Although Lenny Vuitton’s originally a fine artist, you probably won’t find his work on display in art galleries for the time being. That’s because the majority of the 23-year-old’s canvases are often pumping down the New York City streets. In other words, Vuitton paints clothing (mostly killer duds that he creates himself), via paintbrush and/or paint spray can, using chaotic colors and zany, maximalist patterns and striking imagery. He then puts the looks on his down-for-whatever friends/muses. “Mobile art” is what Vuitton likes to call his human canvases, but calling his street-art and graffiti-inspired designs a head-turner would be a foolish understatement. Speaking of head-turning, he also awesomely mega-brightens up the hair of his main muse, Thunder (the cutie who’s featured in our shoot), in a number of wonderful ways. An electrifying example: The hot pink buzz-cut replete with a big ass Mickey Mouse portrait on the back of Thunder’s head is a, yes, head-turner, that would absolutely have fans of Manic Panic in… a manic, swiftly-sliding-into-Vuitton’s-DMs, panic. To no one’s surprise, Vuitton’s ability to blur the lines between art and fashion is speedily catching many an eye. MANY. In other words, Cardi B shouted out Vuitton a few months ago to her 40 million+ Instagram followers, thanking him and gleefully showing off the custom Louis Vuitton bag that he designed for her. (Lenny) Vuitton did his punk AF thing with the piece, lacing in extravagant, Cardi B-friendly imagery (money, jets) with punchy, popping colors. Vuitton is all about “dismantling” luxury items. He’s all about individuality and creating work that is exclusive and rare. And we’re all about him. We sat to chat with the young, exciting artist, who’s in his last year at the Fashion Institute of Technology where he’s getting his master’s degree in fashion design. We asked Vuitton about that Cardi B bag, what’s his definition of luxury, and what he means when he says he’s “anti-fashion.” And lots more.
Lenny wears custom Lenny Vuitton
How would you describe the overall vision of your designs?
My fashion is my mobile canvas—that’s kind of my brand statement. I’m inspired by graffiti and street art, so with a human wearing my clothes, or Thunder wearing the hair I painted, it’s kind of like me spray painting on a train and then setting the train off into the public for everyone to see and enjoy.
You very rarely post photos of yourself on Instagram. Why is that?
I stay mysterious a little bit, because I do a lot of graffiti. And I think it’s kind of fun having that mysterious image. I think a lot of people produce cool art and stuff, but they’re kind of more interested in their ego and their celebrity—less about their art and more about the pictures of themselves. And I think that’s unfortunate. For myself, I’ll post all of this art, and it’ll get good exposure or whatever, and I’ll post a picture of myself, and sometimes it’ll get a lot more exposure. And that’s not what I intended. So, I try to just keep it anonymous and kind of leave that mystery. I think that’s kind of intriguing.
You created a custom Louis Vuitton bag for Cardi B. How did you make this happen?
I’ve always been painting on my Louis bags and messing around. I like dismantling and disrupting things; I like taking luxury items and kind of just recreating them and making them more luxurious in my eyes. My friend who has a private jet charter company ended up flying a bunch of celebs around, and they wanted to get Cardi a baby shower gift because she’s a really good customer. So they hit me up. They said we’ll pay for the bag, but can you paint on it? It was pretty cool. It was something very special.
Do you have any other famous names in mind who you’d love to create something for?
My goal right now is to make clothes that are more exclusive and rare, and put them on influencers and celebrities and have them out there on those big faces. But I think right now, if I had to design for someone specifically, I guess it’d be one of my idols. Like Wiz Khalifa. But maybe Lady Gaga would wear my shit. And besides the bag, I could see Cardi in my clothes—she can rock those crazy colors.
Is releasing a complete collection and showing at New York Fashion Week a future goal for you?
