Is fashion art? This enduring question is a thorny subject that fashion designers, artists and museum curators have contemplated— and are still arguing about—but for French luxury maison Louis Vuitton, the answer is emphatic: yes.
Continuing its flirtation with the art world this year, the house has invited six contemporary artists from around the world to reinterpret and reimagine one of its icons, the Capucines bag, for its second Artycapucines capsule collection. This year’s artist roster comprises Brazil’s Beatriz Milhazes, French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, American artists Henry Taylor and Josh Smith, and China’s Liu Wei and Zhao Zhao.
Each has given the bag their exceptional artistic take, ranging from the personal to the monumental. Milhazes, who is known for her colourful, kaleidoscopic art, came up with an original piece for the fashion house—her Artycapucines bag uses 18 different types of leather inlaid into the bag’s lambskin base via marquetry techniques devised in the brand’s atelier.
Equally impressive, Chinese artist Zhao Zhao based his interpretation of the bag off his 2018 sculpture titled ‘In Extremis No. 3’, culminating in a breathtakingly intricate feat of wearable art. The sculpture’s metal components inspired the artist to translate this into 353 individual pieces of laser- cut leather, which have been treated in different ways—hand-embroidered, machine-embroidered, printed—for texture and then sewn together in the artist’s precise pattern.
But it is the personal takes on the bag that really impress. Taylor chose his 2017 portrait, ‘A young master’, as the subject of his collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Famous for his critical explorations of being black in America, the 2017 artwork features the African American’s late friend, artist Noah Davis, who died at 32 from cancer. Taylor worked with the maison closely to preserve the painting’s vivid brushstrokes and nuances in colour, employing laser-cutting techniques and traditional marquetry to create and inlay the portrait on the bag. The final effect, to say the least, is stunning.
Along a similar tangent, Smith, an American artist known for his recognisable ‘name’ paintings, took the opportunity to put his signature on the Capucines.
“I think it’s the most obnoxious or provocative decision, really,” Smith says. “Louis Vuitton puts its name on all its stuff, so I feel like my name should float on top of theirs. That’s the whole point, like, ‘Who is this Josh Smith guy?’”
Smith wanted to preserve the painterly quality of his work, which the brand found an ingenious way to do: first embroidering the bag with stitches to emulate brushstrokes, then printing the artwork on the exterior of the bag, and finally embroidering the artist’s name across the bag. And here’s a secret for fans of Smith’s art—the interior is lined with a silk print of ‘Palm #3’, another of Smith’s creations.
“With this bag, I can imagine two people meeting for cocktails and my name becoming a conversation starter,” says Smith. “If that develops into friendly conversation, then it’s a success, because my aim is to relay the joy of living.”
So, to return to the question posed at the beginning: is fashion art? These six artists definitely make it hard to say no.