This summer, renowned artist Daniel Arsham made a serious foray into the fashion world with Objects IV Life. Shortly after its launch, we spoke to Arsham for this FRONTPAGE interview diving into the brand and its ethos.
Daniel Arsham has made a career making works that reference leftovers from our nostalgic culture, like Pokémon, vintage cars, and Bart Simpson. A show at Galerie Ron Mandos in 2019 featured plaster casts of a Mickey Mouse figure that had been wrapped in cloth and rope, while a show in 2018 at Galerie Perrotin in New York featured a full-sized plaster cast of the Delorean from Back to the Future.
For his latest project, he’s teamed up with Stefano Martinetto, CEO and Co-Founder of Tomorrow, to start a fashion brand, Objects IV Life. In June the brand released their first line (dubbed Chapter 001) which featured various pieces of workwear that were made from deadstock fabrics. In a way, by repurposing workwear using deadstock materials, Objects IV Life is perfectly in-line with Arsham’s work as an artist.
Arsham has been known as a frequent collaborator, having worked with the likes of Dior, Porsche, Rimowa, and the design/architecture firm Snarkitecture – which he co-founded. With each of these collaborations, Arsham has looked to add something new and unique to the dialogue as opposed to using brands for name recognition. The crisis of sustainability in the fashion world and the possibilities around using deadstock was a deciding factor in convincing Arsham and Martinetto to start Objects IV Life.
Surrounding Chapter 001's official launch, we spoke to Arsham about his bold foray into fashion and its place in his artistic oeuvre.
How did the idea for Objects IV Life come about?
I've had a lot of overlap with the fashion universe, and multiple people had told me that I should start my own brand. I never felt that it would be relevant if I wasn't able to add something that really carried the character of the rest of my practice in terms of materials and detail.
How did you meet Stefano Martinetto?
About three years ago a friend of mine, Samuel Ross, introduced me to Stefano Martinetto. He wanted to talk to me about doing a brand, something I’d already told him I wasn’t interested in in passing. Samuel said, “Just have breakfast with him and just hear him out.” And the proposition that he smartly understood was that thinking about materials was going to be really important. And he effectively came to me with this proposition of creating a brand that would largely use deadstock materials and fabrics.
How, specifically, did you and Stefano approach using deadstock materials?
Any brand that you can think of ends up sitting on a huge amount of fabric and materials that don't get used. Sometimes they're resold like scrap. So the first collection that I developed uses denim deadstock woven in Japan. The caps of the steel toes will patina and change color – that's antithetical to a lot of the way that fashion thinks about itself, which is that it should be unchanging. Especially in luxury, the basic idea is that things are supposed to be the way that they look when you see them on the rack forever, which is obviously an impossible task. We're really thinking about embracing that idea of patina and wear, almost to the point where the longer you have these things, the better they will look.
That’s also something that's inherent to workwear, no? That idea that the clothing will change because it’s being used for a purpose. But I do find the ubiquity of workwear interesting in that it doesn’t have the same utility for everyone who wears it anymore. Where does your interest in workwear come from?
The materials and the first collection is largely based around things that you could imagine are workwear. But the future collections are not like that. There's outerwear, there's a whole collection that I'm working on that's based on gardening. I'm even looking at suiting. So it started that way, because there’s a use case for these objects. I’m literally wearing the steel toe boots in my studio for instance. In terms of the denim, it was more about the material that was available. We just happened to find all of this amazing deadstock Japanese denim.
What’s the difference between making art vs making clothing?
Artwork is made to last forever, whatever that means. And I think that clothing is obviously not designed in that way, it's not designed to age. So there are certain cues that were put into the design of this clothing, into the hardware. The hardware has a natural patina finish, but (unlike the toecap) it will not continue to tarnish to any noticeable degree. All the buttons were designed for the jacket specifically to be removable; if you decided that you didn't want the buttons to actually stain the fabric over time, you can take them off. If you left them on, when the garments are washed they're going to leave a beautiful mark around the edge of the button. But the buttons will not stain the fabric as they don’t rust. Removability is designed around ease of care to protect hardware in washing machines as well as ease of recycling the garment at the end of life.
I also left a lot of variation in things like the brand markings that are on the garments. They're not silkscreens. They're literally hand stamped onto the fabric in the factory. So there's variation in that. And generally one of the biggest challenges with this brand was convincing the factories that no, that's actually how I want it.
You’ve described Objects as a manifesto for change, what did you mean by that?
One of the things that we're also exploring is developing a system where the clothing people buy from Objects, that they may eventually want to get rid of, can come back to us and be re-engineered back into new garments. It may also be things that get re-embellished. So if a jacket comes back and it has tears in it, or even if it just wants to kind of go through the cycle of the studio again, it may gain something on it that makes it more contemporary. We're thinking about this on a time horizon of like 5, 10 years.
Why did you find it necessary to start a brand to begin with? I think an artist in and of itself is a brand today, and so you can just release things under the aegis of that brand.
Part of it is that I have a partner. Obviously I'm not a designer, so I hired a number of amazing designers who have helped me realize some of the shapes and forms and gone into the depth of material with me. Sometimes, as an artist, it's beneficial to have something that's not under your own name. It feels like you can create in this other box that doesn't get applied directly to the work.
Could you tell me about the zine that you started along with Objects IV Life?
I was thinking about some kind of lookbook that we could give to people that would tease out the ethos of the brand and the way that I'm thinking about it. I have young children, and you know the children's books that have flat pages that are really thick, like a cardboard page, almost? The book is designed like that. It's only eight pages, so it's 16 spreads, and the book actually becomes like a thick object, in a way. The idea is that for each chapter that we release, a book will come with it.
You also hosted a series of dinners around Objects.
They were about getting people together and introducing them to Objects. The first one was last fall before the brand had even been announced, and it was really just getting a bunch of friends in an informal environment for their feedback. I brought out all my original drawings for Objects, and we had a couple of samples with things there, trying to understand what people's take on it was and also looking for their notes and thoughts on it.
Did you use some of the things that you heard at those dinners or events?
A lot of the interesting things that came out of those dinners were about graphics or photography and how the brand is conveyed. We worked with this great photographer who shot the first campaign, Joshua Woods, who I met through a friend at that dinner. I didn't know him before that. It's one of those things where you build this network because I haven't really worked in that space before. Like when I worked for Dior, I didn't work on the photo campaign or anything like that.
What will future chapters of Objects for Life look like?
It ranges pretty widely, but for the next chapter, there's a little bit more color in it. One of the things about deadstock is that the weave varies from piece to piece. There's a camo pattern I developed that’s based around the logo for Objects. Usually when I'm doing drawings, preparatory drawings for sculpture, I make notes. So I'll make a drawing of a work that I want to create. And I have notes that are written around the object that are inside a kind of thought bubble, which has this irregular shape to it. The Objects logo comes from that. So I developed a vaguely camo-esque pattern that's used heavily in the second chapter. And then there's some really, I would say, iconic-shaped jackets and things like that are coming out early next year as well.
Do you plan to expand beyond fashion with Objects?
I could see there being some smaller homewares and things like that. But who knows where it can go? It's just another area to play in.
You can find CH.001 from the stockists below:
KITH LA & NYC
Machine-A Shanghai – from October