Art Is Hope: Why Zadig & Voltaire is Collaborating with Emerging Creatives

by Freya Drohan

Creativity has always been central to Zadig et Voltaire. To further connect with its community, the brand has launched a charitable initiative themed around the idea that “Art Is Hope” and “Art Is Love.” CEO Chris Tate spoke to THE DAILY SUMMER about navigating the changing landscape.

What was the impetus for this project?
When things first shut down, we knew we had to find a way to help and contribute, as philanthropy has always been a part of what we do. We initially started working with frontline workers and the Red Cross, raising close to $100,000. Three months into quarantine, I felt so bombarded with negative news every day and everyone’s mental health seemed so attacked. The only time I ever had a moment of peace was when I walked through my house and saw art. I was inspired by artist Gerhard Richter’s quote, “Art is the highest form of hope.” It suddenly clicked. I thought this is what we need to be doing—something to improve the mental health status in our country.

Why is art, and young artists, integral to the ethos of Zadig & Voltaire?
The spirit of Zadig is the spirit of an artist. We are a free-spirited, creative, and passionate brand. We feed that spirit through the relationship we have with art, artists, and all things creative.

Chris Tate (courtesy)

Zadig has worked closely with Jormi for years.
Jormi is family at this point. We met her when she was painting a mural at the Soho store. [Artistic director] Cecilia [Bönström] and I happened to walk in at the exact moment she was doing her installation and it just resonated. Cecilia then started working with her and incorporating her artwork.

What is your own relationship with art?
I enjoy undiscovered artists. I personally struggle with the gallery system—it feels old, elitist, and outdated to me. I’m working in my own time to create new ways to debut emerging talent. We’re building a creative community outside of Portland called Proposals. It’s about giving artists a platform to showcase new ways to see the world through their art.

Your dream dinner party with five artists— who would they be?
For me, art isn’t specific to a certain medium, so I’d have an eclectic group of creatives as I think that would be the most enjoyable dinner: Louise Bourgeois, Rem Koolhaas, Martin Margiela, John Coltrane, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Why was it important to support Black Art in America?
I grew up in L.A., and I was living here during the riots in the 1990s. I remember the impact they had on me and the way I wanted to view the world. After watching the senseless deaths of black Americans recently, I saw something in the local news showing the socioeconomic statistics for black residents in L.A., and nothing had changed. I thought so much had changed; our generation doesn’t think of ourselves as perpetuating racism, but the impact of systemic racism became clear to me more than ever before. We shifted the lineup of the project. Someone on our team already had a relationship with Black Art in America. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know [founder] Najee Dorsey and learning about what he’s doing. We helped with funding, granting an immediate donation to hire an art educator. Now we’re contributing a percentage of proceeds to keep funding the organization, and we plan to continue this for a long time.

Hamptons editor Lizzi Bickford checks out the Zadig & Voltaire store in East Hampton

How did Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project find its way onto your radar?
Benjamin has had a long relationship with Cecilia; they’ve done collaborations in Kyoto and Paris. I wanted to get involved, so I joined the board. It’s been a tough time for them as they can’t engage in live performances with all the restrictions, which is how they raise money. We’ve actually developed a much larger collaboration with them, involving creating unique products together, which will launch in the fall. But we didn’t want to wait until then to help, so we brought them into the project sooner. They’ve been incredible partners. We’ve raised a good amount of money through social media collaborations and the T-shirt we designed for them.

Oh, so we have to ask! How proficient are you on the dance floor: two left feet or secret mover?
You’ll have to ask me to dance sometime and find out!

Are there other artists you plan to work with as part of this campaign?
We plan to continue showcasing artists through this lens for quite some time. Next we’re featuring Amanda Wachob, an amazing Brooklyn-based tattoo artist. I’ve seen her work on friends and said, “Your shoulder piece belongs on a canvas in someone’s home!” We’re excited to dive into her archives and create together. Her spirit fits perfectly with the Zadig tribe.

This campaign is rooted in boosting positivity and optimism, what has kept you upbeat this year?
It’s been a hard, challenging year for the fashion industry. Staying positive requires a commitment. I’m naturally an optimistic person, but it requires discipline right now among all this. All the talented people I work with all over the world have been incredibly motivating. Trying to minimize and reduce the impact that this year has had on our people’s lives has been fueling me the most. When you see positive results come from those efforts—saving people’s jobs and helping them provide for their families—that brings me a lot of joy and optimism.

Zadig & Voltaire always collaborates with and supports emerging creatives. Why is this important?
We love to celebrate and showcase new creatives as we’re inspired by their innovation. Whatever the platform—music, literature, physical, or digital art—we love working with fresh ideas. They keep fueling the spirit of Zadig, and it keeps driving this community forward.

Are there any upcoming exciting Zadig & Voltaire projects you can fill us in on?
Last year we made a push into the luxury handbag space by creating a collection with Kate Moss. It’s been amazing to see the reception, so I’m excited to see a collaboration with some artists on creating some artwork and a monogram print around the z and v. Those who have seen it, love it. Anything that is bringing excitement and joy to people in an environment like this is something to look forward to!

What is the biggest lesson Zadig & Voltaire as a brand is taking away from 2020?
Always focus on your customer, your community, your tribe. So many businesses are experiencing rapid contraction because they don’t own the direct relationship with their customers. You must listen to them, engage them socially and physically. If you’re a close knit community, you can survive anything. We’ve built our community over the years and it’s certainly not without its impacts, but everyone is standing arm-and-arm together. We’re hopefully going to emerge closer and stronger.

What lasting change do you hope to see in the future of the fashion industry?
I hope to see a lot of the old fashion systems change. We need to reinvent how collections are shown and how brands are discovered. This change has been building for quite some time. In a moment like this, I hope we let something new emerge. The days of only a select few individuals determining what’s in fashion has to change. We need to give control to the people and brands need to connect with consumers. Everyone should choose what they want to support; that will
make a big difference. Not having physical shows has forced the format to change already. There’s some amazing, interesting shows that happened during this time, and I found myself more interested than ever because it was young, emerging creatives at the center, which has been refreshing to see.

Is Zadig & Voltaire going to show during NYFW?
We’re not. We’re reevaluating the system right now, as I hope everyone is. We’re focused on communicating directly with customers and continuing to build the tribe. We’ll find ways to express the brand, but we have to do it differently now.

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