Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
The parallel worlds of travel trunk designer Louis Vuitton and fashion designer Marc Jacobs meet at an exhibition that analyses how they built a global empire and shaped the luxury goods industry.
Portraits of the two men greet visitors to the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition at the Les Arts Decoratif, a museum adjacent to the popular Louvre museum in Paris.
“Two innovators, both rooted in their respective centuries, advanced an entire industry. Two creators, each in his own language, appropriated cultural codes and trends in order to shape the history of contemporary fashion,” reads exhibition notes.
On the first floor of the museum space unfolds the story of Vuitton, a “man of modest origins”, who started his company in 1854. Vuitton produced top-end travel bags for the wealthy of Paris. This exhibition describes him as a “packager trunk maker”.
Vuitton lived in a time of industrialisation and was able to use technology to grow his business. He also understood early on the value of branding products.
By 1888 he started printing his signature on the outside of his high quality leather trunks. His name was integrated into the exterior decorative pattern; a tradition that would continue.
“In 1896, four years after his father’s death, Georges Vuitton pursued Louis logic and created the famous LV monogram. He integrated the founder’s initials into a pattern of rosettes, giving these letters the quality both of a signature and decorative pattern,” states the exhibition notes.
Fast forward to 1997 and fresh-faced designer Marc Jacobs gets the top job as creative director of Louis Vuitton. Jacobs embraced growing globalisation and a world hungry for fashion.
And so the exhibition of Vuitton’s posh Paris transforms into the pop culture universe of Jacobs on the second floor. A short flight of black stairs leads one into rooms that are dressed in black tiles from head to toe. One enters ‘Marc’s World’ and the designer’s welcoming voice is looped via a speaker: ‘Hi guys.’
Walls covered in light boxes and TV screens project images of what inspires Jacobs. It’s all American pop culture: actresses like Elizabeth Taylor and comedy shows like The Simpsons find place next to countless other familiar faces. And this is where the analysis begins as it speaks of how Jacobs transformed Louis Vuitton.
Jacobs was determined, in a globalised fashion world, to ensure that everybody knew that his brand was cool. He married it with famous faces, music videos and artists who bring with them their wealth of fans.
Jacobs started in 2003 to invite celebrities to front his fashion campaigns. This has included Jennifer Lopez as the debut star-face, Uma Thurman (2005) and then Madonna (2009). As a result, Jacobs by association and for his visible appearances as spokesperson for the brand, was afforded celebrity status too.
As this transpires, we can see from exhibited video footage, Jacobs went from fresh-faced (with bad hair) to frumpy (still with bad hair and just a little overweight) to full-on A-list sleek (with styled hair).
His transformation is documented on the many closing salutes on fashion catwalks shown on TV screens housed behind wooden walls with peep holes to view through. One TV screen shows a video loop of a latter-day Jacobs perpetually sticking out his tongue during his obligatory lap on the catwalk.
Jacobs speaks also in voice recordings of the depth of his inspiration: “I love all that glitters.” That sort of thinking turned the brand from speaking primarily to a world of ultra-classic conservatism into one that reached the masses. The up-to-the-moment fashionistas have hailed Jacobs’ and his bright ensemble of gaudiness.
For some, the Louis Vuitton classiness might have sadly morphed into nothing but an undefined, noisy universe of clutter that lacks refinement.
But Jacobs, who “oversees everything from products, fashion shows to advertising campaigns”, always attracts the right name to add gravitas to his world. His latest design collaboration launched in July is with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama –born in 1929 – who is known as the ‘Princess of Polkadots’. Jacobs and artists that he chooses work to re-interpret the LV monogram.
Kusama offers Louis Vuitton merchandise her “explosion of polkadots”. This artist says that her life is “a dot lost among millions of other dots”. She has also described herself as obsessive and resides permanently in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital.
Kusama has decided that as part of her collaboration she would have dolls that look like her in some of the 461 of Louis Vuitton’s shop windows worldwide.
These dolls would “represent Kusama in her famous red wig and dressed in red and white polka dots”.
“These miniature dolls of Kusama have been made identical to herself, by moulding her face and hands with clay,” explains Giselle Hon, the brand’s spokesperson in South Africa.
Interestingly, Jacobs appears also as a doll at the Paris analysis of his contribution to global fashion. The doll is just under 30 centimetres, rotates all day long and smiles: “Bye guys!”
Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs runs at the Les Arts Decoratif in Paris until September 16. For more information log on to www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr
This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a regional weekly newspaper in Cape Town, Western Cape province of South Africa, on August 19 2012.
It is almost time for the sunset meal iftar, when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadaan, and mechanical engineering student Koceila Ait Abdelmalek reflects on the challenges he faces in France because of his religious beliefs.
