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Dead art icons live on, in a fashion

Times Staff Writer

LVMH, the luxury conglomerate with Vuitton and Dior in its stable, announces that it will build a contemporary art museum in Paris. MAC cosmetics serves up burlesque glamour girl Dita von Teese at a swank dinner at Art Basel Miami. And suddenly, dead artists are at the center of a major holiday campaign and a luxury designer product launch.

The mutual admiration between art and fashion is turning into a full-on love fest.

For the holidays, Barneys New York launched the ultimate art-meets-fashion marketing blitz working with the Warhol Foundation on Pop Art windows, shopping bags, a special pair of Levi’s, even actual cans of Campbell Soup, at $12 each. Portraits of the artist by schoolchildren are being exhibited and sold in stores to benefit local arts programs.

“Increasingly I noticed that everyone has been talking Warhol -- two documentaries, skyrocketing auction prices, the imminent Edie Sedgwick movie -- it was the perfect year for us to have a Happy Warhol-iday,” says Simon Doonan, the store’s creative director.

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Still, it’s not like we’re in the middle of a 1960s moment on the runways, or in interior design for that matter, so why Warhol now?

“Everybody wants to be cool and groovy, and there is this nagging feeling that nobody was more cool and groovy than Andy,” Doonan offers. “He invented it. Every few years a new generation discovers him and then all the old geezers like me get reminded of how great he was ... and funny.” One of Doonan’s favorite Warholisms? “Employees make the best dates: You don’t have to pick them up and they are always tax deductible.”

Marketing Warhol’s work is almost too easy, as fascinated as he was by conspicuous consumption. But what do you do with an artist whose medium was photography and whose oeuvre included not only flowers but crosses and phalluses too?

The Robert Mapplethorpe Estate is turning to Chrome Hearts, the L.A.-based rock ‘n’ roll luxury brand designed by motorcycle enthusiast Richard Stark and his wife, Laurie.

In February, several limited-edition items will land in Chrome Hearts boutiques and in museum stores, including Hermes-quality silk chiffon scarves ($620) with a kaleidoscopic print intertwined with Mapplethorpe’s cross, flag and nude torso imagery, and black leather JJ Dean leather jackets with the scarf lining (women’s $6,160; men’s $6,765). There’s also jewelry -- dog tags in silver with pave diamonds ($935), and crosses in silver and gold with and without diamonds ($715 to $46,250).

“We have been very conservative about licensing, limiting it to paper products like calendars and note cards, and not many of them,” says Michael Ward Stout, the lawyer who administers Mapplethorpe’s estate and heads the foundation. Stout has also handled the estates of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, among others.

“Robert on the other hand was very enthusiastic about licensing products. One reason he hired me is that I was Salvador Dali’s lawyer, someone who had the licensing empire of the world.”

Until now, the foundation didn’t even allow Mapplethorpe’s images to be cropped or written over for postcards or posters, Stout says. So allowing his work to be reinterpreted by a fashion designer is quite a departure.

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“It’s hard to make decisions about what an artist would have done, but it’s important to keep an artist young, to keep people interested,” he says. “That’s why in the exhibition world we are having Mapplethorpe exhibits curated by other artists, like Catherine Opie did in L.A. Then younger people write about it.”

The idea for the collaboration was hatched last year over a casual dinner in Sao Paulo. Stout and Sean Kelly, the gallery owner who represents Mapplethorpe in New York, were in Brazil for an exhibition and they got talking; someone in the group mentioned that if Robert were alive today he would be wearing Chrome Hearts.

Started by Stark in 1988, Chrome Hearts is known for handmade jewelry, leather clothing and accessories, sunglasses and wood furniture with gothic motifs, long before gothic motifs were everywhere. It’s a favorite with Lenny Kravitz, Cher and the Osbournes.

The Starks already owned two Mapplethorpe works (Laurie is a photographer in her own right), so they were thrilled with the idea. Over the last year they have been submitting, fine-tuning and retooling designs. Transferring the images onto fabric was so involved, that alone took several months.

