By  on June 11, 2007

VENICE — Settling into a joint interview with architect Zaha Hadid at the atmospheric Palazzo Contarini Polignac here, Karl Lagerfeld accidentally tripped over Hadid’s black fringed handbag, which she had placed on the floor next to her chair.

“We live in the century of bags,” Lagerfeld joked.

It was an apropos gesture and comment, given the subject at hand: a massive Chanel art project, dedicated to the house’s classic quilted handbag, that will travel the world in an otherworldly Hadid structure.

At a press conference here Saturday on the opening weekend of the art Biennale, Chanel lifted the veil on the collapsible, futuristic pavilion for its “Mobile Art” exhibition, slated to make its debut in Hong Kong in January for a two-month stay before traveling to Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, London, Moscow and Paris — a journey that will take until 2010 to complete.

The scale model of Hadid’s “contemporary art container,” a gleaming white, UFO-like structure, was greeted with spontaneous applause, led by Lagerfeld, who urged everyone to stand up to get a closer look.

“For me, it’s perfect. It’s a huge sculpture and I like it even better empty,” Lagerfeld said in an interview, repeating the sentiment during the press conference, evoking a few gasps from an audience of mainly art journalists. “I think design and architecture are the real art today.”

Nevertheless, Chanel has commissioned 15 contemporary artists and given them carte blanche to create works inspired by its most iconic handbag, famous for its chain handle, quilted leather surface and rectangular shape. But the artists’ names won’t be revealed until October during a press conference in Hong Kong, where the pavilion’s setting also will be revealed.

Fabrice Bousteau, editor in chief of Beaux Arts magazine and curator of the Mobile Art project, said the artists come from all points of the globe, are well known to curators and are strongly represented at the Biennale.

All of them were invited to visit Chanel’s principle leather goods factory in Verneuil, France, just outside of Paris, to help get their creative juices flowing. According to Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s head of fashion, the project is designed to “surprise” customers, communicate the brand’s heritage in a new way and energize one of its most iconic products.

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