Six of the world’s most talented designers are invited to reinvent the Louis Vuitton monogram bag—with remarkable results
WHEN THE MOST TALENTED DESIGNERS IN THE WORLD ARE GIVEN FREE REIN TO REINTERPRET THE LOUIS VUITTON MONOGRAM BAG, THE RESULTS ARE GOING TO BE REMARKABLE. Melissa Twigg GETS AN EXCLUSIVE VIEWING
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