"The thing about fashion," says Stephen Sprouse, "is that one minute it's all luxe, and then there's the backlash." And who better to lead that backlash, spray-paint can in hand, than Sprouse, the godfather of downtown rock-chic dress. His target? Some of Louis Vuitton's classic bags and luggage. But before you start imagining a fashion fight brewing, this particular anti-luxe attack had the French luxury house's blessing: It was the latest take on its monogram, masterminded by Louis Vuitton's creative director Marc Jacobs. "Marc had had this idea of spray-painting the bags," says Sprouse. "He was having lunch with some mutual friends, and mentioned to them that he'd like to meet with me. We hooked up, and I started working on the collection in June."
Since it became public knowledge that the two were working together -- Jacobs, as always, designing the clothes, Sprouse working on the prints -- fashion insiders have been guessing as to what they would come up with. When Jacobs presented his Vuitton collection in Paris last month, the end results didn't quite bear the stamp that the cognoscenti had been expecting. This wasn't an obvious return to the Day-Glo, graffiti-and-video-imagery prints that defined Sprouse's heyday in the late seventies and eighties. Sprouse's work has always melded high graffiti art -- think Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring -- with his obsession with technology, whether it was the video scans he used as a motif on the clothes he designed for Blondie, circa Heart of Glass, or his more recent forays into space imagery, with prints derived from nasa's images of the landscape of Mars.
But while Sprouse's work for Louis Vuitton certainly draws on his love of technology, he has used it to inventively subvert fashion's most traditional and romantic of prints: the floral. From the huge digitized cabbage roses that were strewn over full, circular skirts to muted, earth-toned florals (best described as a ladylike reworking of a camouflage print), flowers were the recurrent motif of the Vuitton show. "I was sitting in a hotel room in Paris," says Sprouse, "and the television went to static. I took a picture of that with my digital camera, and then later I took another photo of a rose, and I Photoshopped them together. The military theme that Marc was using for the show led to the camouflage florals -- it made them look much tougher, less retro." As for those graffiti bags (expect them to fly out of Vuitton's stores the minute they hit the shelves), Sprouse set to work on some of the house's finest with his subway markers. And there will also be spectator-style shoes with -- yes, you guessed it -- scribbled-over toes and heels.
Taking the job was quite a challenge for Sprouse: He hates flying. How did he get around that particular obstacle? "Actually, it wasn't that bad," he says. "I've spent most of the last few months here, and I've gone back to New York a few times. Paris was never one of my favorite cities, but since I've been working at Vuitton I've come to really enjoy it. These days, it seems a lot younger -- and a lot less rude."