press: collaborations in art, fashion and advertising – interview with creative director ucef hanjani


“for ucef hanjani, uniting separate forces to create a more effective end-result is a mantra. during a project for the nike free women’s apparel, which included print and film, he was determined to choose a photographer that would complement the brand. sarah scaife explores the long history of collaborations between fashion brands and designers, and speaks to ucef hanjani of leading agency ceft and company new york.”

“in the world of fashion and lifestyle, these expedient decisions are often based on their creative merit. throughout history, collaboration has occurred between musicians, artists, designers, and other creative alike to develop their respective companies — from kusbi and kanye west, to adidas and jeremy scott, to even the controversial louis vuitton and mikhail gorbachev. such alliances appear to be based on a vast array of reasoning, ranging from business to creativity and back again, and upon further scrutiny, it is not difficult to locate the multi-leveled origin of rapidly increasing collaboration: perhaps it is a retaliation against the never-ending quest for originality; perhaps it is a means of combining separate aesthetics or ideals to convey a message; perhaps it is a purely ‘veiled’ marketing move, deliberately and strategically employed for monetary purposes. although the motive can be nebulous to a naked eye, the effects are obvious.”


“for centuries humans have been developing civilization one brainwave after another, layering idea upon idea to further the progression of the western works. however, therein lies the problem. In a world where the notion of individuality is firmly engrained int he human psyche, it is extremely difficult to obtain. in the creative world, it seems only natural that the incessant search should eventually result in the unity of industries; perhaps two olds can make a new? upon speaking with the industry authority ucef hanjani, founder and creative director of the esteemed communications agency ceft and company new york, the two overlapping industries of art and advertising were discussed in this light; “art has historically been the most advanced form of communication, form Indian tribes to egyptian tombs to african folklore. even after the invention of language and cultivation of words, we still find that today art transcends them all in unexplainable ways. art has the ability to deliver emotions when words fail to explain. so naturally various forms of art have seeped into all forms of communication, and that includes advertising.” and indeed, he has a point; utilising artistic minds within advertising was part of the logical evolution of civilization. collaboration broadened the market, allowing companies a better shot at achieving originality in their advertisements, and thus a greater reaction in the general public. hence, in multiplying the number of hands, creative companies like fashion labels are successfully strengthening their grip on the vague mist that is originality.”


“artistic collaboration…can also be propelled by the reinforcement of opposing fortes. in a sense, by harnessing the strengths of other companies, a fashion house attends to its own corporate weakness. such a phenomenon has been exemplified by partnerships such as fashion designer christopher raeburn and the maker of the swiss army knife, victorinox, who united to create a ready-to-wear-collection for the new york fashion week fall 2011 called remade in switzerland. The collection featured eight limited-edition menswear and womenswear pieces made from reconstructed swiss military fabrics, one of which was a new interpretation of the famous swiss army knife. raeburn, who was already reowned for his reused army fabrics, was a perfect match for the established company. this notion of opposing companies working together on a common project, handed down over generations of designers, achieves innovation while simultaneously respecting the basic foundations of each label. to use an equity analogy, when one mated the male donkey with the female horse, two distinctly different creatures, the outcome of the mule was unique. similarly, the union of raeburn and victorinox produced an offspring that is equally unique in the fashion world. astute labels need to be vigilant about such creative synergies by forming alliances with those outside the fashion family.”


“for hanjani, uniting separate forces to create a more effective end result is a mantra. during a project for the nike free woman’s apparel, which included print and film, he was determined to choose a photographer that would complement the brand.

“nike’s inspiration comes from the streets and the sports that propel everyday people into global athletics,” hanjani explains. “to express this, we contacted the gallery of a French photographer, denis darzacq, who had no agent or commercial representative… we arranged a shoot that was not just in line with denis’ work, but true to nike’s brand.” the ad features a woman dressed in the relevant nike apparel, suspended in mid-air on the streets of new york city in a way that defies gravity. this motion signifies the elevation from reality. darzacq, who had never before dabbled in commercial work, approached the project from a separate business and background provided ceft and company with an approach that was atypical. if the term ‘marketing strategy’ is anathema to artists, then ceft and company deserve accolades for their approach which deliberately freshens the images constructed by someone outside of the advertising industry.”

