Sunday, September 9, 2007

Denim and Diamonds

Yesterday Levis Strauss debuted their new Damien Hirst designed jeans at Fashion Week, held (coincidentally?) at the Gagosian Gallery. The diamond-studded designs themselves are fairly predictable and the artist can’t need the cash. His worth was estimated at $262 million earlier this year, before the record-breaking sale of his bejeweled skull last month for a hundred million (a deal with White Cube ensures that he keeps 75% of the sale price).

Hirst once represented rebellion and now symbolizes wealth and status, so he’s a perfect fit for Levis, who are looking to re-brand themselves along similar lines. BusinessWeek magazine reported in January of this year that “Even denim stalwarts such as Levi Strauss and Guess sell premium styles to keep up with consumers' demand for higher-end jeans.”

The company has seen declining sales in nine of the last ten years and presumably recognizes that rebellion and authenticity (once the staple of their marketing campaigns) cannot be counted on to drive sales, and that their consumer base now take their cues from role models less like Kurt Cobain and more like Paris Hilton.

White Cube gallery found it important to note that the diamonds on Hirst’s skull were “ethically sourced and conflict free”. I’m not sure if they feared bad press regarding the “blood diamond trade” (Amnesty International has claimed four million people have died in wars which have been fuelled by the trade in blood diamonds) or if this fact was added-value for their potential buyers. Hirst financed the production of the encrusted skull himself, and has said he can’t recall what it cost him.

A series of prints of the skull are also available from the gallery, with the 250 most expensive coated in diamond dust. It reminds me of Lindsey in a scene from Arrested Development: “There’s a cream with real diamonds in it. I can actually smear diamonds on my face!”

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