Louis Vuitton’s active involvement in the world of art stretches back through the history of the House. In the 1920s the grandson of its founder Gaston-Louis Vuitton, who would go on to head the company, was a noted collector of artworks who invited artists to work on its store windows. But the last two decades have seen an even closer relationship, as Louis Vuitton has collaborated with noted artists on special projects to reinvigorate the icons of the House while providing a broader platform for art.
For the Spring Summer 2001 ready-to-wear collection, New York designer Marc Jacobs and artist Stephen Sprouse graffitied over Louis Vuitton bags, marking the Monogram with his distinctive scrawl in bright colours. This was a profoundly iconoclastic act, as the House had previously treated the Monogram as sacrosanct. If it was a risky move, it ultimately proved to be a successful one, creating some of the most popular and memorable bags in fashion history and paving the way for other artists to rework the Monogram. Sprouse also modified patterns from his own archive for use in the collaboration, including a mock leopard-print made from the letter U which is still used as a print by Louis Vuitton to this day.
Invited to work on the Spring Summer 2003 collection, the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami created the Multicolore Monogram collection, which saw the Louis Vuitton Monogram realised in colourways based on the artist’s distinctive pop palette. Other patterns that the artist worked onto the Monogram include the Monogramouflage and Cherry Blossom, he even printed the cartoon characters that populate his artwork onto Louis Vuitton bags. The Louis Vuitton/Murakami collaboration remains today in stores around the world.
Louis Vuitton’s Spring Summer 2008 collection was the result of a collaboration with Richard Prince, the American artist known for appropriating everyday elements from mass culture. His ‘Jokes’ series of paintings were carefully transferred onto Louis Vuitton bags and the monogram was subjected to a series of overlaid screen printings in the style of his canvases. The opening of the catwalk show featured looks based on nurses’ uniforms, a nod to Prince’s ‘Nurses’ series of paintings, and the colours throughout the collection were closely modelled on those used in his work.
The summer of 2012 saw a special line of bags, clothes and accessories created with the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The dots of various sizes that feature in her work, a representation of the visual disturbances that afflict the artist appeared on every surface of the collection. To celebrate the collaboration, Kusama also created a series of installations for the windows of Louis Vuitton stores, which included a startlingly lifelike mannequin modelled on the artist herself.
Louis Vuitton has also teamed up with artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson to create special events, one-off products, and commissioned artworks for stores. In 2009, the British artist Damien Hirst created two black leather trunks for surgical instruments. The French minimal artist Daniel Buren collaborated on the staging of the Spring Summer 2013 ready-to-wear presentation, which saw him setting up four long escalators, a familiar feature of his massive site-specific installations, within a huge show space in the courtyard of the Louvre. His striped and checkerboard works also formed the basis of the patterns on the clothing and bags that season.
Louis Vuitton, Damien Hirst, 2009 Leather trunk part of the ‘medical secretary’ set
Work by noted contemporary artists is frequently displayed in Louis Vuitton stores around the world. After curating a series of dedicated art exhibition spaces, the Espaces Louis Vuitton, in Paris, Tokyo, Munich, and Venice, in 2014 the House’s ongoing relationship with the arts culminated in the opening of its Fondation Louis Vuitton, a distinctive museum designed by Frank Gehry in Paris containing 11 galleries dedicated to promoting modern and contemporary art.
This month sees the most high profile of the house’s collaborations, as a new collection of bags and accessories designed with the artist Jeff Koons are unveiled. One of the most widely recognised figures in contemporary art, Koons has brought imagery from his long-standing ‘Gazing Ball’ paintings, a series of large-scale hand-painted reproductions of works by the Old Masters, to a range of Louis Vuitton products. His re-creations of masterpieces by da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Fragonard, and Van Gogh have been transposed on to such iconic Louis Vuitton bags as the Speedy, the Keepall and the Neverfull. Pushing its know-how to new limits, Louis Vuitton has employed the most advanced techniques and craftsmanship to faithfully reproduce the artworks on the canvas of the bags.
In choosing works which themselves consciously referenced paintings of the past, Koons’s ‘Gazing Ball’ series of paintings placed the artist within a chain of influence and inspiration that runs through the history of Western art. Now, by re-presenting these celebrated pieces on Louis Vuitton bags, Koons once again invites viewers to consider these works anew, opening the museum to the world and encouraging us to experience the Old Masters in novel ways. The bags are realised using the highest quality materials, and each one is boldly emblazoned with the name of the original artist whose work is re-presented.
Koons has also reconfigured the famous Louis Vuitton Monogram to bear his initials. This represents a radical departure for the House, which has never previously allowed its iconic pattern to be reshaped. Just as the ‘Gazing Ball’ paintings placed Koons within the lineage of art history, so this collaboration situates the artist within the heritage of Louis Vuitton itself, demonstrating the power of the artistic gesture to connect the present day with a shared cultural history. Elements from this new monogram have been crafted by Louis Vuitton in metal and placed on the exterior of the bag, as has Koons’s own signature. Each bag also carries a tag in the shape of the inflatable rabbit which has proved to be an enduring motif in Koons’s work throughout his 40-year career, while a biography and portrait of the Master whose work has been referenced is featured on the inside of the bag.
This spring’s launch represents the first stage of the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons. Further chapters will be announced in an ongoing project that celebrates the possibilities of connection through the history of art.
About Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is one of the most widely recognised figures working in contemporary art. Born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania, he studied painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a student, he revered the surrealist Salvador Dalí, with whom he got to spend a day after making an enterprising phone call to the artist on a visit to New York. Upon graduating in 1976, Koons moved to Manhattan and funded his early works by working as a commodities broker. Inflatable flowers, balloon animals, cartoon characters and mirrored surfaces quickly established themselves as recurring elements in his 40-year career. A blow-up toy rabbit which appeared in one of his earliest pieces has become a signature motif, immortalised as a 40-inch stainless steel sculpture in his Rabbit of 1986. Other famous works include Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), which renders the pop star and his pet chimpanzee as a large porcelain ornament decorated with gold leaf, and Puppy (1992), a 40-foot tall West Highland terrier made of flowers.