PARIS — Imagine Yoko Ono visiting a handbag factory.
She and 19 other famous artists did just that as participants in Chanel’s forthcoming “Mobile Art” project, whose futuristic Zaha Hadid pavilion will house a series of multisensory installations inspired by the fashion house’s iconic quilted, chain-handled accessory.
Revealing details exclusively to WWD on Monday, Chanel described a sumptuous exhibition designed to dazzle visitors and demonstrate its commitment to audacious creativity — and with no gift shop at the end of the visit.
“It’s another way to communicate, to let Chanel surprise you,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel’s fashion activities, said in an interview. “What we want to show is that creativity is not only for a product or an advertising campaign. It’s the engine and essence of our brand.”
The collapsible Hadid pavilion — like a gleaming white UFO from some distant luxury universe — is slated to touch down in Hong Kong in mid-January before embarking on a two-year global tour.
Chanel won’t reveal where in Hong Kong the 7,500-square-foot “container” will be located until mid-November, but divulged its international list of participants Monday as fall’s contemporary art season kicks into high gear with this week’s Frieze Art Fair in London. The list is a who’s who of contemporary artists who have come to prominence since the mid-Nineties, including Sophie Calle, Sylvie Fleury, David Levinthal, Tabaimo, Loris Cecchini, Y.Z. Kami, Subodh Gupta and Wim Delvoye.
And rather than a straightforward display of commissioned works, Chanel opted to integrate them into Hadid’s swooping, otherwordly architecture, taking the art-fashion hookup to a new degree.
“It’s more of an artistic experience than a classic exhibition,” said curator Fabrice Bousteau, lifting the roof of a scale model of Hadid’s “container.” He described it as the set for a 45-minute tour complete with a personal iPod soundtrack of music, ambient sounds and narration.
“It’s a real story,” explained Bousteau, who is also editor in chief of the French magazine Beaux Arts. “When you arrive, it’s as if you are going to see a film.”
Adding to the luxury experience, Chanel plans to admit groups no larger than 15 at a time, giving all the chance to see works unobstructed and to take in the scale of the architecture and installations. Chanel plans to invite its clients to see the exhibition, but the general public is welcome also, and can book tickets, even though admission is free, Pavlovsky noted.
This story first appeared in the October 9, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
After an orientation session in a futuristic lounge detailing some of the history of Chanel and its codes, visitors set forth through a succession of installations, starting with a vast room Bousteau described as “psychedelic,” complete with pixilated camellias on the floors and 20,000 crystal prisms dotting the ceiling. The room features works by Cecchini and Michael Lin, emblematic of how Chanel sought to create synergies between artists.
Karl Lagerfeld, who selected Hadid to design the pavilion, pushed for forward-looking artists and encouraged collaborations as a way to push the creative envelope, Bousteau noted.
Fleury lined a room in leather to suggest the experience of “going into a handbag,” while others created more straightforward works, including a triptych by Pierre & Gilles. Pavlovsky said the artists were given a brief to create works based on the codes of Chanel handbags, then given a tour of Coco Chanel’s storied Paris apartment and of its principle handbag workshops in Verneil, where some 350 employees create quilted bags, a process involving 180 steps.
“This impressed all the artists. It’s not a factory; it’s more of an atelier,” Bousteau explained. Indeed, Stephen Shore opted to do a series of photos in the ateliers, treating the subject “as if he were doing American landscapes,” he added.
To conclude the exhibition, Ono reprised one of her participatory works, inviting visitors to write a wish on a piece of rice paper and tie it to the branches of a tree.
The pavilion is slated to stay in Hong Kong for eight weeks before traveling to Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, London, Moscow and Paris. The other participating artists are Nobuyoshi Araki, Lee Bul, Soju Tao, Leandro Erlich, Yang Fudong, Fabrice Hyber and Blue Noses.