Fake or Facsimile: Part 10: The Mona Lisa Handbag: Virtual Consumer Choices

In Part 9, we referred to the Jeff Koons sculpture entitled Bouquet of Tulips which is destined for eventual display in Paris, and intended as a gift to the city.

Although the gift was heralded in November 2016, the installation of the sculpture is not expected to be imminent.  Apart from the complexities of transport and installation, and the unresolved financial issues, some Parisians are not completely convinced that what Paris needs right now is an American 10-metre-high “blow-up”, which, for some at least, represents “a paragon of kitsch.”[i]  Please remember that the Bouquet is intended as a “symbol of remembrance, optimism and healing in moving forward” after the November 2015 Paris atrocities.

Mona Lisa Window at Louis Vuitton, Caesars Palace, July 2017

But Jeff Koons (JK)—supposedly among the five most financially successful artists in the world[ii]—has both sides of the “Arnault-Pinault competition” firmly in his creative corner.  This has been comprehensively demonstrated by the recent “Masters” collaboration between Jeff Koons and Louis Vuitton (LV); this is a team project enthusiastically celebrated by LV in the Louvre in April.  In this joint project, Jeff Koons has fashioned, and LV has manufactured, designer handbags with reproductions, for instance, of the Mona Lisa (LV/JK/ML) and van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889).[iii]

Van Gogh Window at Louis Vuitton, Caesars Palace, July 2017

To my amazement, Jonathan Jones of the British Guardian newspaper seems to be an enthusiastic supporter!  Please remember that this is the same correspondent who helped to inspire this series by his impassioned rejection of “a replica Rembrandt”.[iv]  Apparently, the virtue of a Jeff Koons/van Gogh handbag—yours for only $2,800 USD, if you’re feeling “Speedy”,[v] but $4,000 for the “Keepall” if you are transporting most of the cosmetics of your boudoir—is that this expresses an “unequivocal enthusiasm for great art in a language people in the 21st century understand”.[vi]  Since we are going down this road, then I commend the LV Masters collection for including a Mona Lisa iPhone 7 Plus cover as one of the branded accessories.  No doubt this is the most accessible and attractive bit of the collection for young persons, because they are using their iPhones 24/7 to communicate by text message and Snapchat in only a language they can truly “understand”.  The $880 USD in-store cost (plus applicable sales taxes) for the iPhone cover might, however, prove to be a wee bit of a deterrent; the JK “bag charm” now seems to be a virtual “steal”, listed at a knock-down sticker price of only $585 USD.

LV/JK/ML Montaigne Bag

Please have a closer look at the Mona Lisa design of the LV Masters Collection; a good example is the “Palm Springs” format—backpack to the uninitiated, available for an entirely proportionate $3,200.  But, is that bit of floret over the Mona Lisa’s left eye really something that brings out the timeless quality of Leonardo’s painting?  I agree completely that the LV “Palm Springs” is a lot closer to this masterpiece than you are ever going to get to “the real thing” in the Louvre.  However purchasing an “authentic” LV/JK/ML in the Louvre shop might be a rather extreme reaction to the disappointment of viewing Leonardo’s painting from about 20 feet away (see the photograph that accompanies Part 6).

What is it about these handbags?  I might be tempted to invest in the “Montaigne MM” version of the LV/JK/ML “Masters” series (a huge step up from the “Palm Springs” at only $4,000).  The designation says it all: a) Montaigne: a reminder of one of world’s most original (and amusing) authors and thinkers, and b) MM, which suggests a quality handbag that might last 2,000 years.  But on closer inspection, the designation seems to be more of a reference to Paris’s most fashionable shopping street (the Louis Vuitton storefront is at 22 Avenue Montaigne), and MM seems to be some kind of reference to the “medium” sizing of the handbag, and of its bearing the LV “monogram”—perhaps the “M” is also doubled as a kind of reminder of the “22” in the address.

However, there are some really off-putting features of the LV/JK/ML handbag collection, which will prevent my purchase of the “Montaigne MM” or the “Palm Springs”, or even the awesomely suggestive (à l’américaine) “Neverfull”.  My first concern is the unsightly growth over the Mona Lisa’s left eye; the second is the colour scheme for the Leonardo “Masters” offerings—in my opinion, the van Gogh Wheat Field is treated with a great deal more respect.  And the third is the Jeff Koons rabbit attachment (complete with carrot) that seems to be an essential component of this LV/JK collaboration.  The rabbit pendant (somehow) unifies the Mona Lisa with the corporate entity known to the world as Jeff Koons LLC.  Together they apparently accomplish their purpose in this series (according to LV Masters website[vii]) of “celebrating classical works of fine art and presenting them in a modern way to inspire new interpretations from the general public”.  Well, let’s be clear: not too general a public, since one of the main issues facing LVMH (the LV parent company) is how to protect the LV “brand’s perceived exclusivity”; in other words, you are more than welcome at LV stores, if you can actually afford the prices.  Whatever you understand by “the general public”, I guess many of us might feel ourselves excluded.  In fact, two and a half years ago, The New York Times reported that  “LVMH has sought to reposition the Louis Vuitton brand by limiting the sale of lower-priced accessories like wallets and canvas handbags…”[viii]  If you still insist that you are a member of “the general public”, you have been warned!

