Ready to Wear: After a Long Flirtation, Art and Fashion Have Wed

Artforum has become more open to fashion in recent years: it now runs ads from top fashion brands (Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton) and jewelry designers (Bulgari), though only in certain positions in the magazine, a decision it reportedly made only after much soul-searching, as Sarah Thornton wrote in her 2008 book, Seven Days in the Art World. The magazine occasionally runs articles about fashion, albeit only a very particular subset of it.

The Met has on tap for next spring a two-person show, combining the midcentury Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who collaborated frequently with Surrealist Salvador Dalí, with the contemporary superstar Miuccia Prada. Though a 2003 Schiaparelli show that Ms. Blum organized in Philadelphia was a hit—people still talk lovingly of an opening party replete with madcap outfits—it remains to be seen whether this forthcoming show will draw the same crowds as the exhibition of McQueen, whose extroverted designs and tragic biography were tailor-made for the museum blockbuster.

But while fashion shows may not be the magic bullet for art museums looking to draw crowds, many sectors of the art industry increasingly resemble fashion houses. In a nod to Warhol, contemporary artists’ studios are often described as factories, but a more apt comparison might be the ateliers of fashion designers, expertly crafting products at a variety of price points, including perfume and accessories for those who find four-figure dresses beyond their means.

Visiting the Gagosian storefront on the Upper East Side a year ago, The Observer overheard a woman asking a salesperson the price of a long marble bookshelf by the designer Marc Newson. “Oh, wow,” she said quietly, upon hearing the price. The saleswoman informed her that the store also stocked books by Mr. Newson. “They are $80.” Gagosian, as The Observer noted last month, recently dropped its Gallery surname in ads, becoming a brand that transcends art; the store now carries a line of bracelets by jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez.

And contemporary artists have frequently crossed into fashion in recent years. Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami have designed handbags for Louis Vuitton, and the latter’s touring retrospective featured an entire boutique from the French luxury brand. Earlier this year, a group of artists, including Damien Hirst and Enoc Perez, created bags for a Christie’s charity auction engineered by the Warhol-enamored collector Alberto Mugrabi.

Even among the downtown set, fashion is playing a role of sorts. Artist Emily Sundblad—Mr. Kelsey’s partner in the Lower East Side gallery Reena Spaulings Fine Art—hung a long Proenza Schouler dress on the wall in her recent show at the Algus Greenspon gallery in the West Village and donned the costume when performing at the gallery. And K8 Hardy has long been designing clothes. “Every article of clothing is so loaded with signifiers,” Ms. Hardy told The Times in 2009, sounding a lot like Ms. Opie.

Meanwhile, luxury labels have been appropriating the codes and content of the art world with ferocious speed. In 2008, Chanel commissioned architect Zaha Hadid to create a temporary gallery that the label filled with contemporary artworks and planned to tour around the globe; it stopped in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Central Park, but was stalled by the recession, before it could move on to London, Moscow and Paris.

Last week, when the CEO of Louis Vuitton, Yves Carcelle, announced that he would retire at the end of next year, he said that his next job would be as president of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, an art collection that will be housed in a $142 million Frank Gehry-designed museum in Paris.

As luxury brands embrace art, the market for vintage couture has also begun to develop along the lines of the art market, though the focus is, with a few exceptions, on work from the 1970s and earlier. “There’s a movement toward buying couture as works of art, not for wearing, but as an object,” said Pat Frost, director of costumes and textiles at Christie’s, who organized the sale of the late fashion editor Isabella Blow’s clothing collection.

“Because of various blockbuster museum exhibitions, it’s more on the radar to museum curators and acquisitions boards,” said Ms. Frost. “I think it probably helps museum curators to persuade their boards that they should buy costume or couture if it has a link to the art world, which is a system of values which is well understood by museum boards, whereas couture perhaps isn’t.” McQueen, in other words, is in; subtler, lower-profile innovators are out. She listed Paco Rabanne, Issey Miyake and Martin Margiela as designers who could arouse similar interest.

Collectors looking to stockpile contemporary couture in the manner that Mr. Mugrabi hoards Warhols are likely to be disappointed, however. “McQueen was notoriously expensive, because they were one-off sculptures,” Ms. Frost said. “If you’re talking $6,000 or $7,000 for an evening dress two years ago, it’s going to take a long time for it to get to that level in the art market, shall we say.”