Abdelmalek is Algerian and moved to the French capital city Paris five years ago. He joins immigrants from various countries – mostly France’s former colonies – for iftar at the Great Mosque of Paris, located in the city’s fifth arrondissement.
“Generally it’s good to live in Paris. But when it’s Ramadaan I would really prefer to be in Algeria. Some students ask us why we don’t eat in the day. They say that it’s not normal and non-productive,” says Abdelmalek.
He explains that he often hears debates at university between “students who are French but whose parents come from Arab countries” and locals.
“When they talk about Islam, some students tell them that they are not good. I try not to listen to this. And I prefer not to say that I’m Muslim.”
The athaan – or call to prayer – goes off and Abdelmalek breaks his fast and prays with the congregation at the mosque. It is reminiscent of Cape Town’s inner-city mosques where refugees and immigrants line up side by side in prayer.
After maghrib, the sunset prayer, Abdelmalek goes home to join his sister for iftar. We have just completed another 16-hour day of fasting in Paris.
It is not my first Ramadaan away from home in Cape Town. Neither is it the first month of fasting that I spend as part of a minority; that’s the norm in South Africa.
But this is the first Ramadaan where, as part of a minority, questions of Muslim identity are palpable. It is not so much questions of faith but instead about navigating the city to seek a sense of Ramadaan. Fasting is an individual’s responsibility but Ramadaan is a communal affair.
In the 17th arrondissement, where I live, signs of Arabia abound. Some shop fronts have Arabic lettering. Baklava and other North African sweets are sold at various shops up the road.
The local mosque is a 15-minute walk away. It has no minaret because in France, as in some other European countries, locals oppose the construction of the tall spires which serve as visual indications of mosque locations.
It is disappointing that mosques have become symbols of tension and misunderstanding between Europeans and mostly immigrant Muslim communities. It was not always so.
The Great Mosque, established in 1926, had the confidence of the French government after North African Arabs fought alongside their coloniser against Germany in World War 1. History informs that up to 100,000 Arabs died in that battle.
President Gaston Doumergue, the French leader at that time, attended the inaugural prayer at the Great Mosque.
Years later, when Nazis wanted to send Jews and others to concentration camps, this mosque was a refuge for Jews. The French movie ‘Free Men’ depicting this event was filmed at the mosque a few years ago.
Some French mosques presently have police monitors hovering outside. Granted, there are various reasons why police surveillance has sprouted. It has led to conflict.
Just this week police in Marseilles, southern France, got into a scuffle with a local Muslim woman after they wanted to check her identity.
The woman was veiled and leaving a mosque when police stopped her. According to media reports, the 18-year-old refused an identity check and a fight broke out between police and locals.
While there is some integration, the divide between Muslims and others remains evident in Paris. This is also a matter of historical circumstance as Muslim communities, mostly North African immigrants, have largely developed as separate ghettos on the city’s periphery.
Nabila Mokrani, a French citizen born to Algerian parents, explains that it is easier for France to accept Arabian culture than Islam. Evidence of this is the Arab World Institute built in the 1980s when 18 Arab countries agreed with France to construct an impressive building that would “spread knowledge and research”.
It reportedly reflects the “opinion, that the Arab world – its civilisation and values, its past and its future – needs to be better known and understood in the west”.
This week, while seeking information about Ramadaan in Paris, I was told at the institute that they focus only on “culture” and questions of faith should be directed elsewhere. Their programme includes music events and their book shop stocks titles about art, politics and religious beliefs in the Arab world’s 22 countries.
Its current exhibition focuses on nudes inspired by or from the Arab world. A range of painters and photographer’s studies of naked human flesh and body parts are on display. Some of it is interesting while others – like the naked female mannequin wearing only a black headscarf – perpetuate exotica.
It is not indicative of widespread Arabian conservatism, but rather an indication of how Arabia is being perceived and interrogated in the art world.
Mokrani, who works as a curator with various art galleries, laughs about the institute’s exhibition.
“You should go to the suburbs, outside the city, to find Ramadaan,” she jokes.
A walk around the area near the 17th arrondissement mosque later that evening reveals how North Africans have replicated a sense of community in Paris. The Moroccan imam had completed the optional taraweeh night prayers at about 12:45am. Sunset is shortly before 10pm in Paris so the days are long and taraweeh at the mosque ends much later than it ever does in Cape Town.
Men and their children walk around the area in traditional Islamic clothing worn when praying. A mixture of Arabic and French tongues fills the air. The late night descends into a quiet calm. Soon it will be another day of fasting in Paris.
This article was published in the Weekend Argus regional newspaper in Cape Town, South Africa, in July 2012.
