As designers debuted their spring 2016 campaigns these past few weeks, a microtrend emerged: Rather than a simple photograph, collage was the medium of choice for Céline, Courrèges and Coach 1941. Stuart Vevers has been utilizing the artistic technique since his appointment as creative director of Coach in 2013; the brand's past four campaigns feature photographs neatly collaged against a New York City landscape. Céline's has a more DIY feel, its images appearing to have been hastily cut and pasted onto a solid background, thus leaving pockets of contrasting colors around the models' hair and posed arms. As for Courrèges, designers Sebastien Meyer & Arnaud Vaillant hired collage artist Kalen Hollomon, who's done work for Tanya Taylor and Vogue, to produce a series of work exclusively for the French brand's Instagram account.
Of course, designers have been using collage for their campaigns and lookbooks for years. Balenciaga's campaign from as early as spring 2010 is one example, and Carven and Stella McCartney have opted for the medium multiple times. In 2012, Raf Simons's advertisements for his menswear line caused viewers to be transfixed by the collages' optical illusions.
Just as fashion brands have co-opted the collaging medium, several of today's prominent collage artists are heavily influenced by fashion and use online platforms like Tumblr and Instagram to display their work. Brazilian artist Pedro Nekoi turns to the collaged creations by Kenzo (in collaboration with Italian artistic duo and magazine Toilet Paper) and Prada for inspiration. Last fall, the latter fashion house released a collection of luxury fragrances, titled Prada Olfactories, along with a campaign of collages to help consumers visualize each scent. Nekoi, who often works up to five hours straight on one digital collage, has garnered Internet fame for publishing his fashion-focused works on Tumblr over the past two years. "I was always in love with fashion and advertising. It's fun to recreate something that is already so creative," he says.
But what makes collage so appealing to designers? "It has this background that's rooted in the surreal and fashion is about fantasy," says Nekoi. "With collage, it's easy to do and you can really go crazy with it and end up with something amazing."
For Lizzie Gill, co-founder of the Brooklyn Collage Collective, the composition and color palette of her collages are influenced by clothing and its colors and patterns. Her creative process involves going through stacks of Vogue and McCall's magazines from the 1950s. "I'm fascinated by the advertising, dress and how it encapsulates a time period and mentality," says Gill. Once she finds an image that resonates with her, she can build a piece around it. Her artwork has even caught the attention of jewelry brand Lulu Frost, for which she created collages inspired by the namesake brand's "Tesserae" collection of mosaic jewelry.
Hollomon was drawn to fashion photography's "slick, sexy, confident attitude," which he would mix with imagery that has an opposing point of view. "Factory workers or everyday people on the streets, sports images, etc.," he says. "I'm trying to create a contradiction that helps me question the way I see things." This political spin is what Gill has also pointed out as a reason why fashion imagery is so engaging with artists. Models posed on a page, whether it's an advertisement or fashion editorial, is another justification. "It allows for a lot of negative space and manipulation, an artist can remove the figure from the image or add to it," she says.
Collage's influence has already gone beyond campaigns and lookbooks, according to Hollomon. In fact, he's noticed the technique applied to design, specifically by French label Vetements, whose deconstructed clothing has quickly garnered popularity among the street style set. Looks like fashion's favorite medium has come full circle.
Update: This article has been updated for clarity regarding Hollomon's work for Courrèges.