Manga, anime inspire French
by splix 03:15PM Tuesday Jul 22 2003
PARIS — From cakes to bags to restaurants and back again, Japan's cutsie cartoon characters are zapping "splat! pow!" inspiration into the rarefied world of the luxury goods industry in France.
As cartoon imagery explodes worldwide on the highbrow contemporary art scene with a bang and a boom, the designer handbag making a splash and wowing the wannabes carries the stamp of Takashi Murakami, the Japanese artist behind a cute-but-troubling world of his own of flat bright anime-derived characters.
There are none of his weird many-eyed psychedelic toadstools or DOB people on the triple-digit Louis Vuitton bags seen this season hanging off the arms of celebs such as Jennifer "the butt" Lopez, Elizabeth "supermodel" Hurley and Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham.
But the clean colors, the flower shapes and the Murakami eyes that have livened up the usual brown and gold LV leather have proven a winner for the company and its superstar designer Marc Jacobs, whose idea it was to bring the cult artist in.
"They're simply fresh," said a Vuitton official of couture's hottest item this season, whose limited editions — branded "eye love you," "eye miss you" "eye dare you" "eye need you" — were sold out even before hitting the stores.
"This is the bag that everyone wants and no one can get at the Louis Vuitton stores," says the seller of a $1,800 Murakami on auction on the Internet. Others are advertised for $3,000 while one from the out-of-print "eye" series (only 200 bags made) is up for sale on the Internet for $7,500.
With Murakami's cotton-candy shades so much in vogue, and also featured on Vuitton hats, pins, belts and buttons, patissier Pierre Herme could almost be accused of copy-cat consumerism.
Indubitably one of a handful of top french pastry chefs, and thus entitled to high-profile eye-catching action, Herme last week took the unusual step of launching his latest line of cakes and cookies on a Paris catwalk.
With a crowd of professionals looking on, the 10 individually-named mouth-watering sweets making up his 2003 Autumn-Winter Collection were brought on one by one by tray-bearers to a round of applause — but only after being announced both in French and in Japanese.
The French food industry in general entertains tight links with Japan and many of the country's big names in gastronomy — Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Guy Martin — are regular visitors or have stakes in restaurants there.
Herme however ventured further into "Japan-fad-land", dedicating his new collection to the Japanese concept of "kawaii," a word said to mean cute, pretty, adorable and lovely.
In the literature accompanying his haute couture pastries — seasonally laced with chestnuts and green tea, citrus fruits and chocolates — came a storyline about a young woman from Tokyo flying in to Paris who experienced "kawaii," and illustrations with colors and designs strongly reminiscent of Murakami's.
"In the streets of Tokyo, and sometimes in Paris, 'kawaii' is the cry of delight when young people discover something new to covet," the company said. "Hermé has chosen to take this urge for color, naive whimsy and creative liberty and conjugate it with the art of his master pastry-making."
Perhaps to underline the artsy side to it all, Herme unveiled his "kawaii" creations in the country's top temple of contemporary art, the Palais de Tokyo.
Long a symbol of things Japanese in France, couturier Kenzo for his part is opening a new superstore in the heart of Paris that expectedly smacks of home.
Massage parlors and a lingering smell of lotus flowers add to the oriental flavor of the new Kenzo superstore/headquarters overlooking the Seine in premises formerly occupied by department store, La Samaritaine.
And a quietly chic hi-tech sushi bar with platters on a revolving conveyor belt and computers at each seat, designed by France's interiors guru Andree Putman, offers high-end shoppers a certain taste of Tokyo.
But whacky Japanimation takes the prime spot atop the building where France's other guru of design Philippe Starck dots Hello Kitty, Pokemon and Geisha images amid a riot of Day-Glo cartoon colours in his "Kong" restaurant.
So with the old glass roof providing a view of the Paris city-scape and a Zen wall-to-wall pebble carpet at one's feet, the spot is tops for a "Whap" or a "Wham" of trendy cartoon-land. (Wire reports)