It has recently been announced by Marc Jacobs, fashion designer and creative director of Louis Vuitton, that Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama has been commissioned to design a brand new line of luxury goods for the fashion house’s summer collection. Yayoi Kusama, most famously known for her colourful polka-dot patterns and extreme, minimalistic abstractions, will create a range of luxury items including footwear, watches, leather pieces and other accessories.

Although mostly famous for her art, Yayoi Kusama also has an interesting background. Kusama has voluntarily lived in a psychiatric institution, which she calls ‘home’, since 1977. Her constant visions of repetitive dots and intricate layers of circular forms began at the age of 10; it was then that she started seeing a psychiatrist who helped her explore her obsession with these shapes. By living in a psychiatric institution, she receives the routine and structure that she requires in everyday life, allowing her to use psychosomatic art to escape from the trauma that could be associated with these hallucinations. Describing her visions, Kusama has said: “I see them. They cover the canvas and grow on to the floor, the ceiling, chairs and tables. Then they move onto the body, clothes. It is an obsession.”

Kusama’s large abstracted forms and independence have enabled her to develop and expand her career as an artist. Her artistic style crosses over many different genres and art movements; her 60-year career has been categorised as Avant-Garde, Surrealist, Abstract Expressionist, as well as having many connotations with the Feminist Art Movement and Pop Art. Through her art, Kusama has been able to venture from rural Japan into the Western world, specifically the New York art scene, and back to the unique and contemporary world of Tokyo. Having produced around 50,000 works during her career, she has been heralded as Japan’s most prominent contemporary artist, making her collaboration with Louis Vuitton significant as a symbol of the growing demand for far eastern art in the West. Due to her innovative style and complete devotion to her work, it was no surprise that she won Japan’s most prestigious art prize, the ‘Praemium Imperiale’, back in 2006.

It will be thrilling to see Louis Vuitton’s stores filled with mannequins covered in Kusama’s vibrant polka-dots in July, and shop windows displaying her animated installations, as well as a vast range of other products decorated with circular patterns. This is a wonderful and exciting collaboration, but it isn’t the first time Louis Vuitton collaborated with a highly influential Japanese designer. In 2008, Rei Kawakubo, a ground-breaking fashion designer famous for her complex avant-garde designs and founder of the 1969 fashion line Comme des Garcons, did the same. Using inspiration from her own memories, Kawakubo fashioned a range of classically styled evening bags adorned with charms and multiple layers of leather embellishments.

So, why is it that these highly influential Japanese female artists and designers have been drawn into collaborations with a French fashion house? Louis Vuitton, as one of the world’s leading international brands, has illustrated formally how Japanese culture and style is of continuing and significant importance in the Western fashion world. When collaborating with Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs stated that he admired her company Comme des Garcons very much. Jacobs said, “It is impossible to overstate Rei Kawakubo’s influence on modern fashion…I find it wonderful to think that 30 years ago, this immense talent, someone who has inspired so many others, was inspired by Louis Vuitton.” The following year Kawakubo also worked with H&M, creating a range of garments for men and women.

Having experienced the complex designs and inventions of both Kusama and Kawakubo, it is clear that these formidable Japanese women’s creations have caught the attention of the Western fashion world from the high-end to the high street. As a result, their positions as independent successful women as well as Japan’s influence on the fashion industry, has been solidified. Yayoi Kusama once said, “I want to leave my messages to my successors and future generations”, and her forthcoming collaboration is sure to bring the worldwide recognition she desires and deserves.

Yayoi Kusama’s life and career is currently being celebrated in an exhibition at the Tate Modern from 9th February to 5th June 2012.

Claire Tole-Moir

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