By Remy Haynes
AFTER A DECADE YAYOI KUSAMA AND LOUIS VUITTON COLLABORATE AGAIN
This year, renowned French fashion house Louis Vuitton announced a second collaboration with 93-year-old art veteran Yayoi
Kusama and people are talking. Could it be the giant life-like Kusama perched atop the Champs Elysees store in Paris or the psychedelic looking art covering over ten stories of the New York location that caught people's attention? It was a major launch
and LV pulled out all the stops: a big social media blast with Kusama and her beloved pumpkins as well as a major ad campaign with the likes of Christy Turlington, Bella Hadid and Gisele holding one of their new pieces in blue jeans and nothing else. If they wanted us to take notice, we did.
Fans of Louis Vuitton will remember the first collaboration with Yayoi Kusama in 2012 under the creative direction of Marc Jacobs, which featured the artist's signature dots atop LV bag silhouettes. For them, this collaboration is just a continuation of that first conversation, “celebrating art, audacity, and craftsmanship. Kusama’s Painted Dots, Metal Dots, Infinity Dots, and Psychedelic Flowers enliven the universe of Louis Vuitton.” This collection is robust, spanning across all of LV’s product categories from bags to men’s and womenswear, sunglasses, fragrances, shoes, and accessories. A special technique was employed that gives the dot pattern a realistic, hand painted ‘wet’ effect. Being the second collaboration with the fashion house, Kusama said the partnership is “grounded in sincerity, in iconoclasm and above all, in a mutual appreciation of craft and excellence over the commonplace.”
So, who is Yayoi Kusama? Only one of the world's most famous artists thanks to the persistent popularity of her Instagram friendly ‘Infinity Rooms’ and instantly recognizable polka-dotted pumpkins. Kusama has been producing striking art since she
was ten and because of a mental illness, which she openly talks about, she grew up experiencing hallucinations. She has described these as flashes of lights, auras and dense fields of dots which helps us understand her bold approach to her art. To still be creating and partnering up with major labels in your 90’s gives us all hope for how we will spend our “retirement.” Creating started young for Kusama and she has been relentlessly pursuing it ever since. That dedicationto art is extraordinary and deserves our attention.
Sometimes described as shocking, weird, and abnormal, Kusama’s art originates from deep and broken places inside. Born the only child into a family of merchants in Nagano, Japan, Kusama started drawing pictures of pumpkins in elementary school and used her hallucinations to fuel her art. Her parents owned a plant nursery and seed farm. Because of their marital problems, Kusama would retreat to draw and paint, creating happy worlds all her own. Her craft was born out of necessity, that expression giving her comfort and joy as she navigated a difficult childhood.
She went on to study painting in Kyoto but became frustrated with the Japanese style and more interested in avant-garde nature of the Europeans at that time. She staged several solo exhibitions of her paintings in Tokyo and Matsumoto in the 50’s before she began painting other objects with what she called ‘infinity nets,’ or a series of closely related dots. Some notoriety came when she began painting on household objects, walls, floors, and naked assistants. This early style became her work’s signature trademark. A notable life-becomes-art piece was her ‘Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees’ at the Singapore Biennale. She then left what she considered ‘small’ Japan at 27 and never looked back.
Enmeshing herself in New York city culture, Kusama quickly adopted a new personal look of colorful bob wigs and experimental fashions. She created detailed works of art quickly and maintained an impressive level of productivity. Kusama began working in soft sculpture at this time and is credited with inspiring one of Andy Warhol’s shows where he covered the walls with photos of a cow. The repetitive and bold nature of her work was eye catching and thought provoking. Being very forward thinking, Kusama also experimented with large scale, freestanding objects like lights, mirrors, and music. She favored performance art and created outlandish events in popular spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. She used her art to protest the Vietnam war and was a known gay and women rights activist.
The pumpkins that so often show up in her work were influenced by her early childhood and came to represent a kind of alter ego. Known to overwork, Kusama has struggled her entire life with mental illness having attempted suicide three times before checking herself into a facility in Japan known for incorporating art into therapy. She continues to live there today with daily trips to create at an art studio. Kusama is often quoted as saying: "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.”
After her move back to Japan in the 1980’s, she began writing her autobiography, several novels, and poetry. Her work, using one or two colors only, has been compared to the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. It was celebrated in retrospectives starting at the Center for International Con-temporary Arts (CICA) in New York. This provided Kusama’s art with a resurgence and several shows from Scandinavia to Tel Aviv began celebrating her work with massive exhibitions. In 2017, a 50-year retrospective opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Kusama's All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins exhibit, including her famous infinity rooms, became a sensation among art critics. Social media posts began using #InfiniteKusama, garnering over 330 million impressions at the exhibition’s closing. And this is what made Yayoi Kusama an icon.
So, they’ve done it again and fans are excited. Although buzz started in December of 2022 when a digital campaign began leaking the news, Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama's 2023 collaboration officially launched January 1 in Japan and China. The Kusama collection will be divided into two drops after January 6th, the second being at the end of March. The series will also be observed at pop-ups in New York City - one on Greene Street in SOHO and a second on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking district. Louis Vuitton executive vice president Delphine Arnault has promised over 400 individual items in this collection, with only 100 have been revealed thus far. Kusama may not be the first to lend her visual expression to Louis Vuitton’s leather goods and ready wear, but she may be the most controversial and bold choice they’ve made yet. Having successfully worked together a decade ago, it is exciting to see how this dynamic duo will dazzle us next.