Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”

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eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


Fashion King Yves Saint Laurent Died Last Night

June 2, 2008

French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent died of a brain tumor in Paris last night at the age of 71. Born in Algeria in 1936 (when it was still a French colony), Saint Laurent got his big break when he began designing for the house of Dior, then was appointed head designer when Christian Dior died of a stroke in 1957. Because Dior was responsible for almost 50% of France’s fashion exports at the time, then 21-year-old Saint Laurent’s success became crucial for the economy. He would play a pivotal role in making Paris the capital of an international fashion industry.

Saint Laurent opened his own couture house in 1961 after leaving Dior to complete his military service. Over the course of his 50-year career, he revolutionized women’s clothing by breaking down the distinction between masculine and feminine.

Perhaps best known for introducing the “Le Smoking”, a tuxedo for women, in 1966, Saint Laurent considered himself an advocate for women’s power. In 1968, this caused a scandal in Manhattan when New York socialite Nan Kempner wore the tuxedo to dinner at La Cote Basque restaurant. The maitre d’ told her she couldn’t dine in a pair of trousers and Kempner promptly dropped the pants and proceeded to dine in the jacket, which had instantly become a very short dress.

He would later open his pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear line which brought pantsuits and gender-neutral jackets and pants to everyday lives of women. This major shift in fashion coincided significantly with the changing socioeconomic role of women as millions began entering the workforce in the late 1960s and 70s. The change was so revolutionary that most women in Western cultures today don’t even think twice about wearing jackets and pants.

yslA full retrospective of his work opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts just last Thursday. It will be on view through September 28.

A farewell tip of the hat to a magical man.


Castro on Obama, Hunger, and Consumerism

May 26, 2008

The rumble for Florida’s votes is on and the winner may depend on what Miami’s Cuban immigrants see as the future of their motherland. Clinton, Obama, and McCain are sparring over how they will deal with Fidel Castro, now 81, and younger brother Raul, who formally assumed the presidency in February 2008. Mirroring the majority of immigrants’ sentiments, Clinton and McCain are vowing not to deal with the socialist republic until it introduces more democratic reforms. Obama is going against the grain, pledging to open up official lines of communication with the most populous nation in the Caribbean.

In the past, the older Castro has voiced his support of Obama and an Obama-Clinton ticket. However, in a surprising Reuters report today, Castro criticized Obama’s speech in Miami last Friday wherein Obama called for lifting restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba. Castro, as quoted by Reuters:

“Obama’s speech can translate into a formula of hunger for the nation (Cuba), the remittances like alms and the visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable lifestyle that he sustains.

“How is the very grave problem of the food crisis going to be confronted? Grains must be distributed among human beings, domestic animals and fish, which year by year are smaller and more scarce in the over-exploited seas,” Castro said. “It’s not easy to produce meat from gas and oil.”

Castro is pointing out the dangers of rhetoric and smooth talk, which is Obama’s Achilles heel. But I wonder how much Castro himself has been able to stop the tide of consumerism within Cuba. Here’s a photo of Castro published by Reuters in a separate article. It was apparently taken by Brazilian President Lula during their meeting in Havana in January. Why is Castro wearing an ADIDAS track top? One might consider this a very successful case of advertising or product placement, aka “propaganda for consumerism”. Not good: a picture is worth a thousand words.

castro

soccer

Note:

Adidas, of course, knows best. The company’s got an “Adidas Cuba Retro Track Top” for soccer fans and Cuban loyalists.


Artist: “Louis Vuitton is trying to stop my Darfur campaign!”

May 7, 2008

plesner_starArtistic expression, social responsibility, and corporate property rights hardly ever (IF ever) mix. More often than not, the entity with the biggest money bag wins. A story has been slowly snowballing for the past couple weeks: Last October, Danish artist Nadia Plesner started an image-driven campaign called “Simple Living” to help raise public support for Darfur. Thinking strategically, Plesner looked at how much media attention Paris Hilton was getting and decided to sample and remix some of Hilton’s trademark accessories to redirect interest towards the undoubtedly more media-worthy cause of saving lives.

plesner_designThe result: Plesner designed this image (right) of a child from Darfur carrying Hilton’s signature chihuahua (privilege in pink) and an unmistakable Louis Vuitton Multicolore handbag designed by Takashi Murakami (with the “LV” monogram replaced by “SL”). Plesner is selling the image on T-shirts and posters from her website, and is donating all profits to Divest for Darfur. In February, she received a “cease and desist” order from Louis Vuitton’s lawyers. Surprised, she replied with an insistence on her freedom of expression. As blogged by Torrent Freak on April 25, she wrote:

“Sometimes recognizable objects are needed to express deeper meanings, and in their new form they become more than the objects themselves–they become art… I therefore stand by my freedom of expression–artistic and/or otherwise–and will continue my Simple Living campaign in order to raise money for the victims of Darfur.”

