The buzz surrounding the latest range of Artycapucines bags from Louis Vuitton is irresistible – and Donna Huanca’s sensual art is at the heart of it
An instant classic. There is no other way to describe the impact that the pared-down chic of the Capucines collection had at its launch in 2013. So steadfast in its charm and elegance, it’s difficult to believe that this instantly-recognisable trapezium has not even reached its double-digits anniversary. With architectural lines, bold in its practicality, the Capucines collection puts on an eye-drawing display of blank space. Unadorned and unashamed, without fanfare and in complete confidence, these bags shine without flash. But it is the Capucines’ expanses of leather that have allowed them to become a literal blank canvas for some of the world’s most sought-after contemporary artists, completely transforming the feel of the collection, and turning Louis Vuitton’s flirtation with the art world into a full-blown love affair.
The Artycapucines range, where the bag becomes the medium for a select group of artists to express themselves, is now in its third edition. And demand for these ultra-limited works of arm-candy art is showing no signs of slowing. In May this year, the multicoloured Alex Israel design from the very first Artycapucines collection sold at auction in Hong Kong for more than three times its reserve price – good news for Artycapucines collectors. Limited to just 200 pieces per design, six artists have taken part in each of the three cycles so far. The latest batch of designers has just been announced, and there is one in particular who stands out.
Donna Huanca is used to working with skin – but not the type normally used in Louis Vuitton’s Taurillon leather-making. The human body has been her most celebrated canvas, with her installations and body paint well known Born in Chicago to a Bolivian family, Huanca was raised between cultures. “I grew up in South Side, Chicago, as part of an immigrant family, and I didn’t have much access to museums and art,” Huanca exclusively tells MOJEH. “Looking back, it was almost through luck that I connected with art, and it has been life-changing. Summers were spent visiting family in Bolivia, and on those trips we would celebrate the Festival of Urkupiña, an exciting formative experience bursting with music and costumes, and improvised and spontaneous interactions.” After studying in Houston and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, Huanca’s ‘visceral experiences’ became noteworthy among the artistic elite. She now lives and works in Berlin, and her immersive installations encompass painting, sculpture, video, sound and scent, as well as the arresting sight of painted human bodies camouflaged among the abstract textures. “My artistic practice really started out in creating improvised sound works, performing soundscapes at underground venues,” says Huanca. “That still very much informs how I conceptualise installation work; the venue has just shifted. In my work, I layer textures and create total, immersive experiences.”
The cobalt blues so emblematic of Huanca’s art have found their way into her Artycapucines collaboration, as swirling cerulean torrents crash across a pristine white backdrop. The artworks are 3D-printed onto the surface of the leather, before three different types of embroidery are applied to enhance the design’s textural appeal. The embroidery is hand-painted in selected sections, echoing the richly layered complexity of Huanca’s art. “My instinct was to project my work onto this special Capucines bag using Louis Vuitton’s incredible savoir-faire to create vibrant colours, unique textures and unexpected surfaces that are the vocabulary of my work,” Huanca explains. “This Capucines bag is based on a work that incorporates collages from body paintings that were part of my Piedra Quemada performance and installation at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. My work is rooted in collage – I assemble materials, images, colours and textures in paintings, sculptures and installations, as well and sound and scent works. Likewise, this bag is a collage of past works, as well as the sensations of texture that resurface. Working at the relatively small scale of a bag reminds me of the body art that inspires all my painting. Working on skin is very freeing, as an ephemeral, interactive and effective site for expression.”
Even the bag’s hardware is reminiscent of Huanca’s artistic relationship with the human body – the hoops that connect the handle to the bag’s body are in the form of oversized body piercing rings. So, for Huanca, what is the most exciting part of this collaboration? “I love imagining how this work will move and travel through different landscapes,” she says. “Ultimately, I think that’s the most important aspect in all artworks – the life it lives beyond the studio, and how it is taken up in the lives and imaginations of the viewer.”
Which begs the question – for a handbag that will be filled and carried, yet displaying such a compelling work of art on its exterior, what is it? Is it an everyday practical item, or is it intended to be shown, and debated like a painting? “A synthesis of our practices,” says Huanca, enigmatically. Just as all good design should be.
- Words by Rachel Silvestri