Re­mak­ing the­mono­gram

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

Six of the world’s most tal­ented de­sign­ers are in­vited to rein­vent the Louis Vuit­ton mono­gram bag—with re­mark­able re­sults


Ev­ery­thing that needs an ex­pla­na­tion isn’t worth the ex­pla­na­tion. So what can I ex­plain to you?” says Karl Lager­feld, in his typ­i­cally cryp­tic man­ner, when asked to dis­cuss his ex­cit­ing new ven­ture for Louis Vuit­ton. Lager­feld, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Chanel, is pos­si­bly be­ing enig­matic be­cause of the col­umn inches gen­er­ated when news of his part­ner­ship with the ri­val lux­ury lug­gage brand broke ear­lier this year. Luck­ily, Ni­co­las Gh­esquière, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Louis Vuit­ton, has lit­tle to worry about. Along with five other icon­o­clasts, the opin­ion­ated Lager­feld has been asked by Vuit­ton’s ex­ec­u­tive vi­cepres­i­dent, Del­phine Ar­nault, to rein­ter­pret the brand’s sig­na­ture mono­gram hand­bag for a lim­ited edi­tion line that cel­e­brates the la­bel’s 160th an­niver­sary later this year.

De­sign­ers Marc New­son, Chris­tian Louboutin and Rei Kawakubo, pho­tog­ra­pher Cindy Sher­man and ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry are also tak­ing part in the project—called The Icon and The Icon­o­clasts—and the bags, re­leased world­wide this month, are ex­pected to cre­ate un­prece­dented wait­ing lists.

“In all hon­esty, I’m thrilled with the re­sults of this project,” says Ar­nault from her of­fice in Paris. “It’s not a sur­prise though, as they are all ex­tra­or­di­nary artists; I could even say they are the great­est de­sign­ers in the world. And as tes­ta­ment to their in­flu­ence, many of them have al­ready col­lab­o­rated with the LVMH group: Karl Lager­feld for Fendi and Frank Gehry for the Louis Vuit­ton Foun­da­tion.”

Louis Vuit­ton nonethe­less sur­prised fash­ion com­men­ta­tors when it chose to part­ner with de­sign­ers from nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent fields of cre­ativ­ity, rather than

just fash­ion, and from a va­ri­ety of coun­tries as well as France. Ar­nault ex­plains, “Their ta­lent is what counts, not their na­tion­al­ity or do­main of ex­per­tise. This is why we wanted to in­ter­na­tion­alise this project. In the end, it is won­der­ful to wit­ness the en­chant­ment with which these de­sign­ers re­gard Louis Vuit­ton.”

The names that Louis Vuit­ton at­tracted for the project cer­tainly il­lus­trate the power and pull of the brand—and that uniquely pat­terned leather that in the LV lex­i­con is known as “the mono­gram.”

“I would never have imag­ined do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar, but it just hap­pened seam­lessly,” says Frank Gehry, the Pritzker Prize-win­ning US ar­chi­tect whose no­table works in­clude the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in Bil­bao, the Ciné­math­èque Française in Paris and the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall in Los An­ge­les. “At first I thought, ‘A hand­bag? Re­ally?’ Then I said to my­self, ‘Okay, I’ll try and make one.’ That’s al­ways my kind of at­ti­tude: let’s try. So I did, and Louis Vuit­ton loved it. I imag­ine there are a lot of es­tab­lish­ment ar­chi­tects who would be snooty about me de­sign­ing a hand­bag, and that’s the best part.”

For his first foray into fash­ion, Gehry un­sur­pris­ingly re­tained the ar­chi­tec­tural qual­i­ties he’s renowned for and cre­ated a curved, rec­tan­gu­lar hand­bag (the small­est of the col­lec­tion) that is un­like any­thing pre­vi­ously seen at Louis Vuit­ton, com­plete with a rich navy blue in­te­rior. “It all hap­pened in­tu­itively; it wasn’t con­trived,” Gehry says. “If I’d set out to de­sign a hand­bag that fits into Louis Vuit­ton’s world and works with Louis Vuit­ton’s cus­tomers, I think it would be con­trived. This bag is play­ful and the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing it was play­ful, but in a se­ri­ous way.”

Cindy Sher­man’s trunk also marked her de­but into the won­der­ful world of ac­ces­sories. The US pho­tog­ra­pher and film di­rec­tor is best known for her con­cep­tual por­traits that ques­tion the roles of women in so­ci­ety. Sher­man plays up her colour­ful past with a large ren­di­tion of a dress­ing ta­ble that is in fact a trunk turned side­ways, with se­cret draw­ers and com­part­ments. It’s all painted in the colours of a par­rot, yel­low and green—com­plete with a red beak for a han­dle. “The trunk is so per­sonal to me,” she says. “I have hand­writ­ten la­bels for all of the com­part­ments: fake eye­balls, fake teeth… Of course any­body could put his or her un­der­wear or T-shirts in­side in­stead. I imag­ine that a Saudi Ara­bian princess might use it. I would love it if Madonna or Lady Gaga con­sid­ered it, or it might even come in use­ful for a drag queen.”

