At this point, Jean-Michel Basquiat is the hardest working designer in fashion. Though he’s been dead for nearly three decades, in 2022 his work has coloured Samsonite suitcases, CASETiFY accessories, and clothing from Wacko Maria, Neuw Denim, Études, and SoulGoods, amid countless other streetwear brands. Needless to say, the majority of these “collaborations” have torn at Basquiat’s back catalogue quite ungraciously, transforming the artist into fodder for Urban Outfitters. But this needn’t always be the case – the Black Fashion Fair, for example, has honoured the artist’s intentions with integrity in a new collaboration tied to the King Pleasure exhibition currently on display in New York.
Designers including Theophilio, Hanifa, Head of State, and Who Decides War have all created one-off pieces based on Basquiat’s body of work, running the gamut of hooped mini dresses, knitted gowns, and screen-printed tailoring. Most of these will be debuted as part of a show-within-a-show dubbed Those Who Dress Better, with 16 pieces available to purchase for a limited time, among them sweaters, painted handbags, and crown-shaped jewellery. “I wanted to champion the richness and textures of my favourite pieces from the exhibition,” Evin Thompson of Theophilio said, having created a piece based on Basquiat’s Cabeza – a painting made in 1982 scrawled with the word “Aopkhes”, the meaning for which remains mysterious despite appearing in a number of his artworks.
There’s an argument to be made in favour of the breathless rehashing of Basquiat’s image. He was first and foremost a graffiti artist, emblazoning public transport and New York sidewalks with his frenzied hieroglyphics, and so, perhaps all those sneaker collaborations simply bolster the omnipresence he sought to establish in his lifetime. “You could scorn the commercialisation, but isn’t it what he wanted, to colour every surface with his runes?,” as Olivia Laing noted in a 2017 essay on the artist in Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency. King Pleasure will run until January 1, in the meantime click here to see more from Black Fashion Fair’s collaboration.