Back in 2006, the pale and wistful prehab Marc Jacobs went to Tokyo to visit Yayoi Kusama, the nearly mythical octogenarian Japanese artist. After returning from a whirlwind tour of duty in radical New York, she has lived for forty years in the open ward of a mental hospital with her own art studio down the street. As the cameras rolled for a documentary, which was ultimately called Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton and aired on Sundance in 2008, the designer and the artist talked about their shared belief in the lack of distinction between what they make and who they are: As Jacobs put it, “I don’t have any separation between life and work.” Kusama — who moved to the US in the late 1950s and became a fixture in the 1960s avant-garde scene, with its candy-colored swirl of performance art, antiwar politics, fashion, and naked body painting orgies — called it “self-obliteration.” She was, for the documentary shoot, dressed in a tunic dress — actually very flattering for senior citizen-wear — that was designed to echo one of her signature yellow and black sea-serpent visual motifs that you also see in her paintings and and elsewhere, succeeding in her need to blur the distinction between herself and her work.
Louis Vuitton’s forthcoming collection with Kusama, available starting on Wednesday, July 11, includes an extensive range of shoes, bags, dresses, and scarves, all reflecting Kusama’s distinctive aesthetic. Both the collaboration — Vuitton’s most extensive with an artist ever — and the fashion house’s sponsorship of Kusama’s retrospective art show at the Whitney (which has also been seen in Madrid, in Paris, and at the Tate Modern in London) came out of that meeting of the obsessive minds back in 2006.
“Marc Jacobs’s sincere attitude towards art is the same as my own,” Kusama told the Cut from her studio in Tokyo recently. “I respect him as a wonderful designer. Louis Vuitton understands and appreciates the nature of my art. Therefore there isn’t much difference from my process of making fashion.”
This isn’t Kusama’s first foray into apparel and merchandise. In Japan, she’s known for her high and low end products, including things like cell phone cases. Back when she lived in New York in the 1960s, she started the Kusama Fashion Company, which, according to her autobiography Infinity Net, sold her dresses and textiles in boutiques, including her own on Sixth Avenue and 8th Street. For a time, Bloomingdales “set up a complete Kusama Corner,” with all of her dresses decorated in her signature polka dots. According to Kusama, “An evening gown with holes cut out at the breast and derriere went for as much as $1,200,” while her See-Through and Way-Out dresses were popular with “the Jackie O crowd.” She designed the “sleeping-bag-like Couples Dress” to “bring people together, not separate them,” while the Homo Dress, “with a cutout section placed strategically in the rear,” went for fifteen dollars. (Don’t look for Vuitton to be selling a version of that one, though. Times have changed.)
Finally, we also asked about her trademark red Anna Wintour Anime wig. “It suits very well the fashion that I create and wear and is an extension of this,” she wrote.
Click ahead to see a preview of the new Louis Vuitton collection, which hits stores on Wednesday, July 11.
Related: The Art of the Flame-Out