Maria Brito will be completely honest. “I get crazy, creative ideas every day and probably 90 percent of them are impractical or not executable—unless you have five million bucks to spend, and not even care if you’re ever going to get it back.”
So the luxury interior decorating consultant and creative force behind Lifestyling by Maria Gabriela Brito, who’d been toying with the idea of designing a product, gave it some thought and turned out a smartly executed collaboration spanning the spaces of fashion and art.
After placing a massive six-feet-by-eight-feet Erik Parker diptych (pictured right) in a client’s home, the author and Harvard grad teamed up with the painter, as well as artists Kenny Scarf and Carlos Rolon (known as Dzine) to create a capsule collection of clutches with their signature works. As each bag is an edition of only 20, available exclusively with Kirna Zabete until they sell out, Brito says, “They’re true pieces of art because with time, they will gain value as these artists keep working. They already have very successful careers.”
Below, we chat with Brito about designing the collection, and what it really means to buy and live with art.
Where did the idea for this collection come from?
I have been working for many years with artists, and I’m also a collector. Art is what I live and breathe and do in my day-to-day life, so this is a pretty natural thing.
Doing a product was something I had been thinking about for a while, but not with the intention of being fashion designer or a home line designer. The idea was more about creating things that are unique and special that my collaborators and I would be proud of putting out into the marketplace.
And you decided an art/fashion collab with clutches would be it.
You know, I love, love, love this idea of art collaborations. They are nothing new, but I feel like whatever exists in the marketplace right now or has been released in the past three or four years falls in two categories: Either I will never wear it because it’s like, a T-shirt and you wash it and it loses the colors, or it’s inaccessible.
Damien Hirst, for example, did a series of handbags last year with Prada for a special thing in the Middle East and Qatar. They were incredibly beautiful pieces of Lucite with real butterflies and probably ten thousand bucks at the minimum. I wanted to have something that my friends, my collectors and clients and myself would wear. A lot of us are very shy of wearing crazy patterns, but we go for crazy accessories.
Yes, especially here in New York! How did you choose your artist collaborators, Erik Parker, Kenny Scharf and Carlos Rolon/Dzine?
I’ve known them for years—I have placed their work in the collections of my clients, and I have some of their works in my own collection. I started with these three artists because I felt that there’s no space right now to launch with like, nine models. You dilute everybody, you confuse the marketplace, and nobody gets the attention they deserve.
So I reached out to a lot of artists who share a common denominator: These are artists who like to work with color, who like to work with compelling, intricate designs and who all share a very optimistic point of view. They have a very happy perspective on life. It’s not dramatic, it’s not conceptualism or dry and boring. Obviously I respect those kinds of artists, but they don’t collaborate with fashion because fashion is a lot of fantasy.
How did you achieve the look you wanted on each of the clutches?
I wanted to be faithful to the original artwork, so we reproduced the works using a special technology a lot of museums in New York use. It mimics almost every little brush stroke from the actual work so the print has many, many layers of ink, which is amazing. You can’t really do that with a lot of materials.
What kind of input did the artists give you about the pieces?
That was very important for me because I was the one who designed the bag, chose the material, chose the thickness of the acrylic, chose the hinge, and they gave me their feedback. We went back and we corrected what we thought was improvable, so it was several iterations until we got to the right kind of product. These are guys who take their craft very seriously, but at the same time they don’t take themselves seriously—in the sense that they can play along. The three of them have done several collaborations throughout their careers, except they have never done anything like this.
How did you choose each work?
The yellow with Erik, I first saw that piece in person when I did a photo shoot for ELLE in the gallery, and Erik was installing his show that day. I fell in love with the piece and showed an iPhone photo to my clients, and before the show even opened I bought it for them. It was a masterpiece of the show When I talked to Erik, we didn’t even have to think—we both said this is going to be the one.
Kenny has worked so many years on the streets of New York using these creatures; they are pretty much his trademark, so I chose and cropped one that hadn’t been used before by another collaboration.
Same thing with Dzine: I wanted something very chic and I love this zebra pattern. Even for a girl who has no idea who he is or doesn’t know a thing about art, she will probably be attracted to this one.
What are some of the standout pieces you’ve brought into your clients homes?
Definitely the massive Erik Parker piece. I also placed a very large work on paper by Keith Haring that the foundation had released; it hadn’t really been seen much except in a few museum shows. And I placed a Tracey Emin in the house of one of my clients; the image became the cover of Art Basel magazine last year to celebrate her show at the MOCA.
I also bought things from artists that were emerging or half unknown, and suddenly my client calls me and says, ‘I was browsing the Journal auction page and I saw that a similar work to the one we bought together for five thousand dollars just sold for a hundred and fifty, what the eff!’
So how do you advise them when that happens?
I don’t recommend my clients sell anything at auction unless they are in dire need of money. Yes, it’s an expensive asset and it’s a luxury, but I don’t see art as a commodity that you can flip at auction back and forth like a stock. I think that people who feel that it’s a game should just buy stock or bonds.
Look, if you want to upgrade and you feel you have something that the marketplace is looking for and it’s very expensive in comparison to what you paid for it, go back to the gallery and tell them to find another buyer for it. That’s a lot more elegant. Also, the whole auction thing is a very complicated game where people can lose their shirts, too if they don’t know what they’re doing.
As a collector yourself, what works of art are on your wish list right now?
Oh my God, that wish list is so long! I think it has a lot more to do with how much space I have, because my husband is one of those people who feels that art is to be lived with not to be sent to a storage. I could rotate my collection every year or hang things on my bathroom ceiling if I had the blessing of my husband. It’s like a disease. You don’t get a cure for an addiction to art collecting, but at least I get my fix through my clients.
Maria Brito’s clutches, $895 each, are available on kirnazabete.com.