Merchants of Style
Art and Fashion After Warhol
Merchants of Style explores the accelerating convergence of art and fashion, looking at the interplay of artists and designers – and the role of institutions, both public and commercial – that has brought about this marriage of aesthetic industries. Natasha Degen argues that one figure more than any other anticipated this moment: Andy Warhol. Beginning with an overview of art and fashion’s deeply entwined histories before picking up where Warhol left off, Merchants of Style tells the story of art’s emboldened forays into commerce and fashion’s growing embrace of art. As the two industries draw closer together than ever before, this book addresses urgent questions about what the future holds.
How did you first come up with the idea for this work?
For years before actively working on the book, I had noticed more and more points of intersection between the art world and the fashion industry: fashion exhibitions in art museums, artist-brand collaborations, art foundations launched by luxury brands, fashion ads in the art press, runways shows staged in art museums, and fashion sponsorship of art events. It made me think about why this was happening, and what it might mean for the status of art.
What was your research process like?
I started working on the book in 2019. At that time, I was conducting research in libraries and archives, delving into the history of fashion exhibitions in art museums. When the pandemic hit, the project took a turn. Unable to access archival materials, I shifted my focus and began to write more about the contemporary moment. The book still contains a lot of historical context, but I would describe it as cultural criticism rather than a strictly historical study.
Does this work relate to your role at FIT? If so, how?
In some ways the book is a departure for me, as my background is in art history, and specifically the history of the art market. At FIT, I serve as Chair of the MA in Art Market Studies.
But it also felt like a natural project to undertake as a member of the faculty here. Without a doubt, FIT has contributed to my interest in fashion (and given me access to extraordinary resources in pursuing this interest). It has made me attuned to the convergence of art and fashion, a trend I only see deepening in the coming years.
What was your biggest challenge? What was most rewarding?
The story of art and fashion is still unfolding. Every week seems to bring the announcement of a new exhibition, collaboration, or initiative. It was challenging to write about a moving target and balance up-to-date information with analysis that, I hope, will remain relevant. However, at the same time, it was exciting to explore a phenomenon that is so ubiquitous in today’s culture. This new phase in the relationship between art and fashion has been well-documented in the press, but often in articles that operate more as marketing than criticism. It was rewarding to have the opportunity to take a more analytical approach and contribute to an important cultural conversation.
- Professor at FIT since Fall 2016
- Book to be published in Spring 2023