Canvas to Catwalk - Art and Fashion Collaborations

Article  \  2 Feb 2015

Art and design create intellectual property (IP) rights on their own, so bringing them together needs careful consideration on how to handle the collaborative IP rights.

Collaboration between fashion designers and artists is not a new trend. Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli paved the way back in 1937 when she teamed up with Salvador Dali to create a lobster-print gown. Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami inspired a collection of monogrammed merchandise by Louis Vuitton. Piet Mondrian inspired (the now iconic) collection of dresses that Yves St Laurent created in 1965. Tommy Hilfiger worked with the Keith Haring Foundation to create a limited edition footwear collection featuring Haring's line drawings.

As these examples all illustrate, the inspiration and creation that results from artists and designers working together knows no bounds, which is why collaboration remains such a hot trend in the fashion industry.

To collaborate means 'to work with another on a project'. The key to success will be determined at the outset by being clear about what the overall objective of the collaboration is, and how the arrangement will work. Tackling and documenting these issues up front will ensure that the journey from canvas to catwalk is smooth sailing.

To ensure that your collaboration works, here are some important things to consider.

The collaboration arrangement

Be clear about why you are collaborating with one another. Determine what are the expected results, how long will the arrangement last, how are the financial returns to be divided etc.

Copyright ownership

As a result of the collaboration, both parties will create copyright works (the fashion designer, the design of the clothes; the artist, the art). Other copyright works may also be created like the final collection of clothes, possibly accessories, catalogues, promotional materials, catwalk show images and video etc. It is important to discuss and agree on who will own copyright in the various works created.

Often a collaboration may result in joint ownership of the copyright in the final work. Joint ownership means that no individual person can treat the final work as if it is solely theirs. Consent from the other party would need to be obtained first. With both an artist and fashion designer wanting to showcase their creativity, joint ownership can lead to squabbles if both parties want to exploit the results of the collaboration and there has been no discussion about how can be achieved as a win-win for both.

Moral rights

Moral rights are distinct from copyright rights. Both the fashion designer and the artist would enjoy moral rights as those are personal to the creator of a work, even if other copyright rights have been assigned away. Moral rights don't often come into play unless one party considers that their work has been distorted in some way. Talk about how and where the collaboration work will be used to avoid this issue arising. 

Other IP rights

A collaboration is likely to result in other IP rights being created, not just copyright. For example, a collaboration could create a new textile, or a new way of manufacturing a textile or clothing article, or a new method of applying art to a textile surface. Such innovations could be protectable by patent. If the look of the clothing created is different to anything previously designed, then design protection may be an option. And let's not forget about trade marks. Fashion designers and artists are brands in their own right. Each should consider whether their names should be registered as a trade mark for the goods they create as result of their own discipline, but also for the goods that result from the collaboration.

The key message is that a successful collaboration is achieved by getting the basics right, and that includes ownership and use of IP results created through the process. Discuss these issues early and put them in writing so that time and effort is spent on moving 'canvas to catwalk' and not on arguing over ownership.


An edited version of this article appeared in the December/January 2015 issue of Apparel Magazine.