I definitely wanna have collections and runway shows and stuff like that that’s somewhat in a traditional fashion sense, but at the same time, I’m totally anti-fashion and anti-society and expectations. With what I’m working on now, it’s a mixture between puffer jackets and shorts. So right there, I’m already bashing the winter and spring and mixing it together. I’ll wear shorts in the winter; I see people wearing puffer jackets in the summer. I think as an eclectic person who likes to juxtapose a lot of things, I don’t think I’m gonna be in the complete standard fashion box, but I’ll branch out. I’ll make my collection and do some custom one-offs.
What current trends are you not at all into?
I kind of hate those huge Balenciaga shoes, just because everyone has them. I’m super into shit that people don’t have and kind of starting the trend—things that people have no clue what it is. I was buying all of this rare shit in Tokyo and when I came back, everyone was like “Where’d you get that? What is this?” I love that. I don’t know why people feel so prompted to spend a thousand dollars on something to set themself into this robot system. Those shoes can be a flight. But rather than taking a trip, you’re just setting yourself up in this society’s norm.
What does luxury mean to you?
I think luxury to me is something that is exclusive and rare and of high quality. I think luxury can vary, whether it’s on a standard level or on a personal level. A standard level of luxury would be like a Louis Vuitton bag, but a personal level of luxury would be my Louis Vuitton bag that I painted all over. To me, that’s even more luxurious. I amplified it and I kind of like… disrupted what’s expected. I think people are used to seeing a common luxury, but I think when it’s disrupted like what I do or other artists do, I think it’s a huge shock. What’s provocative is what’s enticing. So some people are like, oh holy shit, this motherfucker painted all over this thousand dollar bag. Some people hate on it, like, how dare he paint on it. And others are like, that’s so sick. I broke the rules, I trashed something that was expensive. That’s just a material item. I think money’s money. Money comes and goes.
Can you explain more about being “anti-fashion”?
I’m totally anti-fashion, but my brand ethics and my vision are still “fashion.” It’s weird; it’s a little bit of a tongue twister. I’m going anti-fashion, but I’m still making fashion. I consider fashion anything — The way you walk, the way you talk, the way you comb your hair. What I’m doing is more anti-fashion in that way. I’m trying to disrupt the norms and the way people carry themselves. The things that I create, I want them to inspire people differently than what’s already out there and in new ways. You see a lot of this stuff that’s inspiring and it’s clean, sleek, black and white designs. But where are the designs that are inspiring people to create colorful things? There’s only very few out there.
Lenny and Thunder wear custom Lenny Vuitton
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Jeremy Scott, Alexander McQueen, Kaws, Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, Wes Anderson, Damien Hirst, Alec Monopoly.
Who or what else inspires your work?
My inspiration comes from everyday life, life experiences and living in the current moment. I am inspired by many things, so when it comes to drawing inspiration and creating, I tend to be very eclectic with my choices and references. I am inspired by artists of many mediums: painters, fashion designers, sculptors, filmmakers, and so on. I have always been big into Asian art and culture — I really like the collectible toy sculptures and fictional escape that these little characters create. Overall I like to create an escape from reality and go against the expectations of society to try and create new inspiration for people to think in new ways or do new things rather than just more inspiration of what we already know and have.
When and why did you come to New York? As an artist, what do you love about NYC?
I went to undergrad in Chicago for fashion design, but Chicago wasn’t chaotic enough or creative enough for me. So I moved to New York City two years ago to get my MFA in fashion design at FIT. I always wanted to get to New York, so this was my way of getting my foot in the door and finding an opportunity that would open more doors that would support me staying in New York. All of New York inspires me: the fast pace, the chaoticness, the fashion, the endless variety of cultures that reside throughout. But if I had to specifically choose a place, the streets would be my favorite and most inspiring—like the streets of Soho during the summer. Or a Fashion Week bustling with high-fashion and iconic faces. I also love the juxtaposition of the graffiti and street art over the historic architecture with the clashing of street kids smoking dope outside on the cobblestone road, wearing Rick Owens, Raf, Wang… just waiting to be swooped up with a career that could put them on the cover of Vogue. They are like graffiti—not really supposed to be there and not liked by all, but liked by some. This whole vibe and aesthetic of how these things become put into fruition blows me away. It is very inspiring and truly New York City at its finest.