04/17/2013 01:40 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Style on canvas: Canadian street artists inspired by Rag & Bone line

TORONTO - A concept born in the Big Apple recently expanded north of the border with Canadian street artists showcasing their interpretations of a famed fashion line.

Five homegrown talents took to the canvas to create unique pieces inspired by New York-based Rag & Bone's spring-summer collection.

The colourful artistic creations served as the backdrop during a recent visit by label co-founders David Neville and Marcus Wainwright to Holt Renfrew's flagship downtown Toronto location where the works are part of a limited-time exhibition until April 22. The designs will then be returned to the artists for personal use.

Toronto-based Elicser Elliott, who has had installations at the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as Li-Hill, whose works have been shown at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, were among the participants.

The connection between visual art and fashion has been one embraced by Rag & Bone. At one of their New York locations, the label has an ongoing project which involves commissioning artists or holding competitions to create designs on the wall outside of their storefront, a "recurring mural" where they can leave their mark, noted Neville.

He sees a kinship between the two forms of artistic expression.

"Sometimes (fashion) can be very extreme and very conceptual and even more closely related to art," Neville said in a phone interview.

"No matter where it is across that spectrum, I think there's definitely a lot of crossover."

The label blends British heritage with a modern approach to style. Its name comes from the century-old British fixture known as the "rag and bone man" who would travel in search of scrap metal, old furniture, wood or other means and materials to sell or reuse to support himself.

While it has blossomed into a high-profile brand since its founding in 2002, Rag & Bone came from humble beginnings.

Wainwright and Neville had no formal fashion training, but both were interested in clothing and brand building. Wainwright had the idea to start making men's jeans as a starting point, but Neville said the pair never had their sights set on solely denim.

Starting in Kentucky, they worked with those who had extensive experience making patterns, cutting fabric and sewing and learned the importance of craftsmanship and attention to detail early on.

"It was a really good baptism for us because it remained a really important part of who we are and what we stand for, the quality of what we're doing as opposed to not necessarily caring about that and having more of a whimsical notion of what fashion should be," said Neville.

"Obviously, as we've grown and we've gotten a little stronger and bigger as a business, we've been able to be a little more elaborate and push the brand a little more, and the runway shows and stuff that we do. But there's definitely a good amount of honesty in Rag & Bone which, I think, is really based on how we've built the business."

The no-frills philosophy which defines the brand has also translated to concepts like the D.I.Y. Project which is featured on its website.

Lacking sufficient funds before they embarked on their first advertising campaign, Neville said they came up with an alternative. Rather than shelling out for overly produced photo shoots, they enlisted famed models including Miranda Kerr and Karolina Kurkova and gave them cameras and a bag of clothes to interpret the looks — without stylists, hair and makeup or lighting.

"What was really interesting about that was that through their social media channels and through the other viral kind of elements that those pictures quickly went all over the place," Neville said.

"You sort of marvel at the power of that. It's something that we're definitely intrigued by and we can continue to leverage a bit more because we're not sort of scared of it. We really want to embrace it."



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