When Pierpaolo Piccioli, artistic director of Valentino, read Donna Tartt The goldfinchhis mention of a wealthy character being “all Valentino-ed up” en route to a museum gala sparked an idea: What if he had the Pulitzer-winning author write a story for the brand?
Such a request might have seemed a little outside of Tartt’s typical tenure, but last May Valentino launched his first “The Narratives” campaign with his headlining contribution. Several writers, including Tartt, Ocean Vuong and Fatima Farheen Mirza, submitted stories or poems mentioning Valentino. The fashion house printed them as text ads, which appeared on the pages of the new yorker and as enlarged posters in the windows of independent bookstores, including Book Soup in Los Angeles. (Valentino paid participating authors a lump sum and made charitable contributions to bookstores.)
Last month, Valentino launched “The Narratives II”, with 17 authors, including Michael Cunningham, David Sedaris and Brit Bennett. Only the concept of “love” had to be addressed in their submission – and a Valentino logo was affixed to the bottom of the text. (Again, Valentino paid the writers a lump sum.) This month, Valentino will send preprint galleys of three upcoming Penguin Random House titles, provided free of charge by PRH – CJ Hauser’s The Crane Woman, At Leila Mottley’s Crawl and Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility—to a small group of celebrities and influencers in elaborately designed boxes.
Sedaris was swayed to participate in The Narratives II by the inclusion of Tartt (“She must be the best-dressed writer in America,” he says over the phone, while eating orange jelly at his New York home. ), although he says he would he would not have done so if he had been asked to include the word Valentino.
For Valentino, the projects help place the brand in a lifestyle category, says a spokesperson. “We bring you everything. It’s not just the shoe you can’t live without. And while Penguin Random House’s decision to collaborate with a fashion house may seem unexpected, they hoped to reinforce the idea of books as entertainment and creative expression, says Carly Gorga, director of brand marketing at PRH.
Fashion houses and art galleries have recently turned to high-profile writers for collaborations that embellish their brands. Ottessa Moshfegh, author of My year of rest and relaxation, wrote a short story titled “Where Will We Go Next?” which was given to the public at Proenza Schouler’s brooding fashion show in February, imbuing the event with the eccentricity and dark humor of its fiction. (A rep for the brand declined to comment on whether Moshfegh was compensated.) Designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez also featured her in a pre-Spring 2020 photoshoot for Proenza Schouler White Label.
The recent Dior Homme Fall 2022 show was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel On the road, drawing inspiration from the author’s authentic protester for his draped blazers and oversized sweaters.
Fashion brands place particular value on using books to create hype and exclusivity. In November, Tory Burch welcomed Lisa Taddeo, the author of three women, in conversation with Emily Ratajkowski at a party for Ratajkowski’s collection of essays, My body. The brand made a donation to PEN America at the event.
And in December, Gagosian launched Picture Books, a publishing house designed by the author Emma Cline which juxtaposes short fiction and artists as part of the gallery’s efforts to enter the world of publishing and film.
“High intellect is cool,” says Karah Preiss, who co-founded popular book club Belletrist with actress Emma Roberts, which advised Valentino on his book and author selections. “Instagram and Tumblr and now TikTok have created an appetite for a more interdisciplinary approach to culture. I think it’s not enough to care about fashion anymore. I don’t think it’s enough to care of pop culture.
The pandemic may also have acted as a turning point, pushing younger generations to focus more on literature. “People have had a lot of time to read and are really interested in new ideas and ready to think deeply,” says Rebecca Panovka, who co-founded with Kiara Barrow The drift, a magazine launched in 2020 whose New York evenings have become a staple among scholars. “I think they’re especially excited about writers who can help them do that.”
The author’s rise to the cool-kid cafeteria table has a long history. Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis ran into Manhattan nightclubs and restaurants in the 1980s and early 1990s. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a regular at the Plaza Hotel and its bar, so a suite bears his name. But for much of the 20th century, the most serious authors, like JD Salinger and Harper Lee, largely shunned public attention, just as Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy tend to do now.
The expansion of fashionable and arty literature is partly made possible by the fact that the notion of selling off for authors has faded. Perhaps the breaking point came in 2014 when fast-casual restaurant Chipotle commissioned Jonathan Safran Foer, Toni Morrison and others to write original stories on their take-out mugs and bags. Last year, the American publisher of Sally Rooney, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, freed goods for his latest novel which included a trademark bucket hat. Today, it’s a blast to see her book appear on the Instagrams of celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, who has become something of a literary kingmaker, her selections often ending up on bestseller lists.
Because it’s fashion, the trend may not last. “You know those oversized jackets everyone is making these days that look like you were wearing your dad’s coat when you were a kid?” says Sedaris, whose new book, Happy-Go-Lucky, comes out in May. “Now all of a sudden everyone is making a jacket like that. Because it’s fashionable, maybe it’s just another trend?
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