In­dus­trial de­signer Marc New­son, who spe­cialises in air­craft, fur­ni­ture and cloth­ing de­sign, chose a more pro­saic item—a back­pack—but still gave it a lux­u­ri­ous Louis Vuit­ton stamp, as it’s made with high-qual­ity shear­ling. “I make things that fun­da­men­tally I would like to own,” says New­son. “I also wanted to ex­plore the mono­gram’s func­tional qual­i­ties. If you go back to the rea­son why the mono­gram can­vas was in­vented, it’s be­cause it was durable and weather-proof. I de­lib­er­ately used it at the base so it be­came like the tyre on a car or the sole of a shoe.” New­son then jux­ta­posed the leather with thick lay­ers of brightly coloured shear­ling that give his boxy back­packs a fu­tur­is­tic feel.

Chris­tian Louboutin, a man known for sell­ing ver­tig­i­nous heels with sexy scar­let soles, also sur­prised the fash­ion press by mak­ing a shop­ping trol­ley—an item more of­ten as­so­ci­ated with French grand­moth­ers than his typ­i­cal client base. “The bag had to be a com­bi­na­tion of two DNAS: my own and Louis Vuit­ton’s,” he says. “This meant it should have a very French, very Parisian in­flu­ence. I was born and raised in Paris, so I thought about some­thing that would be un­mis­tak­ably Parisian for me. This is how “WE WANTED TO RE­SPECT EACH ARTIST’S IN­DI­VID­UAL CRE­ATIVE GE­NIUS AND IMAG­I­NA­TION, SO WE GAVE THEM CARTE BLANCHE THROUGH­OUT” the idea of the caddy came about. The bag is to­tally at­tached to the sight of some­one shop­ping in the mar­kets of Paris. I once tried to count the num­ber of cad­dies I saw in two hours at a Parisian mar­ket: 109!” Louboutin then added the red lac­quer— et voilà.

Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Ja­panese fash­ion la­bel Comme des Garçons, also cre­ated a per­sonal piece. She spe­cialises in aus­tere, de­con­structed gar­ments and brought this con­cept to Louis Vuit­ton for the very first time. “Break­ing the tra­di­tional Louis Vuit­ton mono­gram mould was the premise of this work, to find some­thing that was new and had some kind of new value,” she says. Kawakubo

took a clas­sic Louis Vuit­ton tote bag and cut a se­ries of frayed holes in the shape of a face, thus jux­ta­pos­ing the glossy, rich mono­gram leather with her own anti-fash­ion aes­thetic.

Fi­nally, we move to the un­ex­plain­able work of Lager­feld. In­spired by nu­mer­ous friends who had re­cently started box­ing, he wanted his de­sign to have a sport­ing fo­cus— so he cre­ated the most lux­u­ri­ous box­ing bag in the world. “I ba­si­cally de­signed a huge piece of lug­gage with a punch­ing bag in it,” he says. “We made a spe­cial car­pet with an ap­pli­ca­tion for be­gin­ners: where and how to put your feet and how to move. There is also a lit­tle bag with box­ing gloves—child­ish, sim­ple think­ing. I imag­ined peo­ple would keep the trunk in their dress­ing rooms and use it as a closet. You re­move the punch­ing bag, put that on its spe­cial metal stand, and use it like that. It’s ba­si­cally a huge toy for spoilt grown-ups.”

Over­see­ing such a group of in­domitable peo­ple can­not have been an easy task, but Ar­nault and Gh­esquière man­aged it with aplomb, giv­ing each de­signer as much free­dom as pos­si­ble so that the fi­nal prod­uct could be a unique rep­re­sen­ta­tion of their per­son­al­i­ties. “There were many ex­changes be­tween our house and theirs, dozens of meet­ings with the de­sign­ers,” says Ar­nault. “They came to Louis Vuit­ton and in turn we dis­cov­ered their uni­verse. Each one worked dif­fer­ently. Karl pre­sented us with his first sketches, Frank Gehry with mod­els close to the fin­ished project. How­ever, we wanted to re­spect each artist’s in­di­vid­ual cre­ative ge­nius and imag­i­na­tion, so we gave them carte blanche through­out. We sim­ply said to cre­ate a bag or piece of lug­gage, the only obli­ga­tion be­ing to use the renowned mono­gram can­vas.”

The mono­gram, which was per­son­ally de­signed in 1896 by Ge­orges Vuit­ton in hon­our of his late fa­ther, Louis, re­mains the defin­ing sig­na­ture of the house. A hand­crafted, unique and per­sonal me­mento, it has come full cir­cle through this project, once again placed at the fore­front of fash­ion and de­sign. “We need to look to the fu­ture while en­com­pass­ing the glory of our past,” says Ar­nault. “Louis Vuit­ton is a mod­ern la­bel that walks hand in hand with peo­ple along the years. And the mono­gram has lived through the brand’s count­less evo­lu­tions, rein­vent­ing it­self, but never los­ing its essence. It’s the lead­ing tes­ta­ment to our suc­cess, so it was nat­u­ral that we should pay homage to it.”

gloves out Open­ing spread and be­low: Karl Lager­feld’s box­ingth­emed de­signs; right: Del­phine Ar­nault and Lager­feld at Louis Vuit­ton’s Paris ate­lier

colour crush Cindy Sher­man de­signed a dress­ing ta­ble, which was painted in the shades of a par­rot, and a bag in­spired by her trav­els

piece of paris Chris­tian Louboutin de­signed two items for Louis Vuit­ton: a stud­ded hand­bag and a typ­i­cally French caddy

bag it From left: De­signs by Frank Gehry, Marc New­son and Rei Kawakubo

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