Somewhere beyond fame there is something else, something like myth – where personal branding, as we now know it, reaches escape velocity to achieve icon status. This is the plane occupied by, say, Mr Bob Marley, by Mr Che Guevara, figures whose faces on a T-shirt give them political, religious meaning beyond just a tribute to their lives. For the people who have gained entry into this pantheon, for icons, biographical data and vital stats become abstractions. What they represented becomes the whole story.
No American artist in history was more cognizant of iconography than Mr Andy Warhol, of course, whose main metier was the elevation of brand logos, housewares, American archetypes and even movie stars to the realm of the religious as pop art. When, in 1971, Mr Warhol painted the writer, actor, and director Mr Dennis Hopper – a painting that has now been silkscreened on to Pendleton blankets and Fiestaware dining sets as a part of MR PORTER’s exclusive Calvin Klein’s home collection – Mr Hopper already meant something. As the creative force behind 1969’s Easy Rider, Mr Hopper was the independent visionary who had completely redrawn the operational map of Hollywood. He was David to the industry’s Goliath. He was pied piper to all the aspirant auteurs, a radical artist, and a figurehead for revolutionary lifestyles then coming to the fore. Putting all of that into a single frame, Mr Warhol knew, was like minting a magical coin. In its presence you would be nearer the revolution, nearer the art, the success for which Mr Hopper was then the avatar.
Another artist well aware of this transitive magic is Mr Raf Simons. In his time as chief creative officer at Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, Mr Simons has explicitly asserted the Calvin Klein staples – the briefs, the white tee – into the canon of American icon. On top of which he has then printed pieces from his collections with artworks by Mr Warhol himself, thus doubling, or tripling, or compounding-unto-infinity the layers of reference and irony at play (the better to swaddle yourself in myth, or take your tea from the mythic cup). And this conscious contextualizing of Americana and pop art does indeed make a something greater than the sum of its parts, stacking up totems of references and meaning.