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Fashion's Role at Art Basel Miami Beach Gets Bigger Every Year

When did art and fashion’s symbiotic synergy really explode and make Art Basel Miami Beach the FOMO-inducing event it is today?

The energy in Miami right now is pulsating. Pumped, primarily, by the artery that is Art Basel Miami Beach. This annual gathering on Miami’s sunny shore rivals its older Swiss sibling, Art Basel, as the most-attended art-related event of the year. But one of the hallmarks of this South Florida–based fair -- which is drunk on velvet-rope parties, blaring music and pure artistic creation -- is its ability to galvanize both art and fashion fanatics alike.

The thing most often compared to Art Basel Miami Beach, as of late, is not Art Basel, Frieze, or The Armory Show, but New York Fashion Week. Despite slight differences in attendees (more curators and collectors at the art fair), and parties (Art Basel has the more-than-slight edge), there are many similarities.

I first went to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2008, the fair’s seventh go-round. (It was supposed to launch in December of 2001, however the attacks on September 11 moved the fair’s debut to December 2002.) Certainly, since 2008, the fair has changed dramatically. But so have I. When I first went, it was to impress a SoHo gallery owner whom I wanted to work for. (A position that I did indeed land, but ended up loathing.) Today, luckily, it’s to interview artists and designers, attend launch events (80 percent of which are fashion-related), and to gauge the fair’s influence on all aspects of pop culture.

This season, fashion is, yet again, at the forefront of the fair. (Right behind the art, of course....) Here's a little background on why the two gel so well: Like the contemporary art market, fashion experienced a renaissance after the Second World War. Couture shows, at first, were all about the clothes. But in the '70s and '80s, designers became the new stars. Then, a decade later, it was about the models. Today, it’s about the It girls, DJs, photographers, or anyone else in the mode mix. Street style has exploded and now influences how designers make garments. (Do you think a T-shirt with a Parental Advisory logo isn’t going to light up the blogs?) The art world is actually quite similar. It craves the same 24-hour attention. Bigger is better: Artists creating large-scale public sculptures or showing art as an experience are gaining the most recognition and street cred.

Musicians also put art and fashion on a pedestal. Jay Z, for example -- known for going around the fair with art dealer/gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn -- has been a big promoter of both worlds. It seems that he visits Art Basel both for the art and the parties. In 2012, I saw him at a Le Baron pop-up event at Pearl Restaurant and Champagne Lounge. A few months later, when “Magna Carta... Holy Grail” was released, he bragged about having the “Basquiat collab from Versace’s place” and parking “twin Bugattis outside the Art Basel.” No doubt, millions heard those lines. And perhaps thousands were inspired to see what Art Basel Miami Beach is all about, which I applaud.

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But when did art and fashion’s symbiotic synergy really explode and make Art Basel Miami Beach the FOMO-inducing event it is today? Tough call, but I’ll give it my best. In 2009, major luxury brands started to open boutiques in Miami’s Design District. The city’s first rival to the Bal Harbour Shops -- an open-air mall with high-end stores, which is quite far from where Art Basel Miami Beach actually takes place -- was met with high praise. Christian Louboutin was the first luxe brand to open a boutique in the Design District. After its success, many others (Louis Vuitton, Maison Martin Margiela and Dior Homme) followed suit. And along with the openings came launch parties, book signings and art/fashion collaborations, which were all captured through the powerful lens of Instagram. Like. Like. Like.

And Art Basel Miami Beach has served as the best time to throw such shindigs, since "everyone" is in town anyway. Click back to Dec. 4, 2009 on photography website Patrick McMullan, and you’ll see party pictures from Viktor & Rolf’s private dinner at the Webster, as well as Lanvin’s Bal Harbour boutique opening. Who’s there? Joseph Altuzarra, the Misshapes, Derek Blasberg, Genevieve Jones, Karla Otto: all people synonymous with the fashion world who continue to come out year after year. Go further back to December 2005, and you'll still see plenty of fashion fêtes: a dinner for Valentino, parties for winners of the Hugo Boss prize, Nancy Gonzalez’s handbag collection launch. But in 2005, what you don’t see is as many of those marquee fashion names in the photos. It was in 2006 and 2007 -- right before the Great Recession -- when fashion’s favorites started flying south in droves. And they haven’t stopped.

As the years go on, it has often looked like Art Basel Miami Beach is more of a marketing exercise than a legitimate fair. At least from the outside, where people often say things like, "But nobody actually buys art there." Yet, in its 12th year, the fair is showing new assurance as a global force. It has even elicited satellite events, such as SCOPE Miami Beach, UNTITLED and Miami Project. Not a bad thing for the city and its commerce.

And, as the years go on, the art/fashion collaborations have become more legitimate as well. This year, for example, Christian Louboutin will show works by Carmelo Tedeschi at its boutique. Maison Martin Margiela will launch a cutting-edge project with Swarovski. And Jeff Koons will celebrate his balloon-like bottle for Dom Pérignon. Naturally, fashion folk will populate the respective parties -- and they’ll want to be seen doing it.

As fashion and luxury brands become more obsessed with the aesthetics of art, so do their customers and fan bases. Perhaps Art Basel Miami Beach has become a catalyst for these brands to tilt wittily to the commercialization of art. One thing’s for sure: The line between art and fashion has never been blurred more provocatively. But it’s made the fair a must-attend destination for every artistic type. Art lovers can be serious about art and take in as much or little fashion as they please. Fashionistas can do the same, but vice versa. Sound nice? It is, and it’s great to see it all happen and grow, even if you can’t make it in person. And in the world where there’s such a premium on image, Art Basel Miami Beach now takes the prize as the most exciting place for art and fashion to come together.