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High Fashion Meets High Art

Louis Vuitton’s Artycapucines Collection demonstrates the maison’s dedication to artistic vision and traditional craftsmanship.

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Louis Vuitton isn’t interested in resting on its laurels. Since its founding in 1854, the Paris-based high fashion house and luxury goods purveyor has built a reputation for balancing bold designs that push the boundaries of high fashion while maintaining a strong link to traditional aesthetics and a classic sense of haute couture.

Turns out that’s also a pretty good way to describe the idea behind the house’s 2020 Artycapucines collection, the second collaboration between the world-famous fashion house and six equally famous international artists.

Left: Louis Vuitton artisans needed to research and develop entirely new techniques to bring Beatriz Milhazes’s kaleidoscope of colourful circles to life. Right Henry Taylor’s handbag features a portrait of the late Noah Davis, an influential African American artist. Craftsmen experimented with over 100 methods of printing to reproduce the exact colours of the original.

The challenge posed to each of them: Take one of Vuitton’s classic Capucines handbags—so named for Rue des Capucines, the street just north of Place Vendôme in Paris’ First Arrondissement, where the House got its start—and make it your own. With artful design. Riotous colour. Unique patterns. Playful images. Bold type. Different textures. Tasteful flourishes. Delightful accoutrements. With anything you want, really, to take the bag from blank canvas to signature artwork.

Debuting in 2013, the Capucines handbag is what we might call a classic design: a classy, sophisticated piece that manages to speak the language of refinement and luxury without being ostentatious or needlessly flashy. With a moderate size, elegant proportions, and a myriad of upscale details—soft, supple leather; artistic ring-like handle clasps; a single LV initial monogrammed in the centre of the bag—the handbag functions as a fitting signature for the house’s aesthetic and overall reverence for craftsmanship.

Left: Liu Wei’s thermo-moulded silver leather petals are a nod to his previous work featured in Venice’s famed Biennale art exhibition. Right: Jean-Michel Othoniel’s signature bead sculptures are the defining feature of his creation—one of several nods to traditional haute couture accessories.

In the hands of the designers, it became something else altogether: a showcase for intensely personal creativity and singularly individual vision.

Josh Smith’s hand-painted design uses 91,000 individual stitches to create a colourful “name painting.” Beatriz Milhazes’s entry arranges 18 different types of leather in playful geometric patterns. Liu Wei’s creation uses thermo-moulded leather petals in a hand-held echo of the large-scale installation she submitted to the Venice Biennale. Zhao Zhao’s bag brings together precision-cut brass, stainless steel, and black iron in ornate organic waves. Jean-Michel Othoniel utilizes hand-woven raffia and elegant resin beads to create a high-fashion take on the traditional beach bag. Henry Taylor’s handbag offers a literal portrait in leather.

Unsurprisingly, the end results are mesmerizing. But beyond the innovative shapes and colours and materials, you can see something else: Each design functions not only as a work of art, but as a showcase for Vuitton’s savoir faire and respect for age-old techniques. Each bag requires literally dozens of ateliers to stretch their knowledge of their respective crafts, and work on complex details that demonstrate a virtuosity of both technique and style. In many cases, experiments, innovations, and a whole lot of trial and error were needed to bring the artists’ visions to life.

Left: Fully 320,000 embroidered stitches grace the front of Josh Smith’s design. After embroidering, each stitch is printed with vibrant colour using heat sublimation, to ensure full penetration of colour into the tightly wound fabric. Right: Zhao Zhao’s creation features five different types of leather that are laser-cut into 353 distinct patches. The resulting “painting” is meticulously sewn onto the entire surface of the finished bag—body, flap, and handle.

What’s more intriguing, however, is how even the most idiosyncratic of them highlights the beauty of the original form. The fact that so many artists with such differing aesthetics can take the same blank canvas and find such a wide variety of artistic interpretations—that’s a testament to a kind of savoir-faire that goes far beyond the style trends and fashion fads that come and go, and instead approaches something that transcends time.

Looking to view the Artycapucines in person? Good news: they’ll be transformed into a limited edition run of 200 bags for each designer, available starting October 25 exclusively at Louis Vuitton’s stores around the world—including the new Yorkdale location in Toronto.

Assembling Zhao Zhao’s intricate leather pattern—consisting of 353 distinct leather patches—demanded the prodigious skills of many of Louis Vuitton’s artisans.

As befitting one of the world’s premiere fashion houses, the Yorkdale store will offer visitors an immersive shopping experience, with carefully selected works of art, furniture, and various objets d’art from the house’s immense archive, along with several pieces from Toronto and Canadian artists. If the Artycapucines are any indication, each of those will be a testament to artistic vision and eternal style in equal measure.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 103

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