In the spring of 2017 Louis Vuitton teamed up with the acclaimed and ever-so-controversial artist Jeff Koons to unveil their new collaboration: a line of bags and accessories featuring reproductions of famous masterpieces on a range of the fashion house’s most popular products.

The Keepall,The Speedy, and the Neverfull, all beloved handbag designs from the couture brand, were now completely covered with the most famous works by Fragonard, Da Vinci, Rubens, Titian, and Van Gogh. Big, golden lettering in the front of the bags bore the name of the artist, and as a special detail a description of the artwork as well as a summary of the life of the artist could be found on the inside of the bag

While the collection was met with praise for its boldness and creativity, it was also mocked  for its kitschy nature, some going as far as comparing the bags to cheap plastic tote bags printed with celebrities’ faces like Marilyn Monroe or Elvis that can be found in various souvenir shops. But the collection definitely generated a lot of buzz for the brand and was the latest example of the various ways in which art and fashion have always been intertwined.

Sometimes fashion can chose to replicate art directly, such as an Yves Saint Laurent 1960’s shift dress that reproduces Piet Mondrian’s famous cubist prints and highlights the continuing relevance of his art in the sixties, even after his death two decades before. 

On a more recent example, we can observe how art served as inspiration as well as a medium to promote the Gucci Hallucination campaign for Spring/Summer 2018. Illustrator Ignasi Monreal reworked and combined masterpieces such as ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan Van Eyck and the ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch, embedding within them the pieces from the collection. Not only was it a nod to the art world that many were quick to recognize, but it was one of the most eye catching and profitable collections from the brand so far. 

In this day and age, where famously free museums (or more precisely, with a pay what you wish policy) like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have begun charging a set fee for admission, the art world seems to need all the help it can get. Prices rise as museum attendances get lower and lower, and it isn’t hard to understand some reasons why. Just entering a contemporary art gallery as a young person can be a harrowing first time experience for those wanting to get a glimpse; either no descriptions besides the title of the work will be in sight, or certain museums may include a brief explanation that offers too little about the artist, the work, and perhaps its cultural context, to truly resonate with someone wishing to understand it. And this is unfortunate yet logically explained. 

With visitors with levels of knowledge ranging from complete beginner to art historian, a compromise must be made in terms of what can and should be included next to an artwork; a concise description that doesn’t alienate the casual viewer but won’t mock the expert. 

Art and fashion collaborations can therefore create a new awareness for the younger generations — a way for them to become intrigued with what sometimes seems so unattainable; a club that only those well versed in its ins-and-outs are able to enter. Beyond that, brands can also use art to continue to cultivate stronger relationships with their customers, while those more knowledgeable in the fashion industry can look at a Louis Vuitton piece and learn about an old master as well as one of the most interesting figures in the contemporary art world. 

In this way the art in our museums can get out of its sometimes unreachable atmosphere, breach knowledge gaps and enter our daily lives. Perhaps just by sparking an interest in an artist such as Fragonard, the ‘least well known’ of the artists in the Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons collaboration, or in an actual physical way, for those that can afford $4,000 handbags, of course. 

BY GABRIELA ANGULO

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