Art to a T: Limitato

Gustav Peterson, co-founder and creative director of Swedish fashion brand Limitato, describes why he has built a brand on using clothing as a canvas for wearable art

Style 20 Aug 2020

Limitato makes wearable art such as this bomber with Terry O'Neill photograph print

Limitato makes wearable art such as this bomber with Terry O'Neill photograph print

Can you introduce us to Limitato and what you do?

At Limitato we built our foundation on artistic collaborations. I would almost describe Limitato as an art gallery. The brand, the clothing and the collection itself is a canvas to artists. We have our identity too in how we design a T-shirt or a shirt – whatever we do with an artist, the design of the clothing will always be the same. And then our business is built upon licencing artwork from artists and trying to build a community around this. We are selective with the kind of artists we work with; it’s very carefully curated to the ones we are passionate about.

A Limitato limited-edition Terry O'Neill hoodie
A Limitato limited-edition Terry O’Neill hoodie

What made you want to start a brand based on wearable art?

First of all, we love art and we felt that there is something about art that takes a conversation, a garment, a white wall in a house to the next level. Unlike when you put on a plain white T-shirt, the second you put on a print made by an artist or photographer you all of a sudden have a story to tell. When we started, we found this archive of press photographers’ photos from the 70s, 80s and 90s of various really cool rock stars like the Beatles, Brigitte Bardot and The Rolling Stones. But we were 20-years-old and didn’t know how the business of licensing worked.

So we started using the pictures on T-shirts in Sweden and then, in 2015, Terry O’Neill became the first photographer to partner with the brand. His team really taught us about working with licencing and copyright, what you can and cannot do, it was an amazing education from one of the world’s best publishers. And that’s when the brand really took off.

We got into Pitti Uomo in Florence and then we went from being in 20 stores in Sweden to 150 stores across the world. What Limitato was doing really resonated with people. Everyone kept talking to us about authenticity, it was a new word to me but I felt like I could relate to it and it was what we were searching for. We were trying to do something real, which is why Terry O’Neill was the perfect person – with his work and photographs everything was authentic, whether it was Roger Moore as Bond or Faye Dunaway after winning at the Oscars.

How do your collaborations with artists come about?

It’s very different every time, really case by case. But the thing is with the art world is the way it’s built means there are a few people who run the bigger estates, that own the rights for the personalities and artists. Terry O’Neill’s publishers, Iconic Images, is one of them.

As an example, the photo of Jimi Hendrix we used on a T-shirt came about as part of collaboration with his estate through Hendrix’s sister. And then we worked with the photographer, Gered Mankowitz, who is represented by Terry O’Neill’s publisher. Everyone will have seen T-shirts of Jimi Hendrix, but you will never find one using the Mankowitz’s print. The Hendrix T-shirt is limited to 1,500 pieces so it’s really special, a collectors’ piece. We’re not trying to reinvent something, we’re just trying to find the original version of it.

Left, Javiar Martin wearing one of the t-shirts he has produces with Limitato. Right, a Limitato Terry O'Neill shirt featuring the photograph of Faye Dunaway taken the morning after she won an Oscar for her performance in Network
Left, Javiar Martin wearing one of the t-shirts he has produces with Limitato. Right, a Limitato Terry O’Neill shirt featuring the photograph of Faye Dunaway taken the morning after she won an Oscar for her performance in Network

Who is the Limitato customer?

Our customer is either an acclaimed fine artist, or someone going out looking for something special to wear. We design clothes that aren’t for the beach. Because of the design and quality of the fabric, our T-shirts are more something you would wear under a blazer or with a suit. But the funny thing with Limitato is, I’ll find a 20-year-old guy wearing a Roger Moore T-shirt, but he thinks it’s Sean Connery. And then you’ll see a 65 year old wearing a David Bowie T-shirt and you’ll find out his biggest idol was David Bowie when he was growing up and he owns several Bowie concert T-shirts. But to him, the Limitato shirt is what he wears when he goes out at night and wants to look at his best.

Which artists would you still like to work with?

Pablo Picasso is my dream. Also Richard Hambleton, who was one out of three who created the art scene in New York back in the 80s along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Then there are artists like Jason Seife, who paints these incredible intricate arabesque, very cool work. Also Cleon Peterson, an incredible artist from LA. I also really like two guys from London called the Connor Brothers. The Connor Brothers do really cool paintings and also play with words, which is something we would like to try because a lot of our work is very serious.

Then there is John Baldessari, who passed away at the start of the year. I would say he’s on the same kind of level as Picasso and Hambleton or Andy Warhol but lesser known. Warhol would be amazing to do, but it’s very obvious. I think it’s nice to try to introduce our customer to an artist they should know, but they don’t. They can share something that people don’t already know about.

What can we look forward to for AW20?

We’ve worked on a collection with an artist we love called Javier Martin. I’ve been asking him to work with us for two years so I’m really excited it’s happened. He’s a young Spanish artist and we’ve worked with his collection Blindness, in which the eyes of a beautiful portrait are obscured by a bright stroke of paint or neon.

It’s hard for some artists to come to collaborate with Limitato. Because putting their work on a clothing collection is a little like commercialising them and artists are very careful about doing that. When we signed with Javier Martin it felt like our concept and idea was proved because he is so careful with what he does. Also, when he received his Limitato pieces that he created, he filmed a five-minute YouTube video of him unpacking stuff because he was so excited.

It must be so satisfying to see a collaborator be so happy with the product?

Yes, and that’s also what’s really nice with working with young emerging artists, we can be a part of their journey. We work with a fantastic photographer called Riocam, our collaboration on the SS20 Limitato collection with him was very strong. When we signed with him, I think he had around 5,000 followers on Instagram, and was an up-and-coming photographer. And now he has a huge following and he does a lot of really cool shoots for big magazines. His hobby is shooting fine art photography, which we licensed to sell on clothing and, from a few weeks ago, on our new fine-art posters.

What are your ambitions for the future of Limitato?

Essentially to become a platform for the artists we work with, and especially for shiny new talent. That to us is the most exciting part – to be able to find an artist and help them make their following and grow their value as an artist. Also to be more of a lifestyle brand built around artists – moving into also selling art, for example. We’re going to be doing this with Terry O’Neill later this year. We want to become a society of really cool things.

Who are your style icons?

Ralph Lauren because he has managed to sell his dream and it’s pretty remarkable that it works in all these different places. I would also say Tom Ford because, again, his vision and lifestyle are very clear.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always strive towards authenticity. Because if you’re more focused on that, than selling or making money I think the success will eventually come.