Icon. Iconoclasts. These are huge words to be throwing around. They’re also words used liberally often for effect in fashion, rather than to pertain to their true meaning. Louis Vuitton however doesn’t shirk away from the weight of the words. Their Monogram, created in 1896 by Georges Vuitton (son of Louis) IS an icon in that it represents Louis Vuitton as a visual symbol, and a globally recognised one at that. And the people who have been invited to take part in the latest Celebrating Monogram project are iconoclasts – non-conformists shaking up their respective fields. The project is a second iteration of the centennial celebration of the Monogram back in 1996 when the likes of Azzedine Alaia, Vivienne Westwood and Helmut Lang were asked to contribute their take on the LV Monogram.
This time round the participants, chosen by Delphine Arnault and Nicolas Ghesuqiere have been plucked from further afield and ultimately makes for a much more interesting project. Artist Cindy Sherman, architect Frank Gehry, designer Marc Newson and from the fashion world Karl Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo and Christian Louboutin make up a big ’n’ bolshy line-up of names to interpret the Monogram in their own way.
I had a sneak preview of all the goodies during Paris fashion week up on the top floor of Louis Vuitton’s Parisian flagship store on Champs Elysee to have a touch and a feel for all the pieces. This is a belated round-up of the play around I had with the pieces. So often these limited edition pieces feel like far-removed objets d’art resigned to glossy stills and slick marketing materials. Therefore it was interesting to get up close with the pieces, touch them and try them on. Even more so as a group of Chinese clients were doing the same. Except they were ready to splash the cash as they wheeled around a Christian Louboutin Monogram shopping trolley or took selfies with Karl Lagerfeld’s punching bag case. I found myself getting swept away by the whole clientele thing and wondering whether I should bung two months worth of mortgage payments on a Cindy Sherman messenger bag. Dangerous stuff.
Still, looking is just as good as buying in this case. Especially in the case of Cindy Sherman’s Monogram trunk. This is one of the two “large-scale” pieces in the collection where scale and concept come together amazingly well. It’s basically Sherman’s dream vanity case, complete with parrot-inspired coloured compartments for all of the morphing artist’s needs – fake teeth, eyeballs, facial air. I loved the way Sherman’s artwork has been reworked and adapted into trunk travel stickers that also adorn that aforementioned messenger bag, which is slightly more attainable than the case. At EUR27,000, and made in limited quantities, it still sold out. “I imagine that a Saudi Arabian princess might use it,” said Sherman on the LV Icons website. “I would love if Madonna or Lady Gaga might consider it—or it might come in useful for a drag queen! RuPaul or Justin Vivian Bond, he deserves one.”
Frank Gehry’s bag is another physical triumphant feat. Shaped so that it curves around your hips when you’re wearing it, it’s unsurprisingly architectural but still recognisable as a functional bag. “We started playing with shapes, one of which was this. I didn’t want it to be just ‘a thing,’ so I spent time with Louis Vuitton to talk about the refinement of details, the clasp, the whole of it. I have had fun with them, we have been changing and refining the bag up until the last minute.” If the shape is “wonky” on the outside, then inside, the monogram embossed on petrol blue leather has also been wiggled about leaving another surprise to be discovered by those lucky enough to get their hands on one. “I imagine there would be a lot of ‘establishment’ architects that would be snooty about me designing a handbag. That’s the best part!”
The most practical and user-friendly bag of them all is by Marc Newson, which makes sense given that he’s basically a product design god. He has designed a fail-safe backpack for himself – one that doesn’t fall down when you dump it on the floor and has weather proof properties (the Monogram canvas was originally invented for its durability). Newson has a bit of fun with it too by pairing this seriously enginereed shape with furry sheepskin in bright shades of blue and orange. “It’s cuddly and warm and comes in bright colors, but it is also durable and like a pillow; if I ever want to prop the bag up and have a snooze I can.”
Rei Kawakubo has unsurprisingly caused one of the bigger stirs in this Monogram project. When the Daily Fail dedicates a story to a bag, you know you’ve shocked the right people. Breaking the traditional Louis Vuitton Monogram was the premise of this one work—which was to find something that would be new, some kind of new value,” said Kawakubo on the website. “When designing the bag for this project, I was looking for some new design, something that hadn’t been done before, something within the limits of possibility.” So yes, this is a tote with big pebble shaped holes cut out of it but hold up, hold up… inside, there is a drawstring bag for you to put all your gubbins inside it, reverting the idea of using a dust bag to cover the bag. I’d say that was a classic stroke of Comme subversion.
From what I could see, the Chinese clientale were most taken with the Christian Louboutin Monogram items consisting of a studded tote, edged in his signature shade of red and a shopping trolley that borders on the ludicrous (in a good way). Playing off of Louboutin and love of Les Nabis, the turn of the century French artists who were inspired by Japanese art, and their influence on the original Monogram design, you have Louboutin’s red lacquer and extreme heels merged with the Monogram flower in a very extreme shopping caddy. “For some reason I was seeing the kind of girl that I often recognise in Los Angeles,” said Louboutin, when asked about who he thought would wheel one of these babies around. “These girls generally never venture out in the streets, but when they do, they wander round – with their perfect skin – at these vast organic markets. It is such a scene. I was imagining a girl in Brentwood doing her shopping with the caddy and, of course, she would be on her phone.”
Last but definitely not least, Karl Lagerfeld is asking us to punch it up. Why? We’re not quite sure. “I am always with the line from Voltaire, that ‘Everything that needs an explanation, isn’t worth the explanation.’ So what can I explain?, said Lagerfeld obtusely as part of his inspiration text. According to him, more men and women are getting into boxing and for those that can afford it, his boxing trunk complete with a punching bag, boxing gloves and bags with elongated chains, inspired by a punch bag, would be the most extravagant things to buy. Even Lagerfeld recognises the excess of it all, especially the Monogrammed punching bag wardrobe on wheels. “It is a huge toy for spoilt, grown-up people!” That’s two fashion-y boxing gloves I’ve tried in the space of a month. Need a round 3 to officially make it a trend. Ding Ding.