DRIPS, GRAFFITI AND FASHION
It’s not at all surprising to see couture fashion, or any tier of fashion, for that matter, draw inspiration and influence from what is happening in popular culture, music, film, or the streets. The more exciting and distinct the character or aesthetic, the more ripe it becomes for appropriation by companies hungry to discover and introduce the next trend. Often times, it’s graffiti that becomes the inspiration, and as evident in some of the heated discussions that crop up on The Writers Forum about it (and even in the comments section of some of my earlier posts), it can be a touchy subject amongst the kids that are actually out in the streets doing it. Admittedly, most of the time when I see clothing companies try and throw some sort of drip, overspray or handstyle on a t-shirt or whatever else, it just makes me cringe. Other times, like when I happen to glimpse the “urban” apparel section of most department stores, the feeling becomes something closer to wanting to puke. That said, it’s still my personal opinion that when done tastefully, a graffiti-esque influence can occasionally look okay, and sometimes it can actually look really great.
Though the appropriation of graffiti’s aesthetic has probably been going on for nearly as long as graffiti has existed, I first took notice of it around 2001 when Louis Vuitton released its “Graffiti” series of bags and accessories. What caught my attention back then was how completely unexpected it was to see such a traditional pattern, suddenly violated by a bunch of bold hand lettering all over the top of it. Until then, Louis Vuitton had always reminded me of the sort of brand affluent old women strutted in. Though the scrawl wasn’t a style I’d recognized from the streets, the premium placement and the visually hostile way it took over was something I could place and relate to.
The story behind Louis Vuitton’s Graffiti bag is really interesting. Marc Jacobs, then and still Creative Director for Louis Vuitton, collaborated with Stephen Sprouse, a fashion designer who was sort of caught up professionally between “has-been” and “never-was”. Sprouse had previous exposure from graffiti simply by way of being a native downtown New Yorker from as early as the 1970’s, graffiti’s formative years. Through his friendship with Debbie Harry (his one-time downstairs neighbor in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood), his fascination and exposure to graffiti, and those doing it, continued through the years. In the late 1980s Sprouse collaborated several times with Keith Haring on his “Signature” line (as well as was granted permission to use Andy Warhol‘s “Camouflage” series of screen-prints as textile designs). Though his own efforts at putting together an apparel line were critically acclaimed, for whatever reason, they never did well and he never enjoyed commercial success. Then, in 2001, Marc Jacobs reached out to him and together they redesigned Louis Vuitton’s long-established monogram pattern. What came out of that collaboration was the “Graffiti” series, an inspired collection of classic Louis Vuitton monogram bags and accessories with a bold layer of sloppy handwritten words overprinted all over it.
I feel it’s pretty clear that Sprouse was drawing inspiration from his own personal experiences and surroundings when he worked with Marc Jacobs to redesign that pattern for Louis Vuitton. Though the naysayers and haters will argue that the “Graffiti” bag didn’t really have any graffiti on it, the soul of what he was expressing in his design came across, and to me at least, felt authentic. That mixture of authenticity and unexpectedness is why I feel it was successful.
Many companies and designers continue trying to appropriate graffiti’s aesthetic. Apparently graffiti, or specifically paint-drips, are a “phenomenon” for Spring 08. Few, if any, have really hit me the way that the Jacobs/Sprouse Louis Vuitton bags did. Though I have to admit, I’m kind of feeling those Sergio Rossi paint pumps. I’ll let you guys make up your minds on the Ikea drip sheet set.
Louis Vuitton Keepall 50
I also thought this Jacobs/Murakami Louis Vuitton camo was really cool (even if sort of off-topic)
Sergio Rossi paint pumps (in green)
Ikea drip sheet set