At first glance, it might have appeared that 2020 was the year of the purely practical purchase: the masks, the hand sanitiser, the Wi-Fi upgrade (still not? Come on!). But, stealthily, there has been a luxury kickback happening, as we look to make purchases that elevate our mood, be that a pair of glitzy earrings, an ultra-cosy cashmere knit or a red lipstick. After all, we still want to feel special.
And, right now, luxury buys don’t come more special than Louis Vuitton’s new ArtyCapucines Collection. Having launched last year, the collection sees six global contemporary artists personally invited by Vuitton’s executive vice president, Delphine Arnault, to reinterpret Vuitton’s Capucines bag – a sleek top-handle design – through the lens of their own distinctive creative vision.
Testament to Vuitton’s boldness, the artists were given free rein. The results are eclectic, from the American artist Josh Smith emblazoning a Capucines with his own name (‘I think it’s the most obnoxious or provocative decision, really. Louis Vuitton puts its name on all its stuff, so I feel like my name should float on top of theirs. That’s the whole point, like, “Who is this Josh Smith guy?’’’), to the Chinese artist Liu Wei’s adaptation of his large-scale installation Microworld, presented at the 2019 Venice Biennale. (‘It was more important [to me] to make a bag that addressed uniqueness rather than simply beauty. A bag is almost like a place to store one’s own unique microworld, even if I didn’t give much thought to functionality. For me, the bag itself could be an installation, and re-functionalising it becomes a kind of beauty in itself.’)
In the past couple of decades, Vuitton has carved out a reputation for innovatively, fearlessly bridging the fashion and art worlds. Back in 2001, when Marc Jacobs was creative director, the house called upon Stephen Sprouse to graffiti over its iconic monogrammed designs. The result? Disruptive and irresistibly collectable pieces. Since then, there have been equally exciting collaborations with Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman and more. In 2014, Vuitton took the relationship to the next level, when it opened the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, a museum containing 11 galleries dedicated to showcasing contemporary art.
One of the talents participating in the latest ArtyCapucines project is Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, renowned for her vibrant collages, prints, paintings and installations. Based on one of her recent artworks, her bag – which features graphic, technicolour leather cut-outs collaged together – is a technical triumph that demanded months of research and development in Louis Vuitton’s ateliers in order to execute. ‘It is a confirmation that a labour made with affection is the answer for success,’ she says of working closely with the atelier. An inlaid bas-relief peace sign also stars on her creation, a nod to what the world needs more of right now.
Does she think there is a natural synergy between the art and fashion worlds? ‘Fashion design has been a reference for my work since the beginning,’ says Beatriz. ‘Design is definitely a form of creation. Differently, art has the quality of leading thoughts with freedom. An artist’s language is the platform for the creation. To be an artist is a message that comes with a belief in the human, that we can always think differently in a poetic way. I don’t think that art can change the world, but it can change people. And people can change the world!’
Perhaps that is also why, even in a world gone topsy-turvy, what we wear also matters. In enjoying the fantasy of fashion, we regain an element of control and take ownership of our narratives, at least where we can. When we feel good, we act better. ‘Now, more than ever, to feel good in one’s attire has become the most important thing, but I think it is important to not lose the principle of looking good,’ says Beatriz.
It’s worth noting too that one of the ArtyCapucines bags wouldn’t just look good swinging from your arm, but proudly positioned on your mantelpiece. In the era of ‘Zoomscaping’ that’s a double-whammy and, when you think about it, practical in its own utterly luxurious way.