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Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons


Every time a Louis Vuitton x Artist collaboration rolls out, I go through an emotional journey: from the initial shock that wears off to ambivalence to final acceptance, and maybe appreciation (except for the Chapman Brothers collaboration, which I loved from the start). Back in April, when I first saw the Jeff Koons x LV collaboration in Hong Kong, I was appalled. The collection was part of the large window display at the flagship LV store at Landmark, a shopping arcade in Central Hong Kong; it was an unavoidable, conspicuous and mandatory stop on my way to and from work. I felt visually assaulted every time I walked past it. I was startled by the way the designs came out, not because I wasn’t used to seeing paintings taken out of their standard museum settings and imprinted onto bags, (‘been there, done that’ with the museum totes) but by how inexpensive and kitsch they looked. So, as you can imagine how shocked I was when LV announced they were dropping more designs from the LV x Jeff Koons Master collection in October. Enough is enough!

In the initial launch of the collection in April 2017, Jeff Koons took famous works from five legendary painters—Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian—and stretched them across some of Louis Vuitton’s most popular bags, like the Speedy, Neverfull, and Keepall. With a ‘subtle’ touch, Koons emblazoned the artist names in gold capital letters across the front, and matched the bag’s handles in a plastic acrylic colour palette to the paintings’ undertones. In this second instalment, Louis Vuitton x Koons added an additional six artists: François Boucher, Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Nicolas Poussin, Édouard Manet and J.M.W Turner.

But constantly relooking at the bags, (involuntarily), I have come to accept them, in a way. Kitschy as they might be, I must admit they are congruous and loyal to the Jeff Koons brand-name. Kitsch is characteristic of Koons’ work, and it is his way of appropriating mundane, ephemeral items and transforming them into ‘art’.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Koons declares that he hopes people looks at this collaboration as his continued effort to “erase the hierarchy attached to fine art and old masters.” By removing everyday objects such as vacuum cleaners and shampoo polishers from the household and placing them into the museum setting, he has re-contextualized these dull objects into expensive ‘artwork.’

Now, collaborating with LV, Koons is turning his thesis into a two-way street. Instead of just transforming commonplace objects into artwork, he is taking the most irreversible, unchallengeable works of art, (i.e. old masters that have been consecrated by museum establishments), and commodifying them, thereby transforming these works of art into functional items that can be owned by anyone. Is he successful in breaking down the hierarchy attached to fine art and old masters? Hard to say, but at least this time round instead of converting commodity into art, he is rebranding art as commodity. After all, what comes around goes around.

It has all come full circle, and this justification is as far as my appreciation for the bags will go. One last note: be prepared for more bags to come from this collection, because Koon’s Gazing Ball Series reinterpreted as many as 40 old master paintings.

By Lily Mu

The Aura of the Polka Dot

By Giovanna Culora

As part of the Courtauld Institute MA in the History of Art students are required to sit ‘Methodologies’, a course that addresses theoretical themes related to art history. This week’s theme of reproduction considered how various texts, including Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, connected to images within our specific course sections. Benjamin writes about the loss of the aura, or the embodiment of the originality and authenticity of a work of art through its mechanical reproduction, namely photography. For Benjamin a painting has an aura because it is utterly original however a photograph does not as it is a reproduced image of an image. Whilst studying this text I began to consider how this played out in relation to the topic of my undergraduate dissertation, the Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama collaboration (2012).

The collaboration was a huge global project for both the artist and the brand, which lead to seven concept stores being set up and windows in existing stores being overtaken by Kusama’s polka dotted sculptures and products for the collaboration. Kusama’s polka dot and the Vuitton monogram are pertinent to consider when considering the theme of reproduction. According to creative director at the time, Marc Jacobs, the ‘logos’ are similar in spirit as: ‘they are endless, timeless and forever’. Within the collaboration space the signs had no end point, they were serially copied to cover both surfaces and bodies. The polka-dotted and Vuitton logoed products became vehicles through which Kusama’s motif travels within the fashion world. This led me to consider how the mass-produced Kusama x Vuitton items of dress were reproduced in contemporary fashion and art photographs, and therefore connect to the idea of Benjamin’s aura.

