A Logo’s Lasting Legacy

Louis Vuitton handbags receive nontraditional treatment in a Parisian exhibition.

Fashion designer Marc Jacobs transformed the 152 year old Louis Vuitton logo into an iconic symbol of wealth and celebrity by inviting artists to add their own vision to the brand; wildly successful collaborations included New York artist Stephen Sprouse’s graffitied logo and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s cherry blossom design. Since these most notable collisions of art and commerce, the Louis Vuitton logo has never looked back, constantly reinventing itself with the fashion cycles. But now Jacobs, artistic director of Louis Vuitton since 1997 in addition to his own personal line, and curator Hervé Mikaeloff, have given pause to this idea of redesign by inviting nine artists, architects, and designers to apply their own visionary approach to nine of Louis Vuitton’s most iconic bags.

Hosted by Espace Louis Vuitton, the “Icons” exhibition unpacks itself at the dedicated gallery space in the Louis Vuitton flagship store in Paris (see MetropolisMarch 2006 cover story), and the standout pieces are easy to spot. Zaha Hadid is the star of this show, and her commissioned work here keeps with her usual exhibition themes—monochromatic white pedestals swoop up to present her redesign of the “Bucket” purse, while also serving as sleek chairs to marvel from. Hadid’s appropriation is certainly revolutionary compared to the rest, with a graceful almost ergonomic design that does the most for the “LV” logo by morphing from one dimension to three with a seamless rotation of the bag. She does not sacrifice her strong authorship, but interestingly enough even her star power does not outshine the fashion house’s trademark.

From here the show ambles outdoors to a pavilion constructed of Louis Vuitton “Papillon” bags by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Viewed in the tempest of a winter rainstorm, dislodged straps flailed, precious purses were pelted with rain, and a silky fabric billowed in the wind. Atmospheric, yes, but also a bit ramshackle feeling for an architect best known for clean and innovative structures and materials. Although there was no evidence of Ban’s signature paper tubes, according to the catalog, they had been covered in the bag’s material to reference his own style of working and the cylindrical “Papillon” bag. However, it appeared as if Ban almost struggled to put such luxurious materials to use, trading utilitarian cardboard for monogrammed leather and losing some of his ingenuity in the translation.

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Other artists took more abstract routes of presentation, such as Bruno Peinado’s extremely rambunctious “Speedy” bag, whose sharp lines were cut with a water jet from aluminum and whose playful jack-in-the-box forms sprung to life out of the exhibition’s most refreshingly abstract concept of a bag. On the opposite end of the spectrum and keeping to Louis Vuitton’s old moneyed charms, Paris’ grand dame of interior design, Andrée Putnam, floated her “Steamer” bag above a shower of glittering gold “LV” logos by means of hot air balloon. Classy, refined, and beautifully executed, Ms. Putnam’s redesign does what a timeless logo should do—float above the fray.

The Icons exhibition runs through December 31, 2006.

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