Culture and Collaboration – the art of luxury | A Walpole panel discussion at Frieze

Last night, Walpole hosted its inaugural Frieze London event at the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge. Walpole members gathered for a panel discussion: ‘Culture and Collaboration – the art of luxury’, moderated by Susan Boster, whose expertise at the apex of art and luxury has been honed over many years bringing luxury brands and artists as well as global corporations and cultural institutions together in innovative partnerships.

Since Frieze London began in 2003, the fair has become the hub of a week-long celebration of contemporary art, attracting wealthy art collectors, connoisseurs, curators and critics from all over the world and helping amplify London’s reputation as the world’s number one luxury destination. But it’s not only about the ability art has to attract the UHNWI customer – luxury brands have long been at the forefront of commissioning and curating art works – think of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with artists Yayoi Kusama and Jeff Koons, or Alexander McQueen’s work with Damien Hirst to celebrate 10 years of McQueen’s emblematic skull print, or Christopher Bailey’s penultimate collection for Burberry, inspired by Henry Moore. Luxury’s love affair with the art world goes beyond collaborations and into building art collections – the launch of a new major cultural institution like the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris suggests its not too far fetched to imagine that today’s luxury brands are the 21st century equivalent of the Medicis and other great Renaissance patrons. Art has always been central to Walpole’s own discussion about the contribution high-end brands make to British culture, too – it’s no accident the organisation was named for Robert Walpole, not only a great politician and promoter of international trade, but an extraordinary connoisseur and collector, amassing one of the world’s greatest art collections, most of which is now at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

At Frieze, Walpole panellists included Hitomi Hosono, an award-winning ceramic artist, whose recent work with Wedgwood has reinterpreted Wedgwood’s iconic jasperware in a delicate and breathtakingly beautiful modern idiom; Lynn Serfaty of Montblanc, whose Cultural Foundation was founded in 1992 to promote innovative thinking through supporting the arts worldwide; Reignwood’s Alex Field – Chinese owned Reignwood works with the London Symphony Orchestra and key cultural institutions to promote East/West cultural exchange; and Rolls-Royce Motor Car’s Jessica Persson Conway who leads Rolls-Royce’s Arts programme, which commissions established and emerging artists to produce new work, true to the vision of Rolls-Royce’s founders.

Susan Boster opened the discussion by asking panellists to share their thoughts on the purpose of collaboration between luxury brands and artists. Lynn Serfaty felt “if you get close to art, you get close to beauty” and that brands assimilate some of the aesthetic values of the art work, whilst for Jessica at Rolls-Royce art is an elegant way of talking about the brand, and of telling the story of the beauty of a motor car crafted by talented men and women. From the perspective of the artist, added Hitomi Hosono, it’s very much about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: put an artist and a brand together and something “exciting and new” can come to life. Hitomi also talked about the role art and artists can play in promoting cultural exchange – always helpful in a global marketplace – and by bringing her Japanese aesthetic to Wedgwood, it helped push the expression of a very British brand to another level. Alex Field agreed – art in all its forms has played a key role in enabling a new, interesting conversation to take place between China and Britain, not least at the launch of Ten Trinity Square when the LSO played alongside stars from the Peking Opera – as he said, “partnerships with institutions like the LSO are seen as vital for progressing East/West partnerships and cultural exchange… [they] ease the environment and allow high level conversations to take place… it’s a very soft way of educating each other in each others’ business practices and cultures”.  Yet there are risks as well as benefits: from Jessica Persson Conway’s point of view, brands that appropriate the values of art without having an authentic reason for doing so, and a clear link back into the brand’s DNA, are doomed to failure – “you must have shared values and you must have genuine reasons” if a collaboration is to succeed. It’s not even as simple as just being genuine, suggested Hitomi Hosono – as an artist, you need to be prepared to commit as well as collaborate, to “respect the history of the brand [because] if the artist only pushes what he or she wants to do, it can destroy the brand vision: the artist must think carefully about how the company works” and in the case of her collaboration with Wedgwood, it was also crucial to work closely with the artisans and technicians who have been working with the brand’s materials for many years and will know which of your ideas are impossible to realise, which can work, and which ones can work if the artist and craftsman work together to resolve technical difficulties and bring an idea to life – a collaboration within a collaboration.

Above all, the message of the panel was that art can, as Jessica Persson Conway put it, “reinforce the visionary aspects of a brand, in particular those which are hard to express in every day language but can be expressed through art

Speaking to Susan Boster after the panel, Susan told Walpole: “On behalf of Boster Group, I was delighted to chair this panel. At Boster Group we have over 20 years of experience working with luxury brands, arts organisations and businesses, establishing multi-year and multi-faceted partnerships. We see directly how technology, shifting values, funding challenges and even socio-political issues – jet-fuelled by social media – are challenging traditional partnership strategies. We believe this is creating exciting new opportunities for arts and brands to work together. This was a unique opportunity to hear leading luxury brands discuss how they collaborate to win tomorrow’s audiences and customers.”

Walpole’s Frieze London event was made possible with the kind assistance of Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management and the Boster Group.

Boster Group is an independent marketing consultancy that creates innovative brand partnerships for global corporations and cultural institutions to achieve business and social impact goals. Current and recent clients include BNP Paribas, Montblanc, Gap Inc., Insight Investment, Moët Hennessy, J.P. Morgan, Shanghai Tang, AMEX, Credit Suisse, Bacardi, EY, Abercrombie & Kent, and Disney.

Deutsche Bank is the global lead partner of the Frieze Art Fair, a relationship now in its fifteenth year at a fair that has evolved into one of the main events in the international art calendar for London, New York and Lost Angeles. Frieze London and Frieze Masters is on in Regent’s Park from 5th to 7th October 2018, and this year, to help celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage, Tracey Emin and her studio curated an exhibition of works by female artists in the Deutsche Band Collection, which are on display at the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounges at Frieze London and Frieze Masters. Emin has also initiated a sale of postcard-sized original artworks by living female artists in the Deutsche Bank collection, to raise money for charities that support vulnerable women. Each postcard will cost just £200, and the identities of the artists, many of them highly celebrated, will only be revealed once sold.