Fashion and art are two disciplines that have always been intertwined which is why we have seen so many luxury houses collaborate with artists on everything from products and films, to show sets.
Gucci however took a different approach for their first collaboration by choosing a young, emerging Canadian artist by the name of Kris Knight to reinterpret its iconic Flora print from the 1960s. The resulting capsule collection features his dark and sensual print on a host of limited edition bags, leather goods and other products.
Born and raised in Toronto, the 30 year old grew up mixing icing colours at his mother’s bakery before entering art school. In less than a decade he has made a name for himself in the art world thanks to his dark portraits or “character studies” that unveil disenchanted characters lost between youth and adulthood, fantasy and real life.
Kris was in Hong Kong last night to launch the exclusive collection, and I was able to steal a few moments with him to speak about fashion as art, seduction and why he could have been a fashion designer.
How are fashion and art connected in your mind?
I describe it as an orbit of inspiration because fashion and art are constantly feeding each other. I see fashion as design – it’s made with an audience in mind, with a purpose. Art meanwhile is an expression of an individual.
Before this project I had this nerdy obsession where I would dissect fashion editorials and try to figure out which artist the photographer or art director where inspired by. People don’t realise that most poses in fashion editorial are based off historical paintings.
So how did this project with Gucci come about?
Back in January I was notified by the media that [creative director] Frida Giannini had used the colour palette from my paintings as inspiration for the Autumn/Winter 2014 collection. It was a crazy day, and all my friends in fashion were freaking out.
A month later I went to Rome meet her and she presented me with the original flora pattern. She told me about its history in her dark sexy voice and asked me to make it new, to bring my own spin to it.
The project came at a right time – for a decade I have been a total workaholic, locked in my studio everyday from morning to night, or showing exhibitions constantly. It came to a point where I wanted to take a break and try something new and this was the perfect opportunity.
What attracted you to Gucci in particular?
I don’t have a fashion background but I knew Gucci because they are one of the few brands that use artisans to create their products. So many brands create this false sense of luxury but Gucci really holds onto this tradition and I respect that.
Tell us about the new print…
I basically got an idea right away. Frida showed me the mood boards for the Cruise collection and I saw all these pictures from 1960s. One was of Marianne Faithfull, who has this song called the Witches Song. I started thinking about witches weeds, which are plants used by women to command power over men whether it was for healing or seduction. From there I chose all sorts of different varieties from the Belladonna to the Nightshade. The colours were based on Frida’s palette but apart from that she gave me free reign to do what I wanted.
What elements have you incorporated into the print that are distinctively Kris Knight?
As a portrait painter I care most about the narrative – even though I am painting people I see them as characters. I wanted to apply this to the print – I really saw it as a character study so I chose plants that have their own personalities and huge historical importance but are rarely seen in a floral print. The biggest challenge was paying respect to the Flora’s history but also applying my own history to it, seeing it through my eyes. I was given this task for a specific reason and I wanted to stay true to myself as an artist.
How has this collaboration made you a better artist?
I learnt that collaborating with people is important in general. In my daily life I am usually alone, and always holed up in my studio. I never thought about working with someone else, as art for me is so personal. It made me realise that everyone has an idea to bring to the table and with my flora painting I’ve seen that come alive in so many different ways . In the future I want to do more of this whether it’s with a fashion brand or artist.
What would you be if you weren’t an artist?
Fashion school was my plan B, but it cost more than art school!