It is not a stretch to say that famed Paris luggage maker Louis Vuitton originated the concept of the modern day “collab”.
In 1886, after patenting its signature lock system, Louis Vuitton publicly challenged American magician Harry Houdini in a newspaper article to escape from a locked Vuitton trunk. In 1996, to celebrate the anniversary of its classic monogram canvas, the fashion house invited designers to put their own creative spin on its bags, which resulted in a globe-trotting exhibition. From there, the LVMH-owned brand continued to partner with other artists on everything from manga to street graffiti designs.
That tradition lives on in the form of Louis Vuitton’s “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries,” a traveling exhibition that has landed in New York for its final stop, taking over the former Madison Avenue flagship of Barneys, which closed its doors nearly three years ago. The exhibition made its debut at Vuitton’s historic residence outside of Paris last year, then headed to Singapore in April, before setting up shop this summer on Beverly Hills’s Rodeo Drive.
As the name implies, the show will feature trunks designed by several-dozen artists. Some are long-time collaborators of Louis Vuitton’s, like Marc Jacobs and streetwear brand Supreme, while others are leaders in their respective fields, such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Korean boyband BTS.
The exhibition was originally conceived to celebrate the bicentennial of the man himself, who would’ve celebrated his birthday on Aug 4, 2021.
But it is also a nod to broader shake-ups that have occurred in the fashion world over the past few years. Spread out across four floors, the exhibition’s diverse array of reimagined trunks communicate a clear message: Luxury is thriving, but it is also changing. As the pillars of “old luxury” become more fractured, newer and more inclusive ideas about what is luxurious and who can obtain it emerge to fill in the gaps.
“200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries” will open on Oct 14 and run until Dec 31. After that, all the trunks on display will be auctioned by Sotheby’s, with the entire proceeds being donated to charity.
A tour of the exhibit begins with a massive birthday cake made out of 31,700 Lego bricks, which also render the Vuitton’s moustached face across the front. Jewelled tones cut into the shapes of flowers, circles and squares evoke the brand’s signature patterns.
In one brightly lit room, trunks with digital screens, contrasted with plain wooden crates, are stacked to the rafters; the design is reminiscent of how Vuitton’s original trunks might’ve looked when they were stored in cargo holds during travel.
Visitors will see a couple trunks that hint at Louis Vuitton’s infamous past with Houdini. For example, an all-black, gothic-chic box wrapped tightly with leather straps looks like it belongs in a dominatrix’s dungeon. The artist, architect Peter Marino, and a long-time collaborator of Louis Vuitton’s, said in a statement that he “set out to create a trunk that even Harry Houdini could not get out of”. Another trunk made by the British magician known as Dynamo is stuffed inside a massive glass bottle, a nod to his signature trick.
That tendency to balance respect for the brand’s rich history with one’s personality is imbued throughout the quirky exhibit. Music curator and DJ Benji B, who frequently collaborates with fashion houses on their runway shows and is the current sound director for Louis Vuitton Men’s, turned his trunk into a music studio in a standalone display. Centre stage in a room covered with wall-to-wall soundproof padding sits a vintage-looking box outfitted with a mini jukebox. There are 200 songs to choose from, everything from Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell, which turns the art into an interactive experience.
Punctuating the tour is a large workshop space, where artists from the exhibition will host events, such as classes, for visitors on a weekly basis; the exact schedule is forthcoming. Guests can also purchase the brand’s signature leather goods and other items in a nearby gift shop.
In another homage to Manhattan’s retail landscape of yesteryear, Fred’s, the restaurant that used to reside within Barneys, will be making a comeback during the duration of the exhibit. — Bloomberg