Louis Vuitton has announced that the company will be ending its 13-year relationship with Takashi Murakami—signifying either a final farewell to the Marc Jacobs era (1997–2013) or a fresh start for former Balenciaga creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, depending on where your loyalties lie. The company has remained vague, saying in a statement that the brand would like to “look forward.”
Vuitton has collaborated with other household artist names—Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Yayoi Kusama, among others—but their affair with Murakami had been their longest and most quintessential, introducing a model of lucrative codependency between fashion and art that is now de rigueur. The inaugural 2003 Murakami Multicolore Monogram collection (the “it” bags of the early aughts, now as iconic as the brand’s original brown monogram design) was a revolutionary quid-pro-quo partnership, lifting Murakami from art world star to bonafide, Paris Hilton-adjacent celebrity and galvanizing the staid French luxury house with a shot of cutting-edge culture. (Murakami introduced the Superflat movement in 2001, a style that fused traditional Japanese aesthetics with post-war Japanese culture and epitomized Japanese kitsch.)
In a 2007 New York Times article, Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, explained that the appeal of “art couture” lies in esoteric luxury markers, which “signify informed consumption. They say: ‘I’m not just a shopper, I’m a groovy shopper.’”
The relationship was especially controversial because of its unabashed commercialist core, and came to a critical head in 2007, the year the artist’s show “© Murakami,” a 1,000-square-foot popup store offering $960 Louis Vuitton handbags, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Art critics like Dave Hickey bemoaned the way “the museum [has turned] into a sort of upscale Macy’s,” though MoCA’s chief curator Paul Schimmel offered a more compelling viewpoint, as quoted in the same New York Times article:
“One of the most radical aspects of Murakami’s work is his willingness both to embrace and exploit the idea of his brand, to mingle his identity with a corporate identity and play with that. He realized from the beginning that if you don’t address the commercial aspect of the work, it’s somehow like the elephant in the room.”
Murakami’s Vuitton collections (Multicolore, Monogramouflage, Cherry Blossom, Character Bag, and others) will be phased out of stores by the end of July, after which time you will doubtless find Murakami Vuittons selling on eBay for the price of a lesser-known Warhol.