Louis Vuitton's Fake-Fighting Parody
"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."
Oscar Wilde would've been ecstatic at the juxtaposition of life and art at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this evening -- and not just because it involved an abundance of luxury goods. As guests arrived for the opening of an exhibit celebrating the art of Takashi Murakami and his collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, they were greeted by an outdoor scene more common on Canal Street: logoed merchandise piled on tables or hung on metal pegs, graffiti-covered walls, stalls closed "by court order," and persistent vendors promising "best quality" and "best price." The difference? Those piles of LV Multicolore bags were real.
Over the past 5 years, the Murakami/Vuitton partnership has produced some of the world's most copied handbags. LV has responded with perhaps the world's most elaborate private anticounterfeiting operation, dedicating a team of 40 lawyers around the globe to pursuing its "zero tolerance policy" against copying. Nowhere have LV's efforts been more extensive than in New York, where actions against landlords have established a beachhead against the counterfeiters who can seem more numerous than grains of sand.
Of course, most of the 30,000+ raids that LV has conducted since 2003 have occured in relative silence. Like other luxury companies, Louis Vuitton would rather draw attention to its products than to its issues with counterfeiting. (Hence one of the most common questions directed to Counterfeit Chic: If copying is illegal, why doesn't anyone do anything about it? Answer: They're trying. Really!)
New York's reputation as a counterfeit capital is hard to ignore, however. Thus when Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman and LV Chairman and CEO Yves Carcelle discussed how to put a local spin on the © MURAKAMI exhibition, which had previously opened in L.A., their images of the city's vibrant street life inevitably turned to the dark side of our fabulous sidewalk agora: fakes. A popup installation and a bit of performance art turned out to be the perfect way to draw attention to the issue of what Lehman called "intellectual theft, Carcelle termed an "illness of the world," and Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler described as "a serious crime backed up by serious criminal enterprises." Creative art used to express a commitment to legal protection of creative art -- now that's a New York moment.
While visitors to © MURAKAMI won't have the opportunity to buy a real LV handbag from a fake street vendor, there's nevertheless a seamless blend of art, commerce, and fashion inside the museum as well. At the very heart of the exhibition, nestled between rooms of larger-than-life sculptures and giant painted canvases, is a tiny gem of a Louis Vuitton boutique. Not only are all the newest versions of the Multicolore bag available here, but Murakami has also created a signed series of small art canvases in new "Monogramouflage" patterns. At $6,000 each -- rising to $10,000 after the first batch sells out -- they're an artist's version of a diffusion line. Or you can wait for the pattern to appear on LV handbags and other products, available at the museum as of June 1. Another meeting of luxury and the street, a political reference, or a sly wink at the idea of overtly displayed "stealth wealth"? Whatever the interpretation, the patterns are bound to be popular.
Perhaps my favorite bit of the exhibit, though, wasn't the sculptures or even the guilt-free shopping, with a portion of the evening's proceeds earmarked for Homeland Security. Instead, it was a moment of surprise as I stood in front of a glass case with an LV Murakami Cherry Blossom Retro handbag over my arm -- and realized that the flowers on my bag were smiling back at an exact duplicate. OK, mine usually lives in a metal filing cabinet rather than a pristine display case, and its usual outings are to class to illustrate the idea of conceptual separability in copyright (the surface print is protected, the underlying design of the bag is not) rather than to elegant parties, but in that moment, it was wearable art. And yes, it's real.