LOUIS VUITTON'S RECIPE FOR RELEVANCE
Updated: May 6
Polkadots, graffity, camouflage, splash of colors, studs, skateboards...What??
We've seen pretty much everything on a Louis Vuitton bag. The world's most famous trunkmaker has gone way beyond its heritage since the house first founded in 1854, known for its highly recognizable monograms. Since then, the house keeps remixing the bags by adding anything imaginable on their famous patterns.
However, they have not been doing it alone. The pieces are actually revisited versions that were born through collaborations with artists or even other brands, sold in limited editions for a particular season.
Infusing art into their collection has been a part of the house's new DNA. The opening of their own art museum and cultural space Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris marks their ever-growing presence in the art world, almost like a modern-day Medicis.
The influence of Marc Jacobs, who has been the artistic director of the house for 16 years, and was responsible for the revival of the house from being a leathergoods brand into a fashionable brand, was clearly still there. Being an art enthusiast himself, he has been integrating himself into the art community and reportedly prefers to buy artworks then his own house - according to a 2007 documentary about him and his work for Vuitton. It clearly shows in his work, as most of the house's iconic collaborations with the art were happening during Marc Jacobs' tenure.
Today, they are not letting go of that formula. The house's latest collaboration has just been revealed and it's with none other than modern artist Jeff Koons.
But before i get into that, let's take a look at some of Louis Vuitton's MOST TALKED ABOUT collaborations:
Taking us to a Kawaii buzz was Louis Vuitton's collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which truly marked an era for the house. The collection launced in Spring-Summer 2003 during Marc Jacobs' reign as the house's creative director, and ended up being the most iconic pieces of the house as the collaboration continued for 13 years.
It's multi coloured monogram is an icon of 2000s fashion, being featured in films like Mean Girls, among other celebrity sightings. The collaboration also featured Monogramouflage and Cherry Blossoms, both equally succesfull.
[Eva Herzigova for Spring-Summer 2003 campaign /Louis Vuitton/Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott]
[Louis Vuitton and Murakami Cherry Blossom and Monogramouflage patterns]
Presented in 2007 for its Spring-Summer 2008 collection, Marc Jacobs pushed the boundaries even further through his collaboration with the controversial artist and photographer Richard Prince.
Prince just finished his exhibition at the Guggenheim and already sparked some critics for his work, which included a photograph of naked Brooke Shields at the age of 10. Although being a subject of disgust to some, Jacobs might have seen it as a hot ticket to collaborate.
Known for his depictions of nurses and cowboys, the fashion show for the collection used that reference with models dressed as nurses in see-through uniforms (not just models i must say, some of them were Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour and Eva Herzigova). While the bags themselves took reference from Prince's Jokes series, splattered with paints and spray painted, with cheeky quotes on it.
Richard Prince also photographed the campaign for the season, featuring top models sexily chilling on top of a vintage 1970's Dodge Challenger car.
Car, fashion, and sex. A formula that works most of the time..
[Models at the Louis Vuitton's Richard Prince collaboration fashion show]
[Spring-Summer 2008 campaign /Louis Vuitton/ Richard Prince]
One of Marc Jacob's major footprints in the house of Vuitton is certainly his collaboration with Stephen Sprouse. The collaboration was considered revolutionary as it was Louis Vuitton's most rebellious makeover of their monograms.
The neon color graffity and roses (Sprouse's signature) completely 'defaced' the houses monograms, which could be found in Louis Vuitton's classical pieces such as the Keepall, Speedy and the Neverfull.
As iconic as it was for Marc Jacobs, he paid tribute to this collaboration at his last ready-to-wear show for the house in 2013, by sending model Edie Campbell naked and painted in black sparkling Stephen Sprouse graffity all over her. What a way to make an ending!
[Model Edie Campbell at Marc Jacobs final show for Louis Vuitton in 2013]
Ever since the house gained a new energy into the house through its bold collaborations, it was only logical to continue with the same formula. Their 2012 collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was another show-stopping collection.
Kusama not only put her art onto the collection, she took the house to her own psychedelic world of polkadots. The marketing surrounded the collaboration even looked like Louis Vuitton was just eaten up by a polkadot monster and what it looks like inside its polkadot guts.
[Kusama x Louis Vuitton display]
[Yayoi Kusama's Louis Vuitton window display includes a replica of herself]
ICONOCLASTS CELEBRATE MONOGRAM
For its 160th anniversary, Louis Vuitton clearly had to celebrate it in the most iconic way possible. And what else should they celebrate other than the house's very own classic monogram?
In a big way they truly did. Louis Vuitton collaborated with the the world's most famous visionaries in the world of art, fashion, and even architecture. Designers Karl Legerfeld, Christian Louboutin, Rei Kawakubo, architect Franck Gehry (who designed Fondation Louis Vuitton), and Cindy Sherman, all on board in this project and each put their own twist on monogram pieces.
