From her modest beginnings in 1929, in Matsumoto, Japan, Kusama magically and determinedly transformed her own life. Spinning enchantment from the power of her art while on adventurous quests in the wider world in the 1950s and 1960s, from Tokyo to New York, she rescued herself in the process. She is the artist who has given a glimpse of the infinite in her artwork and, after what appeared as a hiatus to the outside world when she returned to Japan in the 1970s, she has emerged as perhaps the pre-eminent global artist of the 21st Century and certainly the most successful living, female artist.
The last time that Louis Vuitton met the magic of Yayoi Kusama was in 2012. Yet this relationship never ended –ten years after, it evolved, and expanded with conversations continued and extended. Louis Vuitton has a long history of working with artists, which can be traced back to almost a century ago when the eponymous founder’s grandson and family aesthete, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, began commissioning artists to create store windows and works for the stores themselves. This impetus has travelled through time and has had even more resonance in the contemporary era; since 1988, the Maison has invited some of the biggest names in art and design to collaborate including, Sol LeWitt, Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons among others. Here, Kusama’s signature objects, motifs and imaginings of infinity take-over the Maison and all of its product categories: from bags to menswear; womenswear to sunglasses; fragrances to shoes and accessories. In turn, there is an evolution of some of Louis Vuitton’s own emblematic pieces, making them equally part of their own and Kusama’s transformative world.
In line with Louis Vuitton’s past artistic collaborations, the encounter between the Maison and Yayoi Kusama is grounded in sincerity, in iconoclasm, and above all, in a mutual appreciation of craft and excellence over the commonplace. At Louis Vuitton, when it comes to the magic of making objects, anything is possible.
Perhaps it is most fitting that this incarnation of the Louis Vuitton and Kusama creative exchange starts where the 2012 conversation left off, with a gift. A gift that encompasses their two worlds most completely. In 2012, Yayoi Kusama took one of the most timeless and magical of the Maison’s emblematic objects and made it her own – she hand-painted a Louis Vuitton trunk with her characteristic polka dots, dots that, for Kusama, represent infinity.
It is an exact replica of these dots, a true representation of Kusama’s hand that is one of the many things in the project that has challenged and advanced the Maison’s savoir-faire. Each incarnation of the polka dots has been presided over by Kusama personally – as have all the many and varied objects in the project – being moved with precision to the nearest millimetre, brushstrokes echoed in uncanny detail with their texture and weight intact. It is in this pursuit of the infinite through craft that both Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama are ultimately united. It is in the making of magical objects that transcend space and time that both are engaged in and recognise each other through. It is here that both Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama want the person who possesses such objects to feel both the care and emotional investment it took to make them; to become part of their story and one that will hopefully become part of the story of future generations – stretching into infinity.
When does fashion go beyond fashion? Maybe when it’s made with eternity and infinity in mind. In the project’s collections an idea of proliferation is paramount. The cascading motifs, their qualities, and the notion of infinity mirrored in the collections’ expansiveness, sweeping up the iconic pieces of the Maison and transforming them along the way, both reflects Kusama’s process and themes while testing and furthering the limits of Louis Vuitton’s savoir faire. And it is perhaps in the apotheosis of handcraft that the idea of the eternal exists for both Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama.
At the same time, there is a notion of how the infinite can translate, of how it can reach people, and be made to function in the everyday, of how it touches people and transforms them. These are clothes and accessories after all, and it is a joyful participation through wearing them that is always sought – this is something Kusama is no stranger to in her art and Louis Vuitton understands through craft.
Encompassing both the universes of women and men through ready-to-wear, bags, shoes, accessories, luggage and trunks and fragrances, these wideranging and intricate collections appear in two parts, with distinct thematic directions reflecting Yayoi Kusama’s motifs and motivations.
Drop 1 will launch 1st of January 2023 in China and Japan, followed by the rest of the world on 6th of January. Drop 2 will be available in Louis Vuitton stores starting 31st March 2023.
PAINTED DOTS, METAL DOTS, INFINITY DOTS AND PSYCHEDELIC FLOWER COLLECTIONS
An initial glimpse of Louis Vuitton x Yayoi Kusama collaboration took place in San Diego in May 2022, during the Louis Vuitton Cruise 2023 show. Here, there was the shape of things to come in a smattering of accessories shown that belong to Drop 1 of this project.
The motif of PAINTED DOTS is where this project has its roots and here, they are a direct translation of Kusama’s hand through a complex serigraphy technique and embossed printing on leather or iconic coated canvas. Kusama’s motifs have travelled with her for most of her life; she began painting her dots when still a child of ten.
Here, a proliferation appears across ready-to-wear, across leather goods, across accessories, and across fragrances, from a colourful iteration of the dots true to the original artwork to a gradation of black, silver, grey and white specifically for men.
