Renamed with the late Princess of Wales in mind, Lady Dior is an emblematic piece from the French maison. The iconic handbag is a longstanding symbol of elegance and modernity and has been fashioned in a vast collection of materials and designs. Since 2016, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri has helmed the Dior Lady Art Project, an initiative that cements Lady Dior’s versatility and ongoing relationship with art. In its eighth cycle this year, the project invites 12 artists from across the globe to reimagine the accessory, transforming the bag into a piece of art that reflects their individual styles.
The 12 artists are Mircea Cantor, Jeffrey Gibson, Gilbert & George, Ha Chong-Hyun, Lee Kun-Yong, Mariko Mori, Ludovic Nkoth, Hilary Pecis, Mickalene Thomas, Zadie Xa, Michaela Yearwood-Dan and Xu Zhen. With each artist having free reign, the maison welcomes 12 new and energetic perspectives.
Aiming to showcase his heritage as well as his personal journey of being a Cameroonian immigrant, Nkoth’s iteration of Lady Dior stands out as it challenges traditional notions of what the French luxury house is known for. From cowrie shells for the handles and a bespoke design printed on the interior, Nkoth’s personal touch is one to wonder at. Using West African symbols and motifs, down to embellishments on the quilting, his creations challenge the traditional binaries often associated with luxury accessories.
Here, Nkoth delves into the process of reimagining Dior’s signature accessory and celebrating art in all its forms.
Please describe your artistic universe in a few words.
My artistic universe is one that is driven by curiosity, one that holds both ideas and chance in the highest esteem, which speaks towards not only my ethos but also my process as a painter. A universe that asks the hard questions pertaining to different social fabrics such as family, community and how to care for one another.
What do you consider to be your most emblematic works?
I would say that all the works that are tied to my journey of being a Cameroonian immigrant are emblematic of my project as a whole. All my work is about that to a degree, but I’m referencing the ones that are more conspicuous in this theme, the works that are directly about migrating. For example, ‘Holding on to Hope’, 2020, was emblematic of how I was feeling during the pandemic. Other works like ‘In Search of Reparations’, 2020, and ‘Don’t Take This Too’, 2020, speak towards a more political personal narrative. I would say that these latter works tackle the themes of migratory issues more overtly. The personal is always political. These three works encapsulate my practice rather well—yet, my practice is always evolving.
What do you like most about the Lady Dior bag?
I love that it’s timeless, simple in design yet elegant. I also love the story behind its conception. It feels more than just a bag; its history is alive, much like art.
How did you reinterpret it? And what does this new Lady Dior symbolise for you? What were your sources of inspiration?
I made Lady Dior my own by retaining its classic shape and remaking small details on the bag. I added symbols that were representative of my work, such as the masks and the shells. I wanted to take a bag that exists in a completely different world and bring it into my world. I attempted to recontextualise Lady Dior using personal West African symbolism and motifs. My personal narrative was a crucial inspiration when designing it.
Which kinds of savoir-faire did you highlight? What materials did you use?
We worked a lot with gold metals, for the legs of the bags and for the masks. The inside lining of the bag is made of leather with a printed design of mine; it’s the only area in the bag where you see my paintings. I love that it’s inside the bag too. It acts like a surprise, a peek into my world. We used beads as a stitching element; the literal and figurative thread between the shells and the masks. The stitching acted as a through-line that connects these two elements. We also designed three different handles and one of them is made of cowrie shells. The feel of this particular handle is different; it feels more like holding a piece of jewellery.
“I attempted to recontextualise Lady Dior using personal West African symbolism and motifs. My personal narrative was a crucial inspiration when designing it.”
Is this the first time you have been approached to reinvent a fashion accessory?
First time for an accessory, yes. Hopefully not the last.
In such a context, what does a project like Dior Lady Art represent for you? A call to celebrate art in all its forms?
A project like this expands a conversation within my practice. It was a challenge to try to make a bag express the same themes that my work does. How can a bag as canonical as Lady Dior express a homage to my Cameroonian history? In a way, this collaboration feels like I’m celebrating my practice. For example, you can’t walk around the city holding one of my paintings, but you can walk around wearing my bag. It expands my reach. I think the goal for Dior Lady Art was to situate the work of artists in a different setting. It allows their work and mine to be seen in a different light. So, yes this project does attempt to break down barriers of what is art versus what is couture. I hope that wearing the bags sparks questions and interesting conversations.
The December ‘Carouse’ issue of Vogue Singapore is available for sale online and in-store from 14 December 2023.