Today, Gucci launched a collaboration between Creative Director Alessandro Michele and artist Unskilled Worker (Helen Downie). Available online now, the 40-piece capsule collection of ready-to-wear and accessories features the artist’s colorful, floral, and naïve-style work.
Michele first came across Unskilled Worker in 2015 on her Instagram account. He then asked her to participate in the fashion house’s “No Longer / Not Yet” exhibition in Shanghai at the Minsheng Art Museum. Whitewall spoke with the artist about how her relationship with Michele and the brand evolved from there.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe the creative connection you feel with Alessandro Michele?
HELEN DOWNIE: The Gucci paintings are an instinctive response to Alessandro’s work. It’s been a lot like a creative conversation. I’ve really enjoyed finding the references in his work and melding them into my paintings.
WW: What has it been like seeing your work on clothing, accessories, and more?
HD: To see my work transformed into a Gucci collection has been an amazing experience; like a walking, moving exhibition. It’s also given me the opportunity me to see my work from a detached point of view and accept the way it is, and not (as I usually do) want to change everything.
WW: You’ve said you like to include hidden elements in your work. Are there any secrets in this collection we should try and find?
HD: I think we both like hidden elements in our work. The silk shirt with “family” printed on to the back was made as a response to homophobic comments left on Instagram. I wished to express that for me, family is a feeling and not an absolute. The shirt is particularly special to me as it has the name Jeanie drawn into it. She was someone who made a huge impact on my life and I will love wearing it.
WW: You created an exclusive work that can be downloaded online. Can you tell us about this piece?
HD: I found it quite challenging as many of the paintings in the collaboration were painted a year ago and my work has changed over that time. It felt as if I were painting a mirror in a mirror. Primarily though, it was really exciting to be painting a gift and so I tried to incorporate the elements in my work that I know people like. It’s probably the first time I’ve painted thinking about pleasing others.
WW: How would you describe the intersection of art and design?
HD: I think we all like to construct these imaginary worlds in which we use a different language to define the times in which we live and to challenge the traditional ideas and approaches.
WW: You’ve always been interested in how people invent themselves in their appearance. How would you describe your personal style?
HD: I’ve always been a bit boyish and since I started painting I’ve become less interested in my own appearance. So most of the time is spent wearing clothes splattered in paint. If I need to get smart I wear a mixture of Gucci, vintage and land girl jeans.