Instantly recognizable, entirely iconic, inspired by Haute Couture, the Lady Dior bag was born in Dior’s workshops in 1995, and made famous in 1996 when Princess Diana took a serious liking to the unique accessory during a visit to Paris. Elegant and handmade, the Lady Dior gestures to the House’s seventy-year history while making a bold break with the trends that dominated the time of its inception. Its signature cannage stitching, padded leather cushions, mirrored facets, and charms made with a layer of fine silver or gold only compound its timeless sophistication. The attention to detail is likewise unheralded: even the handle is a perfect arch, symbolizing all that is feminine and stylish about the House.
While the Lady Dior carries the House’s inimitable style, it is also open to interpretation and artistic re-envisioning. Last year, the House invited a handful of British and American artists to reimagine the iconic accessory with a limited-edition run. After the project’s runaway success, the house has doubled down on the idea and made it even more diverse and creative, this year inviting ten celebrated artists from around the world and of all different ages and backgrounds to reimagine the famous bag. Once again, the House gave carte blanche to the artists to transpose their creative genius into Dior’s leatherworking language. In doing so, the artists’ creative visions pushed the limits of the House’s savoir-faire, and, thanks to Dior’s uniquely creative in-house atelier, the invited artists had the freedom to translate their exacting visions onto their bags. Everything from the bag’s fabric to its charms to its size, color, jewelry, handles, and stitching were all adjusted to the artists’ specifications, their distinctive imaginations given total reign. Now that the dust has settled and the bags are soon to be available in an exclusive run, a reimagined icon has, once again, become itself iconic.
With her mesmerizing installations, Seoul-based artist Lee Bul investigates how visionary narratives and notions of progress affect the way our world is structured both at present and in the future. Having frequently worked with the House (her works are on show at the Dior boutiques in Seoul, London, and Los Angeles) she has dared to pursue a particularly complex vision for her Lady Dior bag. Her exclusive, medium-sized bag took over sixty trials to get just right. Created in an industrial style, Lee Bul’s bag is outfitted with dozens of tiny plexiglas mirrors that are slanted in every direction so that the bag itself appears to be one big shattered mirror. Outfitted with white-silver handles and silver Dior charms, Lee Bul’s re-imagining of the legendary Lady Dior provides few easy answers; and yet, the feeling one gains from looking at it is that of overwhelming beauty, thoughtfulness, and philosophical exceptionality — a design that is as challenging and rewarding as Lee Bul’s art.
The pioneering John Giorno has been a core part of the American art scene for over sixty years. Associated with numerous important figures, including Andy Warhol and the beat writers, Giorno’s multi-level loft on the Bowery in Manhattan is also where Mark Rothko painted and William S. Burroughs lived. But it is Giorno’s streetwise, groundbreaking poetry for which he is best known. For his exclusive re-envisioning of the Lady Dior, Giorno created two medium-sized bags with lines from his poetry. Both bags are loudly graphic. One says “we gave a party for the gods and the gods all came,” while the other says “you got to burn to shine.” One side of the bags proudly proclaims these words in black lettering while the other side has them in a translucent white. Giorno’s idea is that a woman carrying his version of the Lady Dior might sometimes feel strong, but other times she’ll feel shy — and nothing is wrong with either. The bags are unified with rainbow-colored handles that jibe perfectly with the rainbow colors that background the poetry.
Perhaps known best for scanned objects of daily use that he has organized according to their forms and color — thereby transforming daily materials into a unified aesthetic — the Beijing-based multimedia artist Hong Hao has spent his artistic career questioning, satirizing, and reimagining the traditional rules of technique, production, and everyday routines. Beloved for surpassing the boundaries of traditional media, Hao has since taken on the challenge of transferring his large-scale art to a pair of limited-edition Lady Dior handbags. In doing so, he has created two inimitable designs. The first is a medium-sized bag, which provides a reimagined map of the world. By swapping the colors of the sea and the land (green to blue, blue to green) and changing the names of oceans and mountains, Hao allows people to rediscover the world through his inverted vision. A layered stitching technique also lets one physically feel the altitudes of the various countries on the bag. The other — a small-sized bag — reimagines his famous scanned objects to conjure a charmingly tacky, pop art effect that maintains a stylish Dior sophistication thanks to the quality of the materials. Both bags are outfitted with exceptional silvers and Dior monogrammed charms in silver.
The German-born artist Friedrich Kunath has adopted Los Angeles as his new home, where he draws inspiration from song lyrics to show titles, German romanticism to conceptual art. By juxtaposing such seemingly disparate influences Kunath’s art creates oppositional relationships that invite raw emotional experiences. In perhaps his best-known work, he created a rainbow made of a thick impasto of oil paint that stretched in front of an eerie watercolor landscape. Kunath has translated this remarkable image to his re-imagining of the emblematic Lady Dior. A medium-sized bag, Kunath achieves a photographic effect with the image of a couple kissing, handles that look like rainbows, and the phrase “fuck it, i love you” stitched throughout the interior of the bag and written on the back of a bespoke Dior charm that resembles a cloud. Kunath has created a bag that evokes the charming insolence and cheekiness of the American 1970s.
