London - Marc Jacobs first met Yayoi Kusama in Tokyo in 2006 while filming Loic Prigent’s documentary Marc Jacobs Louis Vuitton.
“We talked a lot about work and the passion of making work… She was just an extremely warm and lovely woman,” Jacobs has said.
Any admiration was mutual, apparently. “She took great pleasure in showing off a Vuitton Speedy she had hand-painted,” the designer says.
And so began the most recent in a long line of collaborations between Louis Vuitton and art world luminaries. The company has worked with Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Jacobs’s friend, Stephen Sprouse, some of the fruits of which have become best sellers.
Damien Hirst was responsible for a bespoke medicine chest for the brand; Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin have each curated the bookshelf at the London flagship store.
Through its Art Talk programme, Louis Vuitton invites artists to speak to groups of guests.
The company sponsors art shows the world over, the most recent of them a touring retrospective of Kusama’s work. The exhibition has moved from the Pompidou Centre in Paris to the Tate Modern in London and is set to open at the Whitney Museum in New York.
“The artists I’ve chosen to collaborate with in the past are all people whose work has meant something to me personally,” says Jacobs.
Kusama’s world, most famously, is preoccupied with dots. Her life is “a dot lost among millions of other dots”, she once said.
So it comes as no great surprise that silk summer dresses, swimwear, pyjamas and more have been covered with these. On sale later this month, they will be followed, in October, by a more extensive range of monogrammed goods destined to end up in Louis Vuitton’s permanent collection.
Scarlet-haired Kusama, who is 83, began painting in early adolescence in her native Japan, a means of expression adopted to alleviate childhood trauma.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s, after she had moved to New York, that her career took off, her work being shown alongside that of Andy Warhol and George Segal.
She was known for infinity nets, never-ending fields of spots and sculpture covered with spongy phallic protuberances. As one of the early protagonists of performance art, Kusama invited groups of friends and followers, and indeed any interested onlookers, to paint each other’s naked bodies with more dots in her studio or, weather permitting, outdoors.
A sheer, spotty PVC mac in the collection in question is clearly a reference to that practice.
Kusama also took part, stripped bare or dressed in her designs with strategically placed cut-outs to expose erogenous zones. Vuitton has yet to pick up on these.
For Kusama, who since 1977 has being living in a psychiatric hospital out of choice and who today describes herself as “an environmental artist”, the experience extends her reach and that is clearly appealing.
“I expect that as with our other collaborations this will bring the work of Kusama to still another audience,” Jacobs says. “It’s a wonderful thing the way contemporary art permeates the environment.”
For those who find Louis Vuitton’s prices prohibitive, the company has just launched an iPad app that allows owners to take pictures and customise them using time-honoured Kusama motifs.
Louis Vuitton Yayoi Kusama is available worldwide from July 10. - – The Independent