When the fashion world speaks of “heritage” and “luxury” the first great name that comes to mind is Louis Vuitton. In 1854, French luggage maker Louis Vuitton opened a shop in Paris devoted to trunks and travel, not knowing that he would begin a legacy that other luxury brands could only aspire to. Innovations such as the steamer trunk — a waterproof, flat-topped, stackable trunk —the monogram, and non-pickable locks helped to enforce the designer’s status and later designs from Louis Vuitton’s son Georges such as the Keepall and Speedy travel bags remain popular today. The creation of the luxury conglomerate LVMH in 1987 cemented the Louis Vuitton brand as a luxury powerhouse. Today, artists, designers, and architects alike celebrate the legend of Louis Vuitton as a lasting symbol of ingenuity, durability, and luxury.
During his tenure as creative director of the house from 1997 to 2014, Marc Jacobs set a precedent of collaboration with designers and artists beginning with Stephen Sprouse. Sprouse’s 2001 neon graffiti collection, a previously unheard of alteration of the iconic LV monogram, added modern attitude to the classic designs, marking a new direction for the historic brand. The significance of this move was emphasized when Jacobs left the house in 2013 with Edie Campbell walking the runway covered in sparkling Sprouse body paint, emulating one of Jacobs’ most important contributions. In 1996, in honor of the Louis Vuitton monogram’s 100th birthday, the house asked seven designers to reinterpret the iconic design in their own ways. While some designers stuck to a theme of honoring the brand’s history — like Manolo Blahnik’s Oval Travel Trunk — others more freely interpreted the design to suit their own design aesthetic, like Vivienne Westwood’s edgy Bum Bag and Isaac Mizrahi’s modern Transparent Plastic Shopping Bag. Still other designers found a happy medium between modernity and heritage, as exemplified by Romeo Gigli’s Cylindrical Shoulder Bag and Helmut Lang’s Record Trunk.
Nearly twenty years later, for Louis Vuitton’s 2014 Iconoclast Project, the brand asked six creators in various fields to once again help celebrate the iconic monogram. An obvious choice, Christian Louboutin lent his own archetypal trademark — the red sole — to Louis Vuitton. Recreating the monogram with his Shopping Bag and Trolley, Louboutin added studded embellishments and his own trademark red hue to celebrate what the monogram means to him. Karl Lagerfeld, ever a slave to streetwear, incorporated his own vision with a Louis Vuitton monogrammed punching bag, boxing gloves, and bucket bag. Keeping with the brand’s heritage of luggage and travel accessories, Lagerfeld also created a storage trunk. Designer Marc Newson stuck to Louis Vuitton’s heritage of quality and functionality, creating a set of colorful shearling-detail backpacks emblazoned with the monogram. Perhaps the most avant-garde of the interpretations, Rei Kawakubo’s monogram tote was embellished with burn holes, allowing the bag to be see-through and lose functionality.
The iconoclast collection was, notably, not limited to designers. Inspired by her pet parrot, photographer Cindy Sherman designed an eye-catching, functional trunk with 31 built-in drawers made of colorful suede, a vanity table, and a fold-out stool. Covered in the iconic monogram and colorful travel patches, the trunk celebrates Louis Vuitton’s brand history while simultaneously introducing a new balance of form and function. The final of the “Six Iconoclasts,” and fresh off the heels of designing the stunning architecture for Foundation Louis Vuitton, Frank Gehry lent his architectural genius to the world of fashion with his contemporary, bold, and fluid Twisted Box. Gehry’s architectural feat of the Foundation Louis Vuitton, which evokes the history of glass garden buildings alongside the contemporary, would continue to inspire artists with its melding of interior and exterior. French installation artist Daniel Buren would go on to reinterpret the design in 2016 with his Observatory of Light, covering the building’s glass panes in colorful filters which project, reflect, and reinterpret light itself.
The Iconoclasts collection was neither the first nor the last collaboration between Louis Vuitton and various artists. In fact, the work of of the brand’s collaborators produced some of the most iconic Louis Vuitton designs we know today. Perhaps the most recognizable, LV’s 2003 collaboration with Japanese artists Takashi Murakami yielded the iconic white Multicore Monogram, popularized by Paris Hilton and the 2004 film Mean Girls. Other Murakami reinterpretations the iconic Louis Vuitton bags include the cherry, cherry blossom, and “Monogramoflage” prints. Despite ending the partnership, some of the most iconic designs by Murakami remain in stores today, becoming one of the longest lasting collaborations in fashion. Straying further from Louis Vuitton’s quintessential styles, Yayoi Kusama’s 2012 collaboration with the brand produced gorgeous dot-filled prints that represent the artist’s fixation with repetition and obsession. The collection’s release in various stores was accented with merchandising designed to recreate Kusama’s dot-filled landscapes.
Visual artists Jake and Dinos Chapman lent their dark, shocking, and visually arresting style to two Louis Vuitton collaborations in 2013 and 2017. Louis Vuitton’s Fall/Winter 2013 Menswear collection, named the Garden in Hell, utilized the brothers’ illustrations of twisted monsters and eyeballs sprouting from baroque floral patterns to decorate blazers, luggage, and accessories. Looking to the African safari for their Spring/Summer 2017 Menswear collection, the Chapmans illustrated various beasts — elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, and zebras — in their own dark fashion, accentuating bulging eyes and sharp teeth to echo their aesthetic. Particularly stunning is the way the illustrations peek through navy and white renditions of the Louis Vuitton monogram, creating a dark sister to the brand’s usual iconography.
In one of the brand’s most iconic collaborations to date, Louis Vuitton’s 2017 collection with contemporary artist Jeff Koons brought the artist’s reinterpretation of the old masters to some Louis Vuitton’s most iconic bags. Transposed onto the Speedy, Keepall, and Neverfull bags, Koons’ recreation of works by da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, and Van Gogh look to the past to remind us of heritage, art history, and what it means to be iconic. Printed on the bags with the original artists’ names superimposed over the works, Koons encourages us to reconsider and re-interpret what we know to be classic.
In addition to collaborating with artists, Louis Vuitton has also payed homage to artists who have passed. LV’s Spring/Summer 2008 collection gave a nod to artist Richard Prince, opening with models dressed as nurses with hats that spelled out “Louis Vuitton,” directly referencing Prince’s “Nurse” paintings. Bags featured Prince’s “Jokes” series, printing the artists’ messages atop washed-out versions of the monogram, complete with snakeskin accents. In 2015, the house payed homage to designer Christopher Nemeth, printing his “Rope” pattern on various clothing, bags, and accessories.
The design house’s rich history of collaboration was not always so easygoing. In 2000, Louis Vuitton ordered a cease and desist on a then-six year old Supreme for use of its monogram. Exemplifying the change in time and fashion, the house collaborated with Supreme 17 years later, becoming the first luxury fashion house to collaborate with a streetwear brand. The act of this brand bridging this gap between high and low fashion, when two decades earlier it was determined to sever the ties, illustrates the growing importance of streetwear, the revival of “logomania", and the blurring of lines between streetwear and luxury that permeate the fashion industry today. The brand’s creative director at the time, Kim Jones, is credited with this blurring of boundaries, especially because of her own ties to streetwear. The collaboration paved the way for the appointment of Virgil Abloh of streetwear brand Off-White as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton’s journey from functional luggage to iconic symbol to streetwear-collaborator may seem like a journey full of twists and turns, but it is the brand’s ability to adapt to modern culture while keeping its beloved styles and durability, and to exchange ideas with artists of the past and present, that has kept it thriving for so long.