picasso’s “Old Guitarist,” and many more.
  • Athleta launched an Amplify Artist Series, consisting of quarterly limited-edition collections of products such as t-shirts, masks, or totes created by Black female artists. Proceeds from all the collections go toward nonprofits supporting BIPOC women and girls. The first capsule, in 2021, was with Kendra Dandy and consisted of limited-edition mask packs and graphic t-shirts to benefit Other artists in the series have included Melissa Koby and Morgan Harper Nichols.

This long list is just a tiny sampling of the wide world of artist series. Why are they so popular with consumer products marketers? They are a low-risk way for a brand to stay fresh and interesting by introducing new artist partners, while at the same time investing in those who prove popular by bringing them back again and again. They can attract new fans to both the brand and the artists, and offer continuous chances for promotion and publicity. They often create opportunities for a charitable component, localization, or a focus on supporting specific groups (e.g. LGBTQ+ or Black artists), all of which are important to brands today. And associating with an artist gives the brand a story to tell, which can strengthen their bonds with their fans and drive purchases.

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