Yayoi Kusama Shows Why She’s Fashion’s Most Important Art Collaborator

by Noelle Loh  /   January 13, 2023

This month, one of the most iconic collaborations between a fashion house and a living artist is back for a sequel in boutiques here: the Louis Vuitton x Yayoi Kusama capsule collection. Together with the French maison, FEMALE looks at how this is a creative romance that keeps on giving.

The year was 2012. The house of Louis Vuitton had already established itself as one with not only an affinity for working with artists, but also for doing so with such enthusiasm and extravagance. Gaston-Louis Vuitton – grandson of brand founder Louis – was known to have commissioned artists to design windows and original works for the brand’s boutiques as early as a century ago. Fast forward to the Marc Jacobs era of the late ’90s to 2000s when the maison introduced a slew of unexpected collaborations with blue chip contemporary artists and ignited the industry’s fervour for combining art world cachet with commerce to achieve cult cool. There was Stephen Sprouse in 2001, Takashi Murakami in 2003, Richard Prince in 2008 – and then came Yayoi.

Launched just over 10 years ago, Louis Vuitton’s Yayoi Kusama tie-up was – according to a 2013 report by the Business Of Fashion – the “largest artist collaboration initiated by any luxury goods or fashion house to date”. Besides a full suite of fashion products (from ready-to-wear to leather goods to jewellery), the windows of Louis Vuitton stores all over the globe were spectacularly taken over by Kusama’s signature spots and swirling tentacles. In addition, there were seven pop-up concept spaces in hyper-hip shopping destinations, such as Printemps in Paris and Dover Street Market in Tokyo. That Kusama was (and remains) the oldest and best-selling living female artist in the world made the endeavour all the more monumental.

Credit:Phyllicia Wang

With every piece worthy of exhibition, the latest Louis Vuitton X Yayoi Kusama collection includes the Metal Dots series: leather goods in black or white given a space-age makeover with oversized metal orbs inspired by the artist’s 1966 Narcissus Garden exhibit.

Now the brand is back with act two. We first got a glimpse of it during the Cruise 2023 fashion show in San Diego last May: those familiar orbs on bag styles, both perennial and new. Then, two months ago, a pre-launch event was staged in Tokyo and included 3D billboards, installations and even an ice skating rink featuring Kusama’s motifs and the LV brand name popping up all over the city. On Jan 6, the first drop from Louis Vuitton’s second partnership with this high priestess of dots finally hits boutiques in Singapore, and it certainly lives up to all the anticipation.

Covering an even more comprehensive range of products than the original collaboration in 2012, the whole collection offers Kusama’s distinctive vision in four different ways. The most playful, some might say, is the Painted Dots series: soft Monogram canvas bags and boots; hard-sided luggage; Capucines and Dauphine bags (the brand’s most artisanal) in black or white leather; and Mod-inflected ready-to-wear staples livened up by the artist’s multi-coloured brush-stroked spots. A complex process involving serigraphy – or silkprinting – then emboss-printing ensures that Kusama’s handapplied blotches are translated accurately.

yayoi kusama
Credit:Louis Vuitton

In stores on Jan 6, the first drop from the latest Louis Vuitton X Yayoi Kusama collaboration is even bigger than the original in 2012 and covers not only accessories, but also casual and formal ready-to-wear as well as fragrances for both men and women.

There’s, of course, her most famous motif: the hypnotically graphic Infinity Dots. In four different colour ways (black and white, red and white, yellow and black and – additionally for guys – red and black), they turn up on the maison’s most iconic styles. Think the Empreinte Neverfull tote; the Twist shoulder bag in Epi leather; the Capucines in Taurillon; Shake ankle boots and pumps; and the short and zippy gabardine
skirt suit. There’s even an Infinity-dotted makeover of Louis Vuitton’s iris-infused Spell On You fragrance and a Vivienne doll figurine – the label’s petal-headed mascot – meant to represent Kusama herself.

yayoi kusama
Credit:Phyllicia Wang

The Painted Dot series in the Louis Vuitton X Yayoi Kusama capsule recreates the artist’s colourful hand-brushed dots through serigraphy and embossed printing onto a wide range of Monogram canvas and Taurillon leather accessories, giving them a child-like playfulness.

Those into sculpture would dig the Metal Dots series. Inspired by the mirrored globes from Kusama’s Narcissus Garden exhibit at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966, 3D silver spots resembling oversized studs of varying sizes are individually placed and fastened by hand onto black or white leather goods, including the Academy loafers or – the brand’s cool new classic – the softly structured Side Trunk shoulder bag. A series of garments in lamb leather has also been given the same treatment, resulting in statement-making perennials (think a silver biker jacket or mini dress) gleaming with a sixties futuristic edge.

yayoi kusama
Credit:Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton’s Vivienne figurine gets dressed up as Yayoi Kusama for this collection.

The last of Kusama’s work to be interpreted in this new Louis Vuitton collaboration is her psychedelic Flowers painting from 1993 – a sophisticated yet abstract bloom with the same mesmerising otherworldliness of her signature dots. Blown up and then recreated through embroidery or a de-bossed print, it shows up on elegant silhouettes such as the Capucines, other Taurillon leather bags, and a jacquard wrap skirt and top.

With Kusama’s magic in the mix, even the most timeless pieces find a whole new life – consider this to be Louis Vuitton’s nod to the nonagenarian’s obsession with infinity. And, get this, expect another drop from this collaboration on March 31.

Still Life Photography Phyllicia Wang Art Direction Jonathan Chia Digital Imaging Clare Chan Yayoi Kusama Portrait Yusuke Miyazaki, courtesy of Louis Vuitton

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2023 Art & Music Edition of FEMALE