Much has already been made of street art’s elevation from lowbrow vandalism to highbrow artform. In the past year alone, LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art opened its controversial Art in the Streets exhibit, French street artist JR received the TED Prize for $100,000 and even the Academy Awards saw fit to grant Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about peudonymous prankster Banksy, a Best Documentary nod. Whereas youth-oriented labels like Vans, RVCA and Nike have always had an obvious interest in the rebellious spirit of the movement, mainstream luxury and lifestyle brands are now following suit by partnering with street artists on packaging, spokesmanship and exclusive design.
In the fashion industry, successful early examples such as Calvin Klein’s graffiti-designed CK One bottles and Louis Vuitton’s Stephen Sprouse Graffiti collection proved the popular appeal of seemingly subversive designs—nevermind that they were produced en masse. The trend has since surfaced everywhere from Nicholas Kirkwood’s Keith Haring-inspired heels to Levi’s partnership with prominent artists including Shepard Fairey and Neck Face on limited-edition redesigns of its iconic trucker jacket.
Other industries have gotten involved as well. BMW recently featured San Diego artist Kelsey Brookes in its mixtape series. Elsewhere, Tumi’s work with John “Crash” Matos yielded a limited edition collection of carry-on bags decorated with the artist’s signature design. And when invited to create something for The Standard Hotel, KAWS designed lightbulbs with his signature double x image inside. The alcohol industry in particular has shown its fondness for street art ever since Absolut and Keith Haring first teamed up in the ’80s. More recently, Paris-based artist and entrepreneur Andre designed the IX bottle for Belvedere and KAWS also announced a limited edition run of customized bottles for Hennessy which will debut in September.
The guerilla nature of street art’s underpinning ethos can also be seen in the fleeting appeal of pop-up retail as well as the emphatic importance of individual expression. But whatever the product, the emphasis remains on its aesthetic associations. “Ideas in graffiti, like repetition of the same image or tag over and over again, I believe are symptomatic of our times,” Scrawl Collective founder Richard Blackshaw was formerly quoted as saying. “I think the reason advertising companies like street art so much is because they were made for each other. They are natural allies.”