South African accused pleads not guilty in slaying
Associated Press, By YAZEED KAMALDIEN,
Updated 9:44 a.m., Wednesday, August 15, 2012
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The South African man accused of shooting a Swedish bride to death on her honeymoon plead not guilty to charges he faced in a trial that began Wednesday.
Xolile Mngeni faces charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and the possession of an illegal firearm and illegal ammunition over the November 2010 death of 28-year-old Anni Dewani. Prosecutors say Mngeni was hired by Dewani’s British husband to carry out the killing.
Mngeni, who had surgery in June 2011 to remove a brain tumor, has suffered seizures and black outs and has troubles remembering things, said his lawyer Qalisile Dayimani on Monday. His poor health has slowed his trial, but he said he was ready for trial and showed up in a Cape Town court on Wednesday and covered his head with a jacket.
“The state has to prove everything. So we’ll have to go through all the motions,” said Judge Robert Henney, who presided over the first day of the trial at the Western Cape High Court. He then added: “It will be a long process. Are you ready for that?”
Mngeni said, “That’s correct.”
State prosecutor Shireen Riley said she’d be calling at least 16 witnesses in the trial.
Last week, Mngeni’s alleged accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to charges over the killing, receiving a 25-year prison sentence. Zola Tongo, the taxi driver that police say husband Shrien Dewani asked to plot the killing, earlier pleaded guilty to charges over the slaying and received an 18-year prison sentence. Both Tongo and Qwabe have said Dewani wanted it to look like he wasn’t involved his wife’s slaying and they planned to have the attack look like a car hijacking in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township.
Qwabe said that after he and Mngeni staged the fake car hijacking, he drove the car as Mngeni kept a 7.62 mm pistol pointed at Anni Dewani in the backseat and then pulled the trigger, the fatal shot going through her neck, Qwabe’s statement read. Panicked, Qwabe said he stopped the car and got out, helping Mngeni find the spent bullet casing. He threw the casing into a sewer as they ran away into the night.
Officials at first thought the crime was robbery in South Africa, where violent crime is high but attacks on foreign tourists are rare.
A new witness on Wednesday, who testified anonymously as part of a deal with the state, said that he helped connect Tongo with a hit man. The witness worked at a hotel in Cape Town and his job was to arrange transportation and tours for guests. He said he had often referred guests to Tongo on a commission basis since 2007. The witness then said that Tongo said he had met Shrien Dewani at the airport.
“He said this gentleman is not from South Africa. And that he has done this before. He said we should pretend that this person (Anni Dewani) was hijacked,” the witness said.
Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested. In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there. Dewani’s lawyer told the court in a hearing July 31 that he needed at least a year to recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before being potentially sent back to South Africa.
The trial is set to continue Thursday.
Lawyer: S. Africa Slaying Defendant Very Ill
By YAZEED KAMALDIEN Associated Press
CAPE TOWN, South Africa August 13, 2012 (AP)
The South African man accused of shooting a Swedish bride to death on her honeymoon suffers from blackouts and seizures, his defense lawyer said Monday, as a judge scheduled his trial for later in the week.
Xolile Mngeni appeared in a court in Cape Town on Monday and at times hid his face under a green-and-white jacket.
Judge Robert Henney ordered his trial to begin Wednesday over the slaying of 28-year-old Anni Dewani. Mngeni, whom prosecutors say was hired by Dewani’s British husband to carry out the November 2010 killing, faces murder, robbery, kidnapping and illegal gun possession charges over her death.
Mngeni’s poor health has slowed his trial over the slaying and he entered court Monday using a walker and helped by police officers. Mngeni had surgery to remove a brain tumor in June 2011 and now has problems remembering things, defense lawyer Qalisile Dayimani said.
“When he gets blackouts, he tends to sleep,” Dayimani said. “We can’t say if he has been listening” at hearings.
Despite Mngeni’s poor health, Dayimani said the trial should be able to go on.
“We want to get through this,” the lawyer said. “Everybody wants (a) finale. It has been two years.”
Last week, Mngeni’s alleged accomplice Mziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty to charges over the killing, receiving a 25-year prison sentence.
Zola Tongo, the taxi driver that police say husband Shrien Dewani asked to plot the killing, earlier pleaded guilty to charges over the slaying and received an 18-year prison sentence.
Both Tongo and Qwabe have said Dewani wanted it to look like he wasn’t involved his wife’s slaying and they planned to have the attack look like a car hijacking in Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township.
Dewani has denied he hired anyone to kill his wife and was allowed by authorities to leave South Africa for the United Kingdom, where he was later arrested.
In March, a U.K. High Court ruled that it would be “unjust and oppressive” to extradite Dewani to South Africa, as his mental condition had worsened since his arrest there.
Dewani’s lawyer told the court in a hearing July 31 that he needed at least a year to recover from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before being potentially sent back to South Africa.