Namsa Leuba, a Swiss-Guinean artist, uses photography to question the way that African identities are viewed in the West. Using performance art, fashion, and documentary film footage, Leuba uses her art to explore her heritage — especially its ceremonies and rituals — while paying close attention to its related gestures and props. Inspired by Ndebele culture (a people of Zimbabwe and northeastern South Africa), Leuba’s artistic concept for her exclusive collection of re-imagined Lady Dior bags pushed the House’s savoir-faire to respond to her vision. Her medium-sized bag is characterized by a complex stitching technique in which mink, fine fabrics, and tiny pearls were sewn together like puzzle pieces, creating a “hippie” look that took over 300 hours to create. Her small bag, on the other hand, was weaved in the same way that many old African textiles were created, and both are messily colorful in a way that evokes the color palette of Willem De Kooning and the fractured designs of Clyfford Still. In her re-envisioning of the Lady Dior, Leuba has focused on texture and process — and, most of all, on the combining of cultures.
One of the youngest artists invited to participate in this exclusive project, Jamilla Okubo was born in 1993 and recently graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York. Although born in America, she has Kenyan ancestry, and her art is focused accordingly: on cultural identity, black culture, and redefining the typical narratives surrounding the African diaspora. Okubo has designed three exquisite and technologically complex bags for the House’s limited-edition collection, pushing Dior’s leather technicians to incredible heights. Her two small bags mix Kenyan-style beadwork with Parisian inspired crystals, while her medium-sized bag uses the classic Dior quilting techniques as a background for simple flowers, which are stitched in a deceptively sophisticated, haute couture style. All three of Okubo’s re-imagined Lady Dior bags boast deceptive complexity and, as is paramount, a thematic merging of Kenya and Paris.
Like Jamilla Okubo, Betty Mariani was also born in 1993. The French artist brings a particularly youthful aesthetic to her artworks that depict her daily routine, family, and friends through street-art and graffiti techniques. Mariani uses bonding, painting, and drawing techniques to deconstruct the universe of the quotidian in order to find the magical in the otherwise banal. Her exclusive take on a medium-sized Lady Dior is made with a compelling color-splatter technique, which is pressed up against an austere, female face. Appearing as though someone has just “tagged” the bag, Mariani plays with the embroidery on top of the print so that it is multi-layered and therefore feels as though many people have been a part of it — as though people on the street had been constantly adding to it. With elegant, black handles and clean, black sides, Mariani’s vision of the iconic bag is that of madness and chaos, miraculously commingling with traditional beauty.
Beloved in the art world and the fashion world alike, American artist Jack Pierson has created evocative, often erotically charged works in various media, including photography, word sculptures, and installations. Pierson’s works are infused with nostalgia, yet his images are often buoyed by an aura of seduction. Far from simply seeking to create traditional variations on the American dream, the artist explores the flip side of the concept, searching to express what he calls, “the tragedy inherent in the pursuit of glamour.” All of this he brings to his pair of exceptional Lady Dior bags with designs based on drawings he completed while staying in Paris: swirling and mesmerizing masses of silvers and greys. The medium-sized bag is perfect for daytime, achieving a cartoonish effect with electric-orange handles and bespoke charms that conjure Art Deco amusement. The small-sized bag is the opposite: vintage and classic, it’s made with gold and silver threads — an urbane night bag. Like the very best of Pierson’s art, his vision for the House’s iconic bag evokes feelings that are at once ephemeral and eternal.
There’s no easy way to define Spencer Sweeney, who is at once a visual artist, a musician, a disc jockey, a club-owner, and was a key player in New York’s art scene throughout the 1990s. His many personas come out in his artworks, which have little regard for consistency — only for continual movement, contradiction, and aesthetic revolution. For his visionary line of limited-edition Lady Dior bags, Sweeney has created two small bags, one medium bag, and one large bag, all with entirely unique designs: faces, handprints, and a gigantic leering eye are their clearest artistic characteristics. Sweeney’s bags feel distinctly “unmade” so that the owner feels like a part of the artistic process. On the small bags, for instance, one can see the brush strokes and feel the raised pigments. On the largest of Sweeney’s re-imagined bags, the handles appear to meld with the bag itself — colorful, graffiti-like imagery mixing between bag and handle — as if extending to the bag’s holder. All of the bags are hand-embroidered, and each have the artist’s signature hidden throughout.
The Los Angeles-based artist David Wiseman finds inspiration in the beauty of the natural world — flowers, leaves, glaciers— which he transforms into ceramics, installations, and objects with an incredibly detailed craft. The American artist has worked with Dior in the past, sculpting 500 handmade porcelain Lily-of-the-Valley blossoms for the ceiling of the House’s flagship store in Shanghai as well as decorating the ceilings at the House’s Tokyo and New York stores. His commitment to immersing himself in traditional materials and methods in order to achieve the goals of his unique aesthetic imparts his work with particular permanence. His vision for his Lady Dior bags is no different, pushing the limits of Dior’s savoir-faire to render two remarkable creations. His medium-sized bag was made in a particularly classic way, using the Dior grey that’s seen across the House’s worldwide shops and the same quilting technique that’s used in the traditional Lady Dior bag. Wiseman, however, twists his version of the bag by adding a floral, nature motif, which he achieves by creating a charm developed exclusively for this bag — a Lily-of-the-Valley made of porcelain and brass. His larger Lady Dior is a stunning technical achievement. Completely transparent, the bag is made of leather that is entirely perforated and thus see-through. Both bags show both Wiseman’s love for nature as well as his desire for detailed inventiveness and creative perfection.
Photos: Courtesy of Dior.