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“whilst exploiting one’s notoriety has been an age-old technique in advertising, usually the chosen identities are some from of eye candy. there is, however, an alternate take on this concept that has more to do with ideological positioning than aesthetics. back in 2007 louis vuitton incorporated mikhail gorbachev in a print advertisement rather than their usual smorgasbord of celebrities. the advertisement featured gorbachev sitting in the back seat of a limousine as it passed the remnants of the berlin wall, the iconic louis vuitton monogram bag open beside him. the juxtaposition of gorbachev with the berlin wall and a louis vuitton bag suggests that even this icon of communism crumbles to the enticements that vuitton’s products offer. hanjani, who considers this advertisement one of his “favorites of all time”, concurs: “this was so powerful and so appropriate for vuitton, positioning it as not just a luxury brand, but the brand that accompanies the most powerful men and woman in the world. of course, the undertow of vuitton being the king of capitalism and winning over the communist adversary made another statement about the brand, the economic ‘ruler’ that it became. that was just brilliant.” hanjani is indeed on the money. purely by positioning, labels are able to make an assertion about their brand through their advertising. in this case, the former king of communism has succumbed to the power of the chic vuitton label.”


“it’s undeniable that collaborative decisions within fashion houses, however creative they may seem, are often based on their marketing and promotional value. after all, designers are essentially business people, and no matter how glittery the garments, sales are imperative to any label’s survival. however, there is a fine line between tact and insincerity. having been involved for years with the crossbreeding of artists and brands —working with artists such as ryan mcginley, graydon carter, tristan eaton, denis darzacq, the virgins, and terry richardson— hanjani emphasizes that ceft and company advocate unions “only when appropriate. being appropriate is an important point if the collaboration is intended for success and the creation of something that is truly absorbed by the audience.” if only this were always the case. often celebrities are hired to represent a brand simply for financial expedience, or to cut corners, or even worse, to obtain societal approval by association. hanjani shrewdly comments, “[these collaborations] often say little more than ‘buy me if you are that stupid’. to me, those alliances are despicable and desperate on both sides and in a way damage both brands— the personality and the sponsoring company.” accentuating further his disapproval of an inappropriate alliance, hanjani draws upon his previous work with LVMH’s luxury champagne krug as an example. while ceft and company were specifically asked to establish an artist or celebrity platform in order to expand the audience, it was deliberately excluded from the end result. “in our opinion….the aura of paid stars has lost all its meaning. after all, why do intelligent people consider someone to be a star? not for their looks, or their marital dramas played out across rag magazines, but for their contributions to society and their actual work. so we chose to focus the campaign not on the artists themselves, but rather on their interests and inspirations.” hanjani included style icon anjelica huston and the editor of vanity fair, graydon carter, to maintain the edge of opulence and relevance to the fashion and lifestyle world. it can be noted from hanjani’s approach that while collaboration can certainly be exploited, it is for the most part a positive step towards artistic unification so long as those in charge remain loyal to their own brand.”


“a concept espoused by the pages of most history books, unity continues to dive many forces in modern society. while it is difficult on occasion to shake that iconic image of independence from our minds, it’s irrefutable that our past is littered with instances of groups collaborating to form unique ideas and reshape the world. in the fashion industry, it is a useful tool for obtaining originality, connecting with like-minded creatives, projecting a powerful statement, combining similar or contrasting aesthetics, expanding audiences and, of course, increasing revenue. after all, in a society that is largely dominated by the steve jobses and mark zuckerbergs of the world, it’s difficult for artistic pursuits to prevail on their own. while it is often debated that marriages in business can be a dangerous submission for power, or even constructed purely on the basis of financial gain, we must remember the aforementioned appropriateness discussed by creative director ucef hanjani. business strategies are not definite formulas for success, but when applied correctly and with the honorable intentions, can produce industry, marking important milestones from New York, to Milan, to our own backyard.”

ceft and company is a creative luxury agency based in new york. their work includes advertising, packaging design and digital creations such as web based campaigns, social media and apps.