There is a playful meeting of Kusama’s signature brushstroked dots with Louis Vuitton’s Monogram that runs throughout this collection. From hard-sided luggage and a plethora of soft Monogram canvas bag icons of the Maison for women and men, via ankle boots, sneakers and derby shoes to men’s technical nylon ready-to-wear, in the shape of a dotted Monogram down jacket and cargo pants. The painted dots continue their proliferation through additional leather goods such as the white Capucines and black Dauphine bags as well as a black leather skirt with multicoloured brush stroke buttons; then onto ready-to-wear silk twill pyjama suiting, intricately printed denims and cashmere knits for women with men’s tailored outerwear, in the shape of a precision printed pure wool overcoat.
Accessories multiply, from reversible bucket hats, silk scarves and Edge chain jewellery in the women’s world to baseball caps, belts and eyewear in the men’s. The colourful and greyscale painted dots also travel to the fragrance realm of the Maison, enveloping both the packaging, bottles and Travel Cases of Attrape-Rêves and L’Immensité.
The METAL DOTS collection is a glint of the infinite inspired by Kusama’s mirrored orbs, a motif familiar from her Narcissus Garden, shown (unofficially) at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966. Here, the silver orbs of varying sizes are placed with exacting precision by hand, embedded in women’s black and silver leather goods, encircling a Cannes bag or proliferating on a soft Side Trunk, while featuring as almost a space-age gradient on the elegant Capucines. The proliferation continues as they orbit Academy loafers and are on the counter of Squad hi-tops. They are at their most ‘sixties futuristic’ when applied as a gradient to lamb’s leather garments, such as a silver biker jacket and a sharp silver leather mini dress.
The painted dot morphs into Kusama’s perhaps more familiar INFINITY DOTS; the artist’s most recognisable motif and as a collection, one that encompasses most pieces in the project across all categories for both women and men, appearing in both Drop 1 and Drop 2. As Kusama’s fame grew in America in the 1960s, she was dubbed the ‘Princess of Polka Dots.’ Although in contrast, Kusama has referred to herself as an ‘obsessional artist.’ It is the infinity dot that is the most obsessional of her motifs signifying a state of ‘self-obliteration’ for the artist. ‘My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots,’ says Kusama in her autobiography Infinity Net.
Proliferating in signature Kusama palettes of black & white, red & white, yellow & black, plus black & red for men, the infinity dots meld with a multiplicity of Maison icons, particularly in terms of leather goods, shoes and silhouettes. The infinity dots morph with the Monogram on leather goods such as the embossed Empreinte Neverfull, but also finds form in Epi bags such as the Twist or in the Taurillon Capucines. While for men, Taurillon is utilised for much of the initial infinity dot leather goods drop, including the classic Keepall and the Soft Trunk.
Woven into jacquards and 3D knits, printed onto silks and appearing as embroideries, the infinity dots find the elegance of the everyday when featured for women in signature Louis Vuitton silhouettes, such as the short, sharp printed gabardine spin on the skirt suit and enter into a more utilitarian realm for men in items such as the tech fleece blouson and zipped overshirt. For shoes, a proliferation of dots even takes shape on the soles and undersides of models such as signature Shake ankle boots and pumps. While metal hardware on Academy loafers is enamelled and echoed in infinity dotted jewellery. For men, the LV Trainer features its own palette of dots; on a grounding of white grain calf leather, black on white and green on white dots appear, together with a white on red iteration. A myriad of other accessories are also encompassed, including signature silk scarves, sunglasses, reversible bucket hats, baseball caps and even the ‘Vivienne’ doll – a version of Kusama herself. The infinity dots too extend their reach to the realm of fragrance with, appropriately enough, the obsessional Spell on You.
Another obsession of Kusama’s exists in her florals; the fleeting beauty of the ephemeral is contrasted with the sense of the eternal and infinite, yet made permanent through her work. Utilising 1993’s somewhat psychedelic Flower painting, an exotic flower unfurls across accessories and ready-to-wear for men and women. In its more formal iteration for men, this distinct floral is intricately realised as a jacquard in wool tailored suiting and as a fil coupe in cotton shirting. Even a more casual varsity blouson features exceptional embroidery of the flower. Leather goods for men such as the Taurillon Monogram Bum Bag, Sac Plat and Keepall, use elegant, debossed printing on white leather to highlight the flower’s beauty and intricacy. Meanwhile, a more strident approach is taken with the women’s Capucines bags, with the motif blown-up to encompass the bags entirely in either black or red on Taurillon. A short jacquard wrap skirt and top, take a similar approach for women, mimicking the furling and unfurling of the large flower in black and white.
Collection shoot stylism: Carine Roitfeld
Collection shoot photographer: Oliver Hadlee Pearch
Still-life photographer: Bobby Doherty