So to re-iterate my concerns about LV/JK/ML:

On closer inspection, the floret over Mona Lisa’s left eye turns out to be an essential moment in LV branding. An incredibly enlightening report in Vogue[ix] explains that “the interlocking L and V with floral pattern was designed by Louis Vuitton’s son, Georges Vuitton, in 1896”, and that 120 years later this “floral pattern” on Mona Lisa’s forehead is the very essence of brand recognition for LV Handbags.

It follows, therefore, that the famous L and V monogram on the left bottom corner of the Leonardo handbag must be balanced on the right bottom corner with an interlocking JK equivalent.

But what I find particularly irritating is that the strap, the handles and the trim for LV/JK/ML are all fashioned in a colour tone—which I have tried to identify as somewhere between Carnation and Wild Watermelon Pink[x]—and which I believe comes closest to the rather infamous “Baker-Miller Pink” (FF91AF). The double-barreled name immortalizes the Commander and Warden (respectively)[xi] of a Naval brig in Seattle Washington; and therefore FF91AF is also commonly known as “Drunk-Tank Pink” to those who might have had a more intimate and personal relationship with its allegedly calming effects: it is asserted that this shade of pink is an effective antidote against aggression and agitation.[xii]  That’s all very reassuring, but it actually has the effect of making my blood boil, because of its total lack of resonance and sympathy with the much warmer and broodier tones of the painting that we know (from a distance) as the Mona Lisa.

But finally as already indicated, the mandatory “pink rabbit” pendant/attachment, in my opinion, has the effect of trivializing the entire LV/JK/ML exercise. It is, I understand, a direct insertion of the Jeff Koons brand into the orbit of the Louvre masterpiece (where the collaboration had its museum “opening night”), but apart from its “jokey” content, I do not actually see how it raises my consciousness, or invites me “to interrogate” the artistic principles of 16th-Century painting.  Nor am I (pace Jonathan Jones[xiii]) persuaded that “Koons is offering a different kind of art lesson.”  I don’t deny Jones’ claim that in Koons: “A subtle passion for art is concealed by his apparent belief in banality…” But I would counter that an utterly banal expression of this “subtle passion” doesn’t manage to instil much “attitude”.

I have already admitted that Koons’ hanging hearts and balloon dogs leave me semi-detached—one indication of which is that I am just as happy to see these modern inventions in a photograph as to travel anywhere to view “the authentic original”. I grant, however, that the “Rabbit” motif is easily identifiable and certainly “makes a statement”.  “The Broad” in downtown Los Angeles is a museum for contemporary art (a collection of 2,000 items, with free admission[xiv]) which counts Jeff Koons: Rabbit 1986 as a significant moment in its collection.  I agree, and I also find the LA Broad’s description of this acquisition highly enlightening: “The carrot in the rabbit’s paw is wielded like a weapon, and [the rabbit surface’s] armourlike, costly stainless steel … reflects everything surrounding Rabbit and deflects any allusions to the sculpture’s interior.”  Andy Warhol’s designs and devices are “the deep state” underpinning the foundations of this entire series, and we shall return to this again.  But, in the meantime, perhaps we can agree on three things: a) the Broad’s analysis above confirms that this icon is all about the surface; and b) this is also obviously another exercise (successful!) in Koons’ branding; and c) while I agree that this iconic Koons’ invention may actually justify a visit to LA’s The Broad, I am not really sure how deep “a dialogue” with the Renaissance my viewing of the Rabbit will actually provide.

Koons’ Rabbit Charms at Louis Vuitton

Finally, in order to complete your “Masters LV” accessorizing, and thus fully to enter into Koons’ Gestalt for the LV/JK/ML line, I strongly urge you to consider forking out another $585 USD (before sales taxes) for a more satisfactory version of the iconic JK rabbit ‘bag charm”; the JK rabbit pendant is available across the line… but, please, without the additional “LV & JK signature pendants” and “the work of the metallic structure”, how will you ever be able to let everyone on your travels know of the depth of your appreciation of “Louis Vuitton’s refinement”. As the LV “Bag Charm” description makes clear: “this bag charm will spice up any Louis Vuitton bag”.[xv]  You are under no compulsion to put your precious Renaissance masterpiece inside an appropriate and attractive frame, but if you own something of this quality, why would you skimp at the last moment, and fail to add the satisfactory finishing touches?

