What happens when one of fashion’s most revered innovators gives an under-the-radar enfant terrible of the art world free rein? Noelle Loh reports on Prada’s print-perfect Pre-fall union from Milan.
Christophe Chemin, Prada’s perfect artist collaborator
The art of Prada is intellectual, contradictory, cleverly subversive and, in turn, thoroughly compelling. Naturally, the label’s endeavours in art tend to possess the same leanings.
Cue Prada Marfa, the now-defaced, still-landmark mock Prada boutique along a rural Texan highway by artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset – endorsed by the brand’s matriarch, who even picked out wares for the installation. Or just about everything it’s done with long-time collaborator OMA, Rem Koolhaas’ architecture ﬁrm (personal favourite project to date: the rotatable Prada Transformer pavilion in Seoul that could have been a fashion exhibition space, cinema, art gallery or event venue, depending on which side it laid on).
Miuccia Prada isn’t a literal woman, so most of these have been multi-disciplinary experiences. In the times that she has put art onto her designs, though, it’s been bold and assertive – like in S/S ’14 when she engaged six artists for bag and dress motifs depicting femininity and power. Her print tie-up this Pre-fall is no less powerful.
Shown alongside the label’s darkly romantic, nautical-inﬂuenced men’s F/W ’16 collection (the season’s most directional and memorable in my books), it features four colour pencil or ink illustrations that look like they came out of the annals of history, mythology and art. Splashed across oversized poplin shirts worn with their cuffs and collars undone (“as if post-romp” I was told at the re-see), they’re the work of French-born, Berlin-based Christophe Chemin.
Previously largely obscure, the self-taught artist was contacted through Instagram (@christophechemin – it’s private, FYI). That alone is impressive, considering how Prada told Women’s Wear Daily that she only works with an artist on fashion “if the desire stemmed naturally”. And Chemin, incidentally or not, is very Prada.
Simultaneously a ﬁlmmaker, designer, photographer, novelist and writer, he ﬂits across mediums that span poetry, video and theatre set design. “Certain ideas work better with speciﬁc mediums so I end up jumping from one to another…
“Impossible True Love” (above) plays on the kitschy posters of romantic movies with an Elvis lookalike, while “The Important Ones” (below) portrays cultural icons from Hercules to Nina Simone locked in a classic Renaissance battle.
Prada Pre-fall 2016: sailor girl meets harlequin meets wearable canvas
You never really know, so it’s good to test and to be able to decide what works the best in the end,” he explains to magazine. “But (ultimately) it’s all the same to me – it’s always the same voice.”
Much like Prada, that voice is one interested in culture, socio-politics, artistry, and presenting a unique point of view that gets others thinking. “The world is full of dull images everywhere – in your face; from the moment you wake up. People ‘like like like’ the same way they dislike. It means nothing; it is a farce,” he says. “I feel like we need to give meaning back to images. As an artist, I always ask myself about the necessity of creating another one.”
In the case of this partnership, the commissions are meant to question the history of the world – a topic that can be said to be close to Prada’s heart, since she often mashes up decades in her collections. With Chemin describing the collaborative process as one of trust with “no censorship”, each resulting work is a sophisticated composite of references, done in a different classic style and rich in irony and symbolism.
“Banquet Thieves”, for example, portrays a banquet scene typical of traditional still life paintings, but in feminine, pinkish hues, and with a side of sushi. A commentary on today’s ﬁxation with photographing and sharing pictures of everything we eat, the table is skewed – as inspired by Italian painter Giotto, known for his use of forced perspective – and ridden with pests. Meanwhile, “Survival Utopia” recalls Noah’s Ark by way of Edward Gorey-meets-Picasso’s “Guernica” – except that the landscape is industrial, and the animals range from dinosaurs to kangaroos.
Hypnotic yet humorous, each illustration is a dizzying lesson in art, history, religion, politics, and even pop culture, with more to discover with every look. Adding to the intellectual appeal (and collectability), each shirt comes with a jacquard tag coded with numbers referencing years speciﬁc to individual elements in each drawing.
Says Chemin to The Business of Fashion: “I don’t like the word ‘prints’ because they are not prints – they are artworks that I related to Miuccia’s visual universe and vocabulary, mixing very personal obsessions of mine with ideas that were directly inspired by her… For me, it was an extremely emotional experience to see the artwork on the clothes: used, reframed, layered, cut out and patched. The results are very dense and complex, but still accessible.” Prada couldn’t have said it better herself.
Chemin’s illustrations “Banquet Thieves” (above), and “Survival Utopia” (below) lend romance to poplin men’s style shirts in Prada Pre-fall (opposite).