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The Joy of Sets: Daniel Buren on building Louis Vuitton

On the day of Vuitton's AW13 catwalk, we present an extended conversation with artist Daniel Buren, creator of last season's square, grid and Damier escalator spectacular

Ever since the De Medici family bestowed its largesse on artists in the 17th century, the convergence of art, fashion and luxury have become increasingly intertwined. Out of all the major luxury brands, few do it with as much panache and savoir-faire than the 158-year old house of Louis Vuitton. After all, this is a maison that has seen Richard Prince’s infamous ‘Nurse’ paintings recreated on supermodels, made pop art superstars out of Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama, and reinstated the importance of American artist, Stephen Sprouse. For its SS13 show, artistic director, Marc Jacobs chose to collaborate with the conceptual minimalist French artist, Daniel Buren, whose controversial work, "Les Deux Plateux" - an arrangement of columns in a grid-like fashion in the courtyard of the Palais Royal in Paris – provided the initial inspiration for the season. Buren created a site-specific installation which saw models dressed in Marc Jacobs’ geometric silhouettes, descending in pairs (a nod to Diane Arbus’ photographs of twins) down a gleaming bank of escalators that emptied out onto a giant tessellated yellow and white check runway. Says Jacobs, “The square and the grid are repeated motifs in Buren’s work, while the checks relate to Louis Vuitton’s own geometric Damier pattern. Also, Buren’s famous work is in the centre of Paris, the home of Louis Vuitton, which is at the heart of the house today and throughout its history.” A world away from the romantic nostalgia of last season’s steam trains, the graphic modernism of the set hit upon the season’s themes so successfully, that Buren was again commissioned to work on the season’s campaigns and windows displays. Dazed spoke to Buren about the collaboration.

Dazed & Confused: What did you seek to express with your set design for the SS13 show that was inspired by your work, Les Deux Plateux?
Daniel Buren: Marc Jacobs sent me a letter expressing a desire to meet with me and saying that he had been a real admirer of my work "Les Deux Plateaux" at the Palais-Royal for a long time. I was honoured by such a compliment coming from one of the greatest designers of our times and was still very surprised when I was told that he wanted me to create a work for the very next "défilé". After they accepted a rough sketch of my concept, everything was accomplished in record time thanks to the fantastic working team around Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, who exhibited both quality and speed. But, in fact, what I proposed and designed was without any connection to my work at the Palais Royal. The references are closer to works I did forty years ago for example, using working escalators and, as for the chess grid, more recent works developed since the mid-eighties. Also, as we know, the chess grid is one of the symbols of the Louis Vuitton trade mark. A chess grid is a very common geometric disposition of a succession of regular squares or rectangles all together and I have used it as a simple possibility for many years in my work. So the use of this chess board format for the stage I created for the "défilé" follows the development of my own work, while coinciding with a pattern that Louis Vuitton has also used for many years. No one is the owner of such a pattern and that is exactly why I like to use it as "my" vertical alternated stripes. Even if I have used it on every one of my works since 1965, it’s not my property!

D&C: You've previously collaborated with Hermès, how do you enjoy collaborating in the world of fashion?
Daniel Buren: I would first say that the world of fashion has a very long history of direct collaboration with the art world. The twentieth century is full of many such collaborations. We have some real highlights (and some less exciting examples) and a tradition at work in that domain. I believe that for at least twenty years we have been at the very top level of collaboration between these two worlds. On a personal level, a long time ago I did the "vitrines" of Nina Ricci in Paris and then I was requested to create the layout for the catalogue of DIOR, both works which I really enjoyed doing. The request for Hermès was even more ambitious with the realization of 365 unique square scarfs employing an innovative new technique never before used of ink jet on pure silk. Then came the project with Louis Vuitton, which initially was to create the stage for the "défilé" in a gigantic tent erected right in the centre of the "Cour Carrée" in Le Louvre. Following this they then asked me to continue working with them and to design a special set in accord with what I did for the "défilé" in which to shoot their spring/summer 2013 collection. Now I am also working on the vitrines for the seven biggest Louis Vuitton stores around the world, including Shanghai, New York, London, Beijing, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. 

I think of all these works as specific exhibitions that could just as well be shown within a museum or a gallery. The only difference is the fact that today, the exposure given by these fashion houses with a worldwide presence is much bigger in terms of public reach than any single museum in the world.