Viviane Sassen for Pop Magazine, 2012
Jordan Donner Revolution Series, 2014

Two images that were pertinent to this discussion were by fashion photographer Viviane Sassen, and artist Jordan Donner. Sassen’s image originates from a series for Pop Magazine based on the collaboration (2012), and Donner’s is from his Revolution Series (2014), for which he exploded Louis Vuitton collaboration bags. The process that was taken to achieve these images support Benjamin’s quote: ‘the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility’. Both images were eventually displayed in solo gallery exhibitions, yet featured mechanical reproductions of Kusama and Vuitton collaboration pieces, which were made purely for the store space. In these images the mass-produced handbags, essentially wearable copies of Kusama’s artworks, subsumed by continually reproduced polka dots, were taken out of the manufactured context and presented as unique artworks; thus gaining their own individual aura through gallery display. The layered process of production and reproduction to create these images shows how items of dress can be displaced and reproduced to create an artwork in their own right.

Louis Vuitton Series Three

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Louis Vuitton’s enigmatically titled exhibition, ‘Series 3,’ has taken over 180 Strand, just a few doors down from the Courtauld. It documents Nicholas Ghesquiere’s inspirations for his fourth ready-to-wear show as the Artistic Director for women’s collections at Louis Vuitton.

Before going to the exhibition, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There is very little information available on Louis Vuitton’s website, and I was only aware that it was even happening having walked past the venue. (I have since, however, been absolutely inundated with advertising for it, which is unsurprising). Upon arrival, I was met by an army of people, dressed identically in black suits with white shirts. Their crisp, stark appearance was, I soon realized, to be echoed throughout the exhibition space. The entrance, as well as all the hallways connecting the rooms were a bright, somewhat severe, white. The rooms housing the displays, however, were an immersive, loud, bright, highly sensory experience. The first room, entered via a white tunnel, displayed a trunk hanging from the ceiling. The round walls played a repeating montage of video clips, some of models talking about their experience of working for Louis Vuitton, others of the same models, marching down the catwalk, interspersed with alternating flashes of the famous LV print and white noise, which spun at an increasing speed around the walls. The whole thing was enough to make the visitor just dizzy and nauseous enough that they had to stagger into the next space. Bright lights, loud music and rapid moving images were employed again and again by the curators, in an attempt to make the experience as immersive, and subsequently memorable, as possible.

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The aim of the whole exhibition, was, it quickly became apparent, to emphasize the genius of Ghesquiere, and elevate him to the status of a revered and respected artist. The exhibition guide described the show as a ‘stream of consciousness, dreams and self-reflexive journeys… The designer’s careful thoughts pair with a  delicate artisanal touch.’ This idea of the designer as a genius, and the exhibition as an insight into his inspiration and psyche is reiterated again and again, creating a ‘sensorial journey, venturing deep into the designer’s soul and an artisan’s heart.’ The curators were evidently far less concerned with conveying any information about Louis Vuitton or the new collection.

 The handmade quality of the objects in the collection was also a prominent theme of the exhibition. In one room, the viewer was encouraged to sit at a wooded table, and watch a real time video of the maker’s hands, carefully crafting a clutch bag. The description of this room tells the viewer that ‘each craftsman’s movement is that of an artist.’ Like Ghesquiere, the creators are heralded as artistic heroes, however, unlike the designer, whose name is the most prominent aspect of the exhibition, they remain completely anonymous. In this room, it is only their hands on show. In a later room, the visitor met the maker, head on. Two women were sat at desks, carefully crafting clutch bags. They were surrounded by an intricate system of lights and cameras, projecting videos of their hands onto screens behind them. The act of making a bag was turned into a performance, and the women a spectacle.

a video showing the hands of an anonymous maker

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The visitors were first shown the collection about half way through the exhibition, in a large, bright room with mirrors lining every wall. Lifesize videos of models marched to the pumping beat on large free standing screens. The effect was clever, making the visitor feel as if they were actually at the show, however, again the clothes of secondary importance to the room itself. The information for this room was quick to reinforce Ghesquiere’s position at the top of the pyramid, stating ‘… 45 models, one designer- Ghesquiere.’

Floor to ceiling mirrors were employed in nearly every room, creating the effect of never ending, infinite space. However, they also caused the visitor to look at themselves too, alongside Ghesquiere’s collection. From a curatorial point of view, this forces the viewer to, perhaps subconsciously, compare themselves to the glamourous collection, or imagine themselves wearing it, giving the exhibition an aspiration quality. This was extremely apparent in the final room, in which the entire collection hung in open Perspex boxes. Visitors were not only allowed, but encouraged to touch things, pick them up and open them. The guide for this room read ‘clothes speak to the women to wishes to own them,’ and I overheard a tour guide dub the room ‘every woman’s dream come true- the walk in wardrobe.’ It was clear that, upon entering the room, the visitors were meant to covet the luxurious, fur coats and elaborate jewel encrusted skirts.

