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Why can’t a handbag be more like a building — and a futuristic, sculptural one at that?

So asks acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, one of nine creative types tapped by Louis Vuitton and given carte blanche to create artworks around its iconic bags. The results — including Hadid’s mind-bending vision of a bucket bag gone warp speed on “Star Trek” — were unveiled last week at the Espace Louis Vuitton gallery in Paris.

This story first appeared in the September 19, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The exhibition springs from Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs’ occasional collaborations with artists Stephen Sprouse, Julie Verhoeven and Takashi Murakami for leather goods, but takes the idea several conceptual steps further.

“A lot of the artists decided to make something quite autobiographical,” explained Hervé Mikaeloff, curator of the exhibition. “They each brought their own vocabulary to the project.”

For example, James Turrell, who has been fascinated with flying since he was young, dreamed up a light-based artwork in a wardrobe trunk: a portable art gallery complete with its own light and a fold-up chair to contemplate the work. “I like to travel light,” he quipped.

Travel, a key Vuitton brand theme that permeates many of the works, also figures in an installation by interior architect Andrée Putman, who hung a steamer bag from a brown leather hot-air balloon. Turns out she’s a descendent of the Montgolfier family, which invented the early hot-air balloon flying machine.

Sometimes the works are quite literal, like Sylvie Fleury’s bronze version of the Speedy from 2000, which inspired the vinyl “mirror” bags Jacobs designed for this fall and winter. Others are quite abstract, like Bruno Peinado’s rotating sculpture, a visual puzzle of holiday clichés, from the Eiffel Tower to palm trees — all exploding out of a Speedy bag.

“It’s not a corporate project,” Mikaeloff said. “In some of the works, you can’t recognize the bags.”

Running through the end of the year here before traveling to Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York in 2007, the exhibition also features works by Ugo Rondinone, Tim White-Sobieski, Shigeru Ban and Robert Wilson.

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