When the Art World Lends Fashion a Cabinet of Curiosities

Originally published in Lampoon Magazine, September 2019. 

Will Cruickshank, 2019. Photo courtesy of Saloni. 
Dressmaker Saloni launched a pop-up store on 134 Sloane Street. Previously home to the Madrid label Delpozo, the space extends across two airy floors with high-ceilings, but Saloni’s collection of colorful print dresses only occupies the top one. Downstairs, a full-length mirror reflects six pastel-hued sculptural pieces and wall pieces behind—carved plaster and thread, wound wall hangings, and sliced spindles—all by Will Cruickshank, presented gleefully on a stage and well-lit under a high ceiling as part of the show Rotations. Upstairs in the window display and looking out towards the tittle-tattle of Chelsea, three additional works by Cruickshank are on view: short, chubby sapele wood spindles with colored yarn, spun on potter wheel winders.

Known for her handmade dresses and prints inspired by her Indian heritage, Saloni claims that she sees fashion as “a means to explore cities and collaborations, gathering creative minds that connect different genres and disciplines”. The Sloane Street pop-up is structured to appear as a collector’s home with carefully-curated coffee books scattered about and is conceived by Julia Wagner, whose portfolio includes set design for Vogue, self service, and WSJ. Magazine. Saloni claims that Wagner understands how to translate the ethos of the brand; that may be why she repeatedly commissions her—collaboration between the two extend to multiple Saloni launches and events, the most large-scale the official Saloni launch “Holi Saloni,” a four-day festival in Rajasthan, India where she flew in attendees to celebrate her collection and the home that inspires its bold patterns. Artist Luke Edward Hall left his mark too, designing the Indian tents at the Darbar Hall of Devigarh Palace.

Opening a space to host an artist appears to be a sincere gesture of generosity in Saloni’s wholesome effort to construct a cabinet of curiosities accompanying her collection of dresses, welcoming collaborators who might ordinarily rely on the traditional gallery relationship to ensure the slightest piece of real estate—let alone in a city like London—for exhibition and income. Artists may have formerly dissed fashion in the ways it attempts to merchandise intrinsic values for the sake of relevance and coolness, perhaps out of fear of tarnishing a sort of academic standing in the art world and any chances of making it into respected references for art discourse. The danger of inviting artists to design a collection is that it may be a one-shot opportunity in fashion but may destroy a pristine portfolio in the art world whose gatekeepers raise their eyebrows at excess merchandising. But an invitation extended to an artist to brand or monogram a seasonal purse (Tracey Emin for Longchamp, Jeff Koons for Louis Vuitton, and all the artists that have interpreted The Dior Lady Art Project) is not an equivalent gesture as an invitation to exhibit, uninterrupted, in a stellar downtown space; the difference between merchandising and exhibiting differs in the levels of intrusiveness into the art world the brand chooses to take on. Such a format may be inspired by that of Rei Kawakubo’s multi-branch concept store Dover Street Market, whose racks stock contemporary brands and whose spaces includes rotating invites for installation interventions. Saloni opens spaces for other collaborators in ways that they do not risk falling into commercial branding and losing their standing in their respective realms. Saloni’s prints are off-limits to anyone beyond her team in London.

The desire to align with the revered otherworlds does not stop at art, and Saloni is hardly the first to construct a cabinet of curiosities to accompany her collection. Design too has increasingly lent its soul to fashion as the functional and decorative purposes that traditionally set the field have given way to values that may appear to be less aesthetic and more intrinsic. Saloni chose to Milan Design Week for the first time in April, launching at the much-beloved Nilufar Gallery in Milan’s Northern Farini neighborhood, a landmark that often makes the must-see guides of Milan Design Week.

The choice to show during London’s Frieze Week instead of its fashion week is a declaration on which creative realm the brand chooses to align itself (Saloni proudly says that she has never held a fashion show). Other fashion highlights during Frieze Week 2019 include the third iteration of Prada Mode—the brand’s travelling social club—launched in 2018 at Art Basel Miami Beach—a hub for contemporary culture that provides members a “unique art experience” along with music and dining. The London edition included a new chapter of Theaster Gates’s Black Image Corporation at 180 The Strand. Gates, who is Professor at the University of Chicago and whose previous solo shows include the Kunstmuseum Basel, Palais de Tokyo and the National Gallery of Art, now has Prada Mode to include into his profile.

These relationships between art and fashion are mutually symbiotic and make sense—an invitation for a space in Chelsea amongst high-profile attendees including luxury shoe designer Charlotte Olympia and other influential visitors with high purchasing power hardly seems harmful. Over the past decade, income sources and exhibition opportunities for artists have multiplied and artists have increasingly chosen to stop pleading entry into the vicious gallery system in favor of new income and exhibition potential with fashion, design, and music. If fashion needs a hand with inherence to stay cool, then so be it.