Not everyone visits art museums and galleries. But everyone sees handbags in the streets — and a good number the windows at Louis Vuitton.
Which is why both established and emerging artists relish projects like Artycapucines, whose third edition features the likes of Vik Muniz and Zeng Fanzhi, along with Gregor Hildebrandt, Donna Huanca, Huang Yuxing and Paola Pivi.
Each artist’s interpretation of the Capucines handbag — employing embroideries, marquetry, inkjet printing and other painstaking techniques — are produced in a limited edition of 200 and go on sale at Vuitton stores worldwide at the end of October, priced at 6,700 euros.
Delphine Arnault, executive vice president in charge of supervising all of Vuitton’s product-related activities, said the chosen artists are all given carte blanche to transform the bag as a blank canvas.
“Both the artists and Louis Vuitton have the same objectives — to make something special and unique that truly combines their universe and creativity with Louis Vuitton’s exceptional savoir faire,” she told WWD. “Some of them come with sketches, others visit our ateliers as a starting point, but at the end of the day, the creative process very much depends on their vision and the message they wish to put across. Ultimately, no matter how established or not the artists are, this total sensation of limitless creativity seems to draw them to join us on this exciting project.”
Ditto for consumers.
“We have many clients who search for uniqueness, something that they cannot find somewhere else,” Arnault said. “The first two chapters of this collection were incredibly successful and sold out instantly. Through pre-orders, some bags were fully sold out even before the official in-store launch. These pieces really are collector items.”
In her view, the Artycapucines bags are not only bespoke and limited, they “bring the worlds of fashion and art together, two things that are very appealing to them. These pieces are as much for the Capucines fans who love art as they are for art collectors who love the idea of owning a piece of art on such a unique medium,” she added.
Conversation starters for sure, each handbag boasts a curious backstory.
Pivi, an Italian artist, based hers on a 2007 performance piece titled “One Cup of Cappuccino Then I Go” that involved releasing a live leopard into a gallery space installed with 3,000 fake cups of cappuccino. The wild cat tiptoed over a row of them gingerly, napped on them, and ultimately scattered them over the floor.
Four photographs of the performance were sold as a limited series, and Pivi unearthed a fifth, never shown before, for her Capucines.
The purse could only depict 30 cups of milky coffee, rendered in porcelain-like white patent leather and then inserted using the marquetry technique. Fluffy lambskin serves as the frothy tops, which were then gilded with gold leaf.
The leopard, shown lounging on a plinth surrounded by overturned cups, is embroidered and over-printed to convey a fur-like look and feel. Pivi added two safari-style pockets on the front, a first for the Capucines, which is named after the Paris street where founder Louis Vuitton opened his first store in 1854 — and not a caffeinated beverage.
Fanzhi’s visually busy bag is an interpretation of his interpretation of a famous self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh. It took threads and yarns in 42 different colors and some 700,000 embroidery stitches, including tufting, to approximate the Chinese artists’ heavy brushstrokes and layers of paint.
Those less keen on color and partial to music might consider the bag by Gregor Hildebrandt, a German artist who uses vinyl records and magnetic tape as key materials, often transferring cassette tapes’ magnetic coating onto double-sided tape to create powdery patterns. It’s his way of integrating music physically into his paintings.
“My paintings hold secrets about what music or imagery is contained within the physical audio and VHS tapes,” he explained. “And with the Capucines, you’re curious about what is in the bag — a lipstick, a key to someone’s house?”
He likened the purse to a totable “retrospective of my work” — complete with an LV logo carved from a real 33-rpm record.
Muniz, the Brazilian artist famous for his chocolate drawings and using household waste for art making, opted to upcycle “heritage” leathers from the Vuitton workshops.
Like most participants in the project, he was fascinated with the savoir-faire employed to represent artworks — in his case, a mosaic of abstract cutouts in off-white tones titled “Quais Tutto.”
For his Capucines, he switched on the bright color and went for 154 childlike cutouts of random objects — a cactus, pineapple, snake, stiletto, palm tree, dragon, airplane — plus some Monogram shapes. These are scattered across the white leather handbag to playful effect.
“The challenge for me was figuring out how to make the bag work, navigating all the decisions about form and configuration and technique and finish,” he related. “When I see the bag, I can tell that so much skill and attention was put into its creation.”
Yuxing and Huanca took painterly approaches.
Yuxing, who zhushes up traditional Chinese gongbi painting with fluorescent colors and accidental paint drips, reprised one of his fantasy landscapes featuring rainbow-like mountains. This involved printing on the leather and using tufting-stitch and “point de bouclette” embroideries to approximate his vibrant brushstrokes.
He said he’s intrigued by the fact that his artwork will be carried around in different places throughout the world. “The bag will accompany different conversations and different everyday activities, rather than simply remain static in an exhibition.”
Chicago-born Huanca often incorporates performers — their bodies painted or encased in armor-like garments — into what she dubs “visceral experiences.”
Her swirls of blue and white resemble weather patterns, but are in fact related to her body painting. “Painting on skin is very freeing,” she said. “This bag is a collage of past works, as well as sensations of texture that resurface in my works.”
The artisans at Vuitton first 3D-printed the swirling colors onto white leather before employing three different embroidery techniques and then hand-painting over some of them to approximate the original canvases.
The metal hoops that hold the handles were perfect for Huanca’s focus on the female body: She made hers resemble the piercing rings used for septums.
The Capucines bag was introduced in 2013 as Vuitton embarked on an upscaling drive and introduced higher-priced bags.