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“We had to go through a lot, putting it in front of the board. And it’s never going to be a big money-making thing,” Stark says at his factory on a leafy street in Hollywood, where craftsmen work in the back making wax molds for jewelry and cutting patterns for leather jackets. “Maybe we’ll be surprised, but it’s more about creating awareness in the art community. They’re collectible pieces.”

Mapplethorpe’s work is also being licensed for limited-edition porcelain, Stout says, but don’t expect his nude torsos to be splashed on the side of holiday shopping bags any time soon. “Our whole approach to Mapplethorpe has been sophisticated,” Stout says. “We don’t want to go crazy. This is probably all we’ll do for the next five or 10 years. I’m concerned that the artwork is rare and fragile. It is different from Warhol’s, which was accessible in a populist way.”

Meanwhile, Chrome Hearts has had quite a year. There’s the new shop on Avenue Montaigne in Paris (adding to a roster of boutiques in New York, Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Honolulu and here in L.A. on Robertson Boulevard and in Malibu) and the new partnership with Baccarat to produce crystal vases, barware and ashtrays starting at $600.

While the brand will always be exclusive (they just got an order to do the interior of a recording studio in an Airstream trailer), Laurie Stark has started to design smaller leather goods for those of us without rock-star incomes. For the holiday, she introduced adorable clutch purses in soft gold or silver metallic leather with a single fleur-de-lis or filigree cross detail on the front. They’re still limited in production and they do cost $1,265, but that’s nothing compared to the Airstream.

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Inquiring minds like fashion too

Perhaps no other designer has had as much fun spoofing celebrity as Kansas City, Mo.-born Jeremy Scott, who moved to Los Angeles from Paris in 2000, bringing his love of the avant-garde performance-art style of showing with him. Remember his “Oscars through the Decades” runway show with Christina Aguilera, and his “Dynasty” inspired collection showcased in a soapy short film starring Lisa Marie, China Chow and Liz Goldwyn?

Now, Scott -- known for channeling the 1980s in his own outfits and cornrow and mullet hairstyles -- has collaborated with online retailer Yoox.com on the Tabloid Collection. Men’s and women’s pieces (T-shirts, leggings, trench coats, boxer underwear and canvas bags from $50 to $345) feature actual tabloid text such as “Hot,” “Scoop” and “Shattered!”

“I looked at tabloids for six months and found all the words and fonts from different magazines. Then I retraced them by hand,” Scott says.

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To complete the conceit, he had the collection photographed for Yoox.com by clubland documentarian Mark Hunter, a.k.a. Cobrasnake. His model is Cory Kennedy, the teenage style maker who is becoming an Internet celebrity thanks to www.cobrasnake.com, for little more than getting dressed and going out. In the photos, she’s doing typical tabloid things -- feeding the parking meter, climbing out of a car, shopping for tabloids at the newsstand -- always in oversized sunglasses.

“Tabloids have become beyond a national pastime,” Scott says. “I don’t think when I was growing up that Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds got so much attention. It’s even linked to fashion. Nicole [Richie] and Lindsay [Lohan] have become mini-editors.”

Truth be told, Scott, who is 32 and still shows his main line during New York Fashion Week, is a little annoyed at the fashion scene right now, as steeped as it is in commerce.

“We have bag manufacturers and a handful of real designers, very few of whom are trying to propose new ideas, shapes and concepts,” he says.

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Scott’s spring “Right to Bear Arms” show was a commentary on war featuring models in Mickey Mouse ears, T-shirts that pictured cuddly bears toting machine guns and bustiers affixed with airplane propellers.

The collection is sold locally at Scout and H. Lorenzo, and will be online soon at jeremyscott.com.

Scott may not have attained the commercial success of Alexander McQueen, to whom he’s often been compared. But he’s OK with his quiet life in Mount Washington, where he designs his collections, as well as the occasional costume for Madonna, Miss Piggy or Fischerspooner.

“I’m creating my vision,” Scott says. “People can love it or hate it, but you can never say it’s not mine.”

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