A Tour Through Louis Vuitton’s 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries in Los Angeles
To celebrate founder Louis Vuitton’s bicentennial birthday, the French luxury design house tapped 200 visionaries to transform a blank canvas — its iconic trunk — into works of art. The resulting traveling exhibition just landed in Los Angeles; here’s what it was like.
“This one’s got Cholera in it,” A docent, clad in a white t-shirt with the word “Louis” in orange, tells me. I pause for a moment, staring at a brown Louis Vuitton logo-emblazoned trunk inside a massive, clear Zip Lock bag. On the outside, an orange sticker with a biohazard symbol spells out “Infectious Waste.”
Then, I turn my head to look at the gentleman; he’s stoic and matter-of-fact, long hair pulled back in a slick bun. This must be a joke, some part of a shtick. He ignores the quizzical look on my face, and continues to describe what sounds like absolute fiction: cholera bacteria was sourced and intermingled with fluorescent protein plasmids to give it a glowing color. Then, the trunk was coated in horse blood agar and the LV pattern painted on with luminous bacteria.
“I can’t tell if you’re joking,” I say something to that effect, to which he responds: Look it up. The mysterious box in question has a QR code, which makes this claim easy to verify. Turns out, everything he said is true. But why is there a cholera-infected trunk in the middle of Louis Vuitton’s exhibit space, which happens to sit in Beverly Hills’ chicest zip code?
First, some backstory: It started with one trunk, one blank canvas and a prompt. To celebrate founder Louis Vuitton’s bicentennial birthday, the French luxury design house tapped 200 visionaries to transform its iconic trunk into, well, whatever they wanted. The goal was to let their imaginations run amok — and amok they ran.
From one prompt emerged 200 trunks, each designed by a different global talent, from musicians to astronauts to artists. The “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries” exhibition first made its debut in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, then traveled to Singapore before landing here in Los Angeles. Which brings me back to this trunk, designed by Ben Ditto, an artist, a director, a visionary. A renaissance man, as he’s often referred to. Working with scientists Marisa Zuk and Kenneth Robinson, Ditto sought to make a statement on infectious disease, harkening back to the cholera pandemic that raged during Vuitton’s life.
British DJ and producer Benji B turned the assignment into a fully functioning jukebox. Visitors can request songs on the main level of the exhibit.
But Ben’s trunk is just one of many stories displayed on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills near the luxury fashion house’s flagship store. Inside the two-story contemporary building, you’ll find all sorts of creative expressions. There’s an 880-pound trunk full of crude oil, meant to represent Louis Vuitton’s origins in travel. There’s a trunk shackled in leather straps — a trunk even Harry Houdini would fail to escape, architect Peter Marino said. There’s another made of a pile of amber glass bars, meant to represent clay bricks found along the roads in India before they’re turned into houses.
There are too many pieces to peruse, too many narratives to absorb. Some immediately reveal their stories, some take a little coaxing. Either way, Louis Vuitton docents are there to explain each piece and share their wealth of knowledge, even if they sound completely ridiculous at first. Because that’s what these trunks are: bizarre, fantastical, thought-provoking, otherworldly.
Magician Dynamo, known for putting cellphones in bottles, recreated his popular magic trick on a larger scale. Louis Vuitton’s iconic trunk now sits in the belly of a massive bottle, delighting and confusing guests.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this exhibit; oftentimes, when brands put on shows like this, there’s an unspoken motive of shareability (especially in this social media-crazed corner of the city). And while Louis Vuitton’s 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries, is without a doubt visually arresting, it functions more like an art gallery than another marketing ploy. And just an art gallery, it begs certain things of the viewer: to pause, to think, to engage. Perhaps, to even come back.