How Gucci’s latest collaborations are helping emerging artists gain visibility

Last week, a building in Milan’s central Corso Garibaldi area was transformed into a colorful mural. The painting featured two fashionable, bespectacled women standing under a caption that read “Freaks and Geeks.” Near the roof of the building was a Gucci emblem, marking the luxury brand’s most recent artist collaboration.

Luxury brands have long partnered with artists, musicians and fellow designers, but what sets Gucci apart is its continued focus on emerging artists under creative director Alessandro Michele. The mural served as the announcement of a special-edition collection of T-shirts created by illustrator Angelica Hicks, who also designed the street art. Though the 24-year-old was profiled by the New York Times in 2016 — a story that notes her familial tie to Charles, Prince of Wales — she’s not necessarily a household name. Michele, who personally found Hicks on Instagram, wanted to make sure she will be.

“The inspiration behind the aesthetic and design is rooted in Alessandro’s transformation of the brand itself and his creativity,” Hicks said. “All of the illustrations are playful responses to his vision, inspired by popular culture references or subversion of ordinary association through wordplay.”

The selection of Hicks, like many of the other artists tapped by Gucci for campaigns in the past several months, highlights the efforts of Michele to push the boundaries of a fashion house that is nearly a century old. Beyond just bringing a hip factor, these partnerships are also helping build the careers of fledgling artists by giving them global visibility.

The Gucci mural in Milan designed by illustrator Angelica Hicks.

Among them is Benjamin Langford, a Brooklyn-based visual artist who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. Langford was in the middle of his latest project when he received an email from an employee at Gucci. Though he had previously helped on fashion editorial projects, mostly for friends, this was the first time he received a message from a major luxury brand in his inbox. 

The email was a request to participate in the brand’s latest campaign, centered on internet culture, with a focus on memes. Gucci wanted him to be part of the team developing the creative vision behind a new adventurous watch campaign that launched in March. Though members of the fashion industry scoffed at what appeared to be a gimmicky low-brow grab for millennials, others praised it for its fresh take on luxury fashion. In the end, Gucci had the last laugh. The campaign had high engagement rates and its 30 meme posts reached more than 120 million people, and received 2 million likes and 21,000 comments.

For Langford, his participation in the meme campaign led to an influx of new followers on Instagram, as well as continued participation with Gucci, including a recent Instagram Stories takeover on the brand’s official page. “Having young artists just brings something lively to a brand that can seem really inaccessible. It helps reach a demographic that can’t necessarily afford Gucci, so that even if they can’t, it can inspire and create a dialogue,” Langford said.

Artwork and photography created by Benjamin Langford for the Gucci meme campaign. 

Likewise, Sebastian Tribbie who runs the popular Instagram account @youvegotnomale, said a Gucci employee “slid into the DMs” to propose a potential business opportunity. Tribbie originally dismissed it as a prank, but upon closer examination realized it was indeed a legitimate request. He agreed to a discussion.

Tribbie created four memes for the campaign, which has in turn led to an upcoming collaboration with a major fashion brand that he declined to name. Trebbie estimated that he’s been tapped for somewhere between 8-10 jobs as a result of his work with the Gucci meme campaign.

One of Sebastian Trebbie’s four meme contributions, using his popular “starter pack” format. 

He said the success of these campaigns can largely be attributed to Michele for “reinventing the wheel” when it comes to fashion. Where Michele has succeeded, Trebbie said, is in realizing traditional advertising campaigns aren’t resonating in the same way anymore.

“These campaigns don’t take fashion too seriously,” he said. “The fashion industry is the most stuck up, superficial place on earth. When you’re posting memes and Angelica’s drawings — it’s making fun of the fashion world without doing it in a mean way.”

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