Anatomy of an Art Collaboration

 Picture by Benedetta Pignatelli

Picture by Benedetta Pignatelli

People are always asking me how the art collaborations with my own products came to be. The answer isn't straightforward or simple. Working with amazing artists is a privilege and a huge responsibility - an endeavor that is full of complexities. I have been an art collector for 15+ years and have been running my art and design company for six. Since I'm an advisor, a book author and have always loved writing, blogging and contributing my take on art to different publications, many of the artists that I get in touch with or that I buy for my clients feel that I truly "get it." 

 The first capsule got featured in more than 12 press pieces including the Wall Street Journal

The first capsule got featured in more than 12 press pieces including the Wall Street Journal

Two years ago, I was looking into working on a product collaboration with another company and suddenly thought, "why not manufacture my own?" And so I invited three artists who are huge in their own right and who also happen to be my friends and people I respect, admire and collect: Erik Parker, Kenny Scharf and Carlos Rolon/Dzine. I wanted to curate a small collection of handbags with artists who were optimistic and happy, people who always look for the good things in life.  The artists I approached said yes, and since Frieze NY was coming up, I thought it would be the perfect time to launch a collection.

I had to design the bags, find the perfect pieces of art to reproduce, choose the right manufacturer for the acrylic bags, pick the perfect printer, create the packaging, and devise a marketing plan. All in ten weeks. Armed with a lot of integrity and a lot of courage, I recruited one of the best printers in the U.S. and an amazing acrylic company, and off we went. Little did I know the sheer amount of tests and back-and-forth we would experience until the right product came along. Anyone who has ever manufactured something to sell in quantities knows that this is no joke. The most important things for me were to make 100% sure that the artists were happy and that the products that I put with my name out there were high-end, truthful representations of our aesthetics - not just a sticker ironed onto a t-shirt. That's so not me. 

With lots of intense effort, passionate pushing, crazy deadlines and even horrible setbacks, we launched our capsule in time for Frieze New York 2014 with the distribution through our friends at Kirna Zabete. We got more than 12 press pieces in a matter of weeks, and the response was so positive and overwhelming. That's when I felt I was onto something bigger. 

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The second collaboration, a curation of acrylic bags and silk scarves with three young and incredible, female New York-based painters, was also an extraordinary experience. From working with great respect in a very close way with Natalie Frank, Katherine Bernhardt and Trudy Benson to getting more than 10 retailers nationally and internationally ranging from Joyce in Hong Kong to The Sprit Museum in Stockholm, the level of quality and curation among the existing pieces from three very different artists really created a whole new standard for me and my company. This time, we didn’t limit the edition from the start like we did with the first capsule, but we allowed for retailers to place orders plus factored in our own inventory and once we got the last order from the retailers, that’s when we closed the edition.  The pieces won’t be revisited, ever. 

We not only got a massive press response, but also in a matter of weeks the pieces were in the hands of many celebrities and fashion influencers - a testament of the quality of the products and a nod to their accurate timing.  I was able to bring the limited edition pieces of these artists to a whole different audience who didn’t know about them before.

Celebrities and fashion influencers wearing the pieces I have designed ranging from Chiara Ferragni to Zoe Kravitz.

Now in our third collection with assume vivid astro focus (AVAF), things have gotten a bit unreal. Unreal in the sense that I have been for many years a fan and a hopeless romantic in love with all that AVAF has produced. And I did go through hundreds and hundreds of digital archived images of AVAF's works – only to pick a handful for my collection.  I'm so lucky to have gotten such level of freedom from this incredible duo. I was able to design high-quality acrylic bags, faux-suede fold-over clutches, canvas totes, necklaces with perfect enamel charms derived from details of many different paintings, and cotton-fringed jacquard ponchos that are on-trend but also reflect the originality and vibrancy of the artist's work. 

With our latest collection, my greatest satisfaction came from two different experiences. The first was when Eli Sudbrack from AVAF saw the first batch of samples and told me that he was absolutely thrilled, which was evident by his enthusiasm and behavior. And then, out of the blue, we got an email from The Whitney Museum of American Art saying they wanted to buy our products. I mean, THE Whitney Museum - the brand new, beyond spectacular museum in the Meatpacking District which now lives in one of the most beautiful buildings in New York. One of the most important modern and contemporary art museums in the world. Yes, that Whitney Museum will debut our AVAF collection next week in their lobby store and online right on time for the opening of the Frank Stella retrospective. They saw the integrity and the truthfulness in our pieces, the authenticity and the labor that goes into working closely with top artists.  They saw that I understood the sensibilities of the artists, that I produce everything in the U.S. so that every single product comes from my own imagination and that from start to finish I'm watching the process. When the Whitney Museum takes an interest in your products, that's when you know you've created something special.