This did NOT enlighten the venerable fashion house of Louis Vuitton. NOR did it inspire Creative Director Marc Jacobs to seek out any forward-thinking collaborations along the lines of Takashi Murakami (artist/designer of the Multicolore pattern whose current show at the Brooklyn Museum has a fully-functional Louis Vuitton retail store in an attempt to blur the boundaries between art and commerce). No, this statement earned Plesner a copyright infringement lawsuit. According to Torrent Freak, Louis Vuitton now demands:

“$7,500 (5,000 Euro) for each day she continues to sell Simple Life products, $7,500 for each day their letter is published on the website and $7,500 a day for using the name “Louis Vuitton” on her website. In addition they want her to pay their lawyer costs and $15,000 to cover other expenses they have incurred in protecting their ‘intellectual property.'”

In Counterfeit Chic, Susan Scafidi offers some balanced insight into Louis Vuitton’s motivations:

“From a trademark lawyer’s perspective… unauthorized commercial distribution is a threat, whether or not the profits go to a good cause… Trademark owners who object aren’t necessarily grumpy atheists, just concerned about their marks. LV’s initial letter to Nadia reflects this tension between sympathizing with social concerns and protecting intellectual property… while Nadia’s stated intent was to criticize media attention to celebrities instead of tragedies, her profits from the t-shirts go to Divest for Darfur, an organization that opposes financial investment that ultimately funds genocide. The presence of LV trademarks on the t-shirt could mistakenly be read to imply that Louis Vuitton had made investments that were helping to fund genocide–not a message that the company would want broadcast, even in error.”

But what about the artist’s freedom of expression? Complicated. Scafidi continues:

“Intellectual property law establishes exclusive rights in specific expressions, but also attempts to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and creators’ rights.

In other words, at the same time that the law protects trademarks, it creates defenses for those who wish to use them in discussion… Different countries have different trademark laws and thus different defenses to unauthorized use. In the U.S., the general standard is “fair use,” including parody, while other jurisdictions have specific rules about what is or is not allowed in terms of expression…”

And Darfur? In an interview with New York Magazine (whose headline unfortunately misspelled Plesner’s name), the 26-year-old’s response to whether she has considered turning this story into a documentary, is heartening:

“I’m not sure if I want to do it because if I agree, I want it to be about Darfur. If it’s going to be about me and my trial, it doesn’t help my campaign so much. It was never my intention to stand in the spotlight myself. I just wanted to start a debate, and I’m trying to give my interviews in a way to show this.”

Sounds like my kind of human being. For more on fair use, copyright, and creative freedom, listen to this enlightening AND entertaining 20-minute TED Talk given by Larry Lessig in 2007.


Political Speeches As New Form of Ad Space

April 27, 2008

On Gawker, Towleroad, and Mother Jones: Video footage of Obama making his concession speech after losing Pennsylvania shows three guys, all clad in Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts. The one on the left seems particularly well-prepared for television coverage, his “Fitch” being the largest visible brand on the screen (even beating the Obama campaign’s own slogan of “Change”). Media buyers get creative!

From Gawker:

“Maybe it’s a plot by the Obama campaign to win back the gay community, which has something of a taste for the youth clothing retailer and, especially, its catalogs, but whose vote is basically owned by Hillary Clinton… Perhaps, instead, this is some kind of bizarre attempt at product placement by Abercrombie, trying to latch on to some of Obama’s rock-star appeal.”


Junot Diaz Speaks

April 5, 2008

Yesterday at 7pm at the Village Community School: Listened with awe to Junot Diaz read from two of his major published works to date, “Drown” (1996, a collection of short stories) and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007, novel). Diaz gives me hope that the structures and institutions that restrict, antagonize, and exclude can also be fertile ground for criticality, complexity, compassion, and good old common sense.

Impossible to speak for, or even summarize, the richness of Diaz’ thoughts. So here’s a 45-minute video of a reading/talk he gave in September 2007 at (sorry) Google. The Q&A after his reading is precious and liberating. (This clip is NOT a sound bite. It’s sustenance for your soul without religious or ideological pretense, so go grab a cup or glass of whatever and have a listen.)