Frank Gehry-Designed Handbags Unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach

PARIS — At age 94, Frank Gehry continues to explore new avenues for his creativity.

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect has partnered with Louis Vuitton on a collection of handbags set to be unveiled on Wednesday at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair.

The 11 limited-edition designs will be showcased in a booth celebrating Gehry’s longstanding collaboration with the French fashion house, which has encompassed everything from his landmark building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton on the outskirts of Paris, to perfume bottles with striking Murano glass stoppers.

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Having created a unique handbag design for the house in 2014, Gehry was only too happy to apply his touch to a full range of Capucines bags in a variety of sizes. Compared to shepherding a construction project like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, it was child’s play, he said.

“The sketches I do for buildings represent the beginnings of a thought, but then it takes months to translate it into a building. Whereas here, the sketches-to-handbag is a couple of days,” the Canadian American architect told WWD by telephone from his office in the Playa Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.

“Some years ago I did a collection for Tiffany & Co. and it was similar. We were taking the architectural language that we were playing with and transferring it to the smaller scale. It’s much faster. I don’t have to go to so many meetings to get it approved,” he continued.

Gehry worked on the project with his daughter-in-law, Joyce Shin, making paper models of the bags as they went. The results included “a pile of stuff that looks stupid that I wouldn’t show anybody but eventually, you know, you start exploring and you get into it,” he admitted with a chuckle.

“You’re very close to the scale and the formal language and the materials, so it’s much more direct, much quicker — I mean, infinitely quicker,” he emphasized.

“You can see what you don’t like in an instant,” Gehry explained. “With a building, you go down a lot of rabbit holes before you get to the finale because you have so many other aspects of public safety and budget control and engineering, and availability of materials, and maintenance of materials, and so on and so forth.”

Many of his signature touches are evident in the final designs, which employ materials ranging from Plexiglas to brass and molded leather, embellished using techniques ranging from cutting-edge 3D screenprinting to aquarelle hand-painting.

He has a special fondness for his original trunk-inspired Twisted Box bag from 2014, which was previously covered in monogram canvas and has been revisited in two colorways, black and silver, with an exclusive LV x FG monogram embossed on the smooth leather exterior.

“I think it has stood the test of time,” he said, pointing out the bag’s distinctive curved bottom. “It becomes a sculpture in its own right. That’s interesting. It’s very fun. I can imagine a young lady using it, all dressed up in a business suit, going to an interview. That would be a pretty powerful object to sit on the table in front of your interviewer.”

Other designs allowed him to explore a more playful side, like the Capucines BB Croc with a crocodile-shaped handle inspired by the four-meter sculpture he originally created for the London restaurant Sexy Fish. The gleaming, black-toned brass animal contrasts with an abstract neon yellow pattern.

The designs fall into three style categories: Architecture & Forms, Material Exploration and Animals.

Some clearly echo his most famous projects. The Capucines BB Analog bag, inspired by the angled facade of the IAC Building in New York City, is made from lambskin molded into sculptural shapes and screenprinted with a monochrome image recalling the building’s exterior.

On the Capucines BB Shimmer Haze, panels of see-through Plexiglas are held together with brass rivets stamped with Vuitton’s signature Monogram flower, forming a protective layer over the iridescent PVC coating the bag’s exterior. The concept came from the transparent model Gehry made for the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.  

The architect and designer sees a common thread to all his projects: engaging people’s feelings.

“When I design a concert hall, I think of the relationship between the orchestra and the audience and using the building as a foil to make that happen,” he explained.

Similarly, when he created bottles for Vuitton’s Les Extraits Collection fragrance line in 2021, he added a sharp edge to the bottle.

“There’s a kind of a sexy quality of having that edge and I think it’s quite feminine, and I spent time thinking about that when I was working on it, so it’s similar to making a building. I’m trying to engage people in a feeling discussion, so to speak, without them having to say anything, or me having to say anything,” he added.

As global associate partner of Art Basel, Vuitton is back in Miami for the second year running. Its booth, enveloped in sail-like mesh structures inspired by Gehry’s 2014 window displays for the house, presents a selection of the architect’s works, including preparatory sketches and original artworks, scale models and a trunk.

Gehry is a familiar presence in the art world, having befriended leading figures such as Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly when they first burst onto the scene in the ‘60s. The apparent spontaneity of Gehry’s sketches belies the difficulty of executing those ideas, but he feels a strong kinship with artists.

“Look at paintings from some of the great painters — they’re done very quickly, right? Matisse made those in an instant and 100 years later, holy s–t, they’re so great. I think there’s a magic in creativity. That’s the similarity: the exploration is similar. Try, try, try ideas,” he said.

The contemporary artists in his circle constantly inspire him to create something that is new and challenging to the eye. “Sometimes, the first iterations are threatening to me, and I look at them and say, ‘No, I can’t do that. I can’t do that.’ But then you work it through,” he said.

A self-described Francophile, Gehry enjoys a special relationship with Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

“When I do something that’s interesting for him, he takes a picture of it and puts it in his lapel pocket. I’ve seen him do it, and he looks at it without me. And I know pretty soon whether he’s in it or not. It’s almost, he doesn’t have to talk,” he said.

“He’s an enlightened client. He knows art. He knows music. He knows literature. He knows everything. He’s well educated, and he’s seen everything, so if I come in with something cliché, he’ll be the first one to say, ‘Oh, non,’” he said. “I rely on him a lot in our relationship.”

At a ceremony in June where Arnault was honored for his contribution to real estate, the two revealed they have another project in the works: a cognac museum, to be designed by Gehry, next to the Moët Hennessy cellars on the Charente river in Cognac, France.

Though Arnault gives him a lot of latitude, Gehry was mindful to keep the LV logo relatively intact, by his standards, on his bag designs. “The logo is clearly their logo. I’ve just manipulated it in scale or surface,” he said. “That’s an important part of that world. One has to respect that.”

But he’s not immune to being a little irreverent with the brand’s most lucrative product category.

His Capucines MM Floating Fish features a bright red fish with flamboyant leather and sequin marquetry scales, while the Bear With Us clutch is a miniature version of the sculpture of the same name, which looks like it’s made out of crumpled paper covered in metal. “I didn’t expect to make that into a handbag,” he admitted.

Gehry revealed that Delphine Arnault, who in her prior role as Vuitton’s executive vice president supervised all of its product-related activities, has a gold version of the sculpture in the garden of her Paris home. The daughter of Bernard Arnault, who was instrumental in orchestrating Vuitton’s projects with artists, is now CEO of Christian Dior Couture.

The bags from the new collection, which will be issued in varying quantities, are priced from 10,000 euros to 33,000 euros, and are sure to become collector’s items. Gehry pondered whether the shimmering texture of one of his buildings in New York might also translate to a bag. Does that mean there is more to come?

“Yeah, as long as they’ll let me,” he answered with a laugh.

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