Though some parts of the collection looks super commercial, such as Christian Louboutin's studded handbags that looks straight out of his own collection and Cindy Sherman's labelled handbag. Others might look like an absurd interpretation of how far can they exploit the monogram. This includes bag with holes created by Rei Kawakubo, a boxer gloves and a literal punching (hand) bag by Karl Lagerfeld, or Franck Gehry's oddly shaped bag (though it doesn't mean that they aren't commercially doing well, I mean i've seen women walking aroud Paris with that holed bag..)
[Left to right: the monogram revisited by Christian Louboutin, Rei Kawakubo, Karl Lagerfeld, and Franck Gehry /Louis Vuitton]
[Cindy Sherman's collaboration pieces for Louis Vuitton
LOUIS VUITTON X SUPREME
One of the latest, and biggest collaboration yet is the one with the cult streetwear brand Supreme. Being the two giants of their own field, this collaboration was probably the hype-est one they ever made. I could imagine the Hypebeasts rejoiced in unison and GQ even declared it the "collaboration of dreams".
Launched during Men's Fall-Winter 2017-18 fashion show in Paris, the collection includes bags, beenies, bandanas, t-shirts, bomber jackets, among few other things. This collection would very likely sell out once it hits the stores on July 2017.
It is quite interesting that the collaboration between these two brands could come around. The house and the skater brand involved in some legal drama back in 2000, when Supreme launched t-shirts and skateboards with a twisted Louis Vuitton monogram on them.
I do believe that there is a strong trend factor that drove this collaboration, as i expressed it strongly in another article. Blurring the lines between streetwear and luxury is the hype these days and being a big luxury machine that Vuitton is, it was in their interest to burry the hatchet with Supreme and cosign them, as Supreme now had flourished into being at the height of the streetwear hype.
Kim Jones, the artistic director of the house's menswear collection is apparently a streetwear afecienado himself and have had a history on working with streetwear brands as a college student. From there, seems like the stars have aligned for him to create this collaboration.
[Pieces from Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection]
LOUIS VUITTON X JEFF KONS: THE MASTERS COLLECTION
The most recent collaboration that got all the buzz is Louis Vuitton and artist Jeff Koons. To me, the collaboration is just a natural thing at this point as we understood that the house would always embrace art in their collection and Jeff Koons has been one of the artists supported by the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
The collection includes classic Vuitton bags with classical paintings printed on them, complete with the name of the painters slapped over it. Not to forget the Jeff Koons initials on the side as well! Talking about riding the text/slogan wave of trend here!
In a true Vuitton fashion, the collection was revealed in a lavish soirée at the Louvre museum in Paris. Well, It is interesting seeing the choice of painters here; Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Rubens, Titian, and Fragonard. Though not all of the paintings chosen by Koons are exposed at the Louvre, but these painters have their masterpieces there and therefore have a certain connection with the Louvre.
The house has been a long-term partner of the Louvre anyway, showing their fashion shows on its courtyard for many seasons, until recently being upgraded into showing INSIDE the museum. So this collaboration, i believe, must have something to do with their partnership.
These bags though, reminded me of those of the souvenir shop of the museum (or even those outside on nearby rue de Rivoli). Taking me back to a time when I used to get excited as a tourist buying a Mona Lisa folder and stationary case to carry it around the hallway at my highschool in Jakarta (Like heyyy it's a fucking Mona Lisa you guyssss). But that was a small souvenir item, not a high-end handbag i would carry.
As much as i loathe it, i guess it is deliberate for the house to create a collection that is somewhat 'playful' and perhaps subversive, just like most of Jeff Koons 'art'. I mean, I sure dislike how these bags look, but i never get the idea of a balloon puppy as an art anyway.
[Celebrities Michelle Williams and Jennifer Connelly at the Louvre for the Jeff Koons Louis Vuitton collaboration/ Louis Vuitton]
Whatever the season, Louis Vuitton will always try to find new ways to instill new energy into their collection and it is quite logical not only creative wise but also for the sake of business.
Louis Vuitton is a house with a heritage that goes back to centuries. It is one of the few houses that actually have a visual heritage immortalized through its highly recognizable monograms. I guess it is only in their nature to try to stay relevant, and doing a collaboration is the best way for them to do so.
So whether we love it or cringe over it, a luxury machine like Vuitton can always afford to buy our attention, and that is exactly the point. At the end, even if the collection looks batshit crazy, there are always people out there who love the attention they're getting from carrying such pieces and would actually spend money for it. Also let's not forget that Louis Vuitton has existed long enough that they have built their own loyal followers. These loyal collectors would definitely get every piece of its limited editions.
If anything, it is interesting to see their attempt to always stay relevant not only through creating memorable pieces, but also by actually being a part of the culture on the day and time we are living.
It should also be a reminder that you don't get to Forbes' list of world's most valuable brand by playing it safe.
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