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The mirrors also served another function: they made the rooms the perfect setting for the ultimate selfie. They had clearly been conceived of as the most instagrammable rooms ever (it suddenly became apparent why the wifi password had been displayed so prominently in the entrance!), which was a hugely clever PR technique from Louis Vuitton. Every visitor in the exhibition with me was lapping up the opportunity to take the artsiest selfie they could, which, presumably, they would soon share on social media, creating the desired buzz around Ghesquiere’s new collection during Fashion Week season. I couldn’t help thinking throughout that this was one of the most elaborate and immersive marketing strategies I had ever seen.

in selfie heaven
in selfie heaven

This was definitely not most informative fashion exhibition- I left feeling scarcely more knowledgeable about Louis Vuitton than when I arrived. In fact, I would scarcely call it an exhibition,  but rather the most lavish example of experiential marketing I have ever seen. It was an eye-opening foray into the techniques design houses use to promote their collections. In terms of marketing, the exhibition was enormously clever, because it created an experience that no visitor could resist photographing and sharing. It seemed to be an exhibition for exhibition’s sake. The actual collection was of secondary importance to the exhibition itself, and very little information was provided. However, where it succeeded was creating an unforgettable experience, and, even if the visitors can’t remember what one garment in the collection looks like, they will definitely remember that it was by Louis Vuitton.

Keeping Up with the Courtauldians: Fashioning the Seas

Emma on board S/Y Nefertiti
Emma on board S/Y Nefertiti
S/Y Nefertiti
S/Y Nefertiti

It’s hard to believe that just two months ago the Documenting Fashion MA group were frantically printing, stapling, proof reading, doubting, loving and hating our respective dissertations. For this MA student in particular, the swift transition from university life to the world of yachting came as a bit of a shock. Immediately after handing in my dissertation in June, I left London for Palma de Mallorca, where the beautiful S/Y Nefertiti awaited my return.  Despite having worked as a stewardess on this ninety-foot sailing yacht for four years prior to my time at the Courtauld, swapping Chanel for chandleries, handbags for halyards and the V&A for VHFs was no easy task. When in the yachting industry, one is miles away from the fast-paced, ever-changing cultural landscape of a city like London. With limited Internet, no access to current exhibitions, and no street style (or indeed, streets), documenting fashion at sea was sure to be a challenge. There is only so much one could say about deck shoes and epaulets!

Audrey - style inspiration whatever the landscape!
Audrey – style inspiration whatever the landscape!

Had this been the 1920s and ‘30s, the emerging resort wear would have inspired multiple commentaries on the latest nautical fashions. I might have written about the palatial superyachts of the well-dressed millionaires in Saint-Tropez and Monte Carlo, along with the contents of their wives’ Louis Vuitton steamer trunks. Or perhaps the arrival of Schiaparelli’s culottes, Vionnet’s silk beach pyjamas and Chanel’s Cruise collection; all innovative designs that signified the social change through which a new independent woman could emerge, tanned and tantalisingly free.  I found myself considering the link between the fashion world and the yachting world of the twenties, and how it translates to today. Whilst my initial musings settled on its evident demise, it slowly became apparent that this was not necessarily the case.


It dawned on me that the owner of Nautor’s Swan, the company that built S/Y Nefertiti, is Leonardo Ferragamo, the director of the esteemed fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. Similarly, S/Y Creole, the largest wooden sailing yacht in the world, belongs to the Gucci family.  Sailing past her in Ibiza a couple of weeks ago, all the guests and crew on Nefertiti swooned over the army of model-like deckhands in yellow and brown striped Breton tops. In truth, yachting and fashion share a long and interesting history full of luxury, beauty and intrigue, and the two worlds continue to run parallel. Fashion designers continue to buy superyachts; beautiful women continue to grace the decks of beautiful yachts, wearing silk chiffon; Louis Vuitton luggage continues to evolve, and the yachting lifestyle continues to offer its fortunate participants the one luxury that remains priceless: freedom.  Being at sea is the perfect antidote to the often-suffocating city life. Resort wear designers, then and now, represent this freedom through clothes that are easy to pack, easy to clean and easy to wear.  Despite having moved on to greener – or indeed bluer – pastures, I hope to continue documenting fashion, and particularly the relationship between fashion and freedom. Writing this, I finally understand that ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only’ as Gabrielle Chanel very well knew. ‘Fashion is in the sky, in the street…’ and, it would seem, fashion also exists at sea.