As demonstrated immediately above, it belongs to the Fake or Facsimile “Mission Statement” always to enable informed consumer choices.  In the course of my rigorous researches I believe one could explore the merits of three possible on-line options:

A website dedicated to “Authenticated Luxury Consignment”, and which identifies itself superbly as “The RealReal”.[xvi] One assumes that this retailer is keenly seeking to reassure its clients by both emphasis and repetition.  Also this luxury business is, as the website explains, governed by 100% authenticity, passionate innovation, sustainability (i.e., re-selling), and dedicated to find a caring, responsible environment for your pre-loved handbag—here described as “the lifecycle of luxury”: presumably The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” now extended to your orphaned handbag.  However, a note of caution: since therealreal.com seems to function without any discoverable physical address, and since its contact telephone number has an area code (855) which is described as “non-geographic”, perhaps other web names might have been more appropriate; for instance “The VirtuallyReal” or perhaps even more precisely “The ReallyVirtual”… Just sayin’…

A middle position might be occupied by Yoogi’sCloset where the discriminating consumer can acquire “Authenticated Pre-Owned Luxury”; given the impressive prices that these LV handbags can fetch, I would prefer the Pre-Loved option, but Yoogi’sCloset does go out of its way, for instance, to assure a next owner that a Louis Vuitton “Limited Edition” designer handbag has been “Gently used” and that this is “truly a must-have for the serious Louis Vuitton collector”;[xvii] the price also comes in at a little less than 50% of the original retail ticket.

But my last (and top) recommendation is for pursevalley.cn, which helpfully gives you everything you need to know before purchase, and does not hold up the transaction with any extra tedious legal obstruction or red tape. Even before you get to the actual pursevalley.cn website, the Google Search link informs you that the discriminating consumer can choose “from our Monogram line of fake LV bags and accessories”.  Still hungry for more detail: this Montaigne MM Monogram handbag, at a little over 10% of the LV advertised retail price, fits the bill.  We are assured of the handbag’s “AAA quality”, because the materials used “are identical to the real ones” & the “Trademark marks [sic] are indistinguishable to the originals”.[xviii]  Further questions; no problemo: “Textile lining with Louis Vuitton Paris Made in France” … Remember we are talking here about “the virtual reality” of globalization: “Made in France” is not to be reduced to a specific locality, it is more of a “concept” than something narrowly GPS driven; and, from this perspective, the “indistinguishable” Trademarks must now be appropriated as of the expressions of a truly respectful hommage!

Next Time: Jeff Koons: “Appropriation Artist”

 

[i] The Guardian, November 22nd, 2016 (Kim Willsher): “New Jeff Koons Sculpture is Tribute to Victims of Paris Attacks”

[ii] Huffington Post, December 16th, 2013 (Artinfo): “Top 5 World’s Wealthiest Artists”: Jeff Koons is reputed to be worth $100 Million USD.  The British Damien Hirst is in pole position with an estimated worth of $350 Million.

[iii] The “Masters: A Collaboration with Jeff Koons” Film on the louisvuitton.com website is stunning.

[iv] The Guardian, April 15th, 2015 (Jonathan Jones): “Don’t fall for a Fake”

[v] The “Speedy”, the “Keepall” and the “Montaigne” are all LV handbag styles.  The “Palm Springs’ is an LV backpack.

[vi] The Guardian, April 12th, 2017 (Jonathan Jones): “Jeff Koons’ Louis Vuitton Bags: A joyous Art History Lesson”

[vii] louisvuitton.com (Jeff Koons): “Masters”

[viii] The New York Times, February 3rd, 2015 (Nicola Clark): “LVMH, the Luxury Goods Giant, posts a 64% Gain in Annual Profit”

[ix] Vogue, August 4th, 2016 (Steff Yotka): “Happy Birthday, Louis Vuitton… a Brief History of his Brand’s famous Monogram”

[x] ColorHexa.com: “Carnation Pink” is identified as colour code: FFA6C9; “Wild Watermelon Pink”: FC6C85; as indicated, to my eye, “Baker-Miller Pink”: FF91AF seems to come closest.  The discussion of “Pink Tones: List of Different Shades with Names” available from “Many Interesting Facts” is also extremely useful.

[xi] The Guardian, January 10th, 2017 (Morwenna Ferrier): “This Colour might change your life…”  Baker-Miller Pink “was found to cause a short-term decrease in aggression…”

[xii] Cf. “The Business Source” on “Amazon Web Services”: Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter

[xiii] I shall be providing more support for Jonathan Jones’ “Jeff Koons’ Louis Vuitton Bags”, op. cit., in Part 14 of this series.

[xiv] thebroad.org: The Broad: “a contemporary art museum” which opened in September 2015; an offering to the city of Los Angeles at a cost of $140 Million USD.

[xv] us.louisvuitton.com; see Masters LV X Koons: “Bag Charm”

[xvi] therealreal.com; see “About the RealReal”: “We know exactly how to tell real from counterfeit…”

[xvii] yoogiscloset.com : see “Louis Vuitton: Limited Edition Richard Prince Mixed Blue Monogram Heartbreak Jokes Tote Bag”

[xviii] pursevalley.cn: “Louis Vuitton Montaigne Monogram Canvas MM”

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