Africa, as the home of modern civilisation, is the inspiration for Louis Vuitton’s Spring-Summer 2017 collection. It is also a metaphor – of a return to roots, to heritage, to formative influences, to the blueprint. Asserting your identity.
These themes are explored literally and figuratively. Africa is constantly present, a heartbeat under the collection, combined with the rebellion of London Punk and the emblematic savoir-faire of the Maison. By its very nature, the journey between these different destinations and influences evokes the spirit of travel, which is the very essence – the blueprint – of Louis Vuitton.
Africa is evoked through rich, intricate textile treatments, exotic skins, a menagerie of animal prints. In a continuation of his first Louis Vuitton show about his childhood in Kenya and Bostwana, Kim Jones, Men’s Artistic Director revisits Africa today, expressing notions of the safari and the gentleman traveller. The palette is dominated by Savannah-bleached shades; jackets have Saharienne detailing.
“There’s always something a little London hidden somewhere, though. This time it is the influence of Punk – albeit via Africa, where Frank Marshall’s “Renegades” portrait series of Botswana biker gangs in heavy leather depicts the fusion of two disparate aesthetics. Add a third, the French elegance of Louis Vuitton.“ says Kim Jones.
Punk brings edge, transparent rubber, mohair, zips and straps, all infused with African pattern and finished with the Maison’s unique techniques. Louis Vuitton’s second commission with Jake and Dinos Chapman surrenders four prints depicting twisted animals; their veldt is the Vuitton Monogram. Mohair is knitted to imitate animal markings, and zebra patterns are colored in a petroleum blue. Footwear especially draws on Punk themes, parachute straps forming sandal designs and crepe soles added to laced brogues.
There are unexpected connections between these elements. The utilitarian details of Punk tie the movement to Vuitton’s heritage as a trunk-maker, a practical streak; tartan walks hand-in-hand with Maasai checks; the hand crafts of Africa link to French savoir-faire. Textiles are intricately realised: multi-coloured, paper-thin leather is woven like baskets; while a mesh is hand-wrapped with strips of Monogram in a quartet of colours, four Vuitton patterns creating a fifth, the Karakoram design. Exotic skins are vital – connecting Africa to Paris, while the biker jacket evokes Punk. Zips are added to Punk pants; crocodile and ostrich are used for coats and jackets, as well as key Vuitton accessories. They are polymorphs, crossing boundaries and evoking the trio of inspirational starting-points.
The accessories mark a literal return to roots – the origins of the Monogram itself. Two new iterations, the Monogram Savane Ink and Monogram Savane Dune, are based on the blueprints of the toile, trademarked in 1896. The iconic Louis Vuitton Steamer bag, the first soft travel bag, is reinterpreted as a backpack, whilst heritage styles are drawn from the archives like the Randonnée bag, as well as from the leather goods. Original, yet new: all are updated, reinvented, using textiles from the collection to highlight the synergy between clothes and accessories. A series of trunks underscore the themes of the collection, in animal hides and prints or laser-etched with Chapman imagery, like a preparatory drawing for collection’s prints.
Even the Punk’s archetypal dog collar – here the “Baxter” – is a style originating in the Vuitton archives. Its fresh context transforms its perception. That is a summary of the approach of this collection. Travelling back to the blueprint, the essence, using the old to create something new.
About the Chapman brothers
Dinos was born in London in 1962 and Jake Chapman was born in Cheltenham in 1966. They both graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1990 and worked as assistants to Gilbert and George before collaborating in 1992. The Chapmans weave a vast range of associations into their work, using material from all areas of the cultural landscape including philosophical theory, art history and consumer culture. They engage with inflammatory subjects and use subversive strategies to produce works that defiantly refute straightforward interpretation. Celebrated all over the world, the Chapman Brothers were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003.