At a dinner celebrating the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s Chanel No.5-inspired film The One That I Want, actress India Menuez strolled in as photographers snapped her carrying a purse in the mold of a bagel with a schmear. But what really confused fashion blogs the following day was a Chanel logo dangling from the bizarre bag-el. Was this carbo-creation the brainchild of Karl Lagerfeld himself? Racked seemed to think so. So did Lucky. But as the Internet was freaking out over this fashion curiosity, artist Chloe Wise was LOLing to herself and posting links to those articles on her Facebook, basking in that feeling you get after pulling a really great prank. Wise is a Canadian artist who moved to New York a few years ago and has been making a name for herself with satirical and gloriously tacky works like a Star of David made of bacon (Star of David Schwimmer) and a set of tampons filled with strange matter like quinoa and Oreos (Irregular Tampons). Wise’s bagel bag—Bagel No. 5—which is actually a sculpture and does not open, is part of a larger series that includes a Prada challah backpack and a Louis Vuitton baguette. We got in touch with Wise over email to ask her about the Internet’s reaction, the idea of branding as status symbol, and when fashion and art intersect.
Did you make your Chanel clutch specifically for this event?
No, this is part of a series of sculptures I’ve been creating since 2013.
What were people’s reactions when they saw your fake Chanel bag, Bagel No. 5?
I wasn’t at the event, I’m in London at the moment. But the Internet seems to have reacted quite strongly about the whole thing.
What did you do when people started gawking at it and thinking it was real, and when you saw the articles pointing out the new must-have Chanel item?
I laughed! This is all so funny!
Did Karl see it?
I don’t know, did he? Should I DM him and ask?
What would you do if Karl saw your sculpture?
Laugh again, probably? The silliness of this whole thing is so wonderfully bizarre to me. Karl is not really my intended audience for this or any of my sculptures, but if he sees and likes it then I suppose I am doing something right.
What was the most interesting response that you received?
I saw a headline that said “Chanel Debuts Bagel Bag, Much to the Shock of Gluten-Free Clientele,” which in my opinion is a very, very hilarious phrase.
How’d you come up with the idea of using carbs as designer bags?
I started this series of sculptures based off the title of those little LV bags: Louis Vuitton baguettes. The pun goes without explaining, with the first one I created taking the title literally. The bread is a mold cast in urethane (plastic) and then oil painted. Bread is a symbol of status and wealth (think “the breadwinner” or the use of the term “dough”) and these “it” bags connoted status in the early 2000s, which was the bat mitzvah era of my life (very important for a coming-of-age Jewess!). In those days, (and to a degree even still) these bags represented luxury, status, and afforded their owners instant popularity. I wanted to show the parallels between the idolatry for luxury items in fashion with the equivalent importance of the commodity in the art world. In a similar way, sculptures/artworks are valuable status items, and both designer goods and sculptural pieces can be seen as pieces of cultural capital. I have made and will continue to produce more sculptures in the same vein.
What’s your stance on designer purses?
I don’t think that one can have a “stance” on designer purses. It’s not a cause I’m for or against, they just exist. They can be beautiful, that’s cool, I own some. I really like obviously fake rainbow Louis Vuittons and clear plastic Dior bags from the ’90s. Over-the-top branding from that era is an aesthetic that I think is very funny and visually appealing.
How do you feel about fashion sites coveting your Chanel sculpture?
Part of me dislikes it because I want it to be clear that these are art objects and not fashion pieces, but on the other hand I think it’s pretty funny that I was able to prank the fashion world and obtain that kind of viewership. I think that as a type of performance, it’s successful. These pieces are sculptures, and are intended to be viewed within an art context. It’s interesting when art transcends its intended context and gains viewership from an accidental audience, or infiltrates a new setting—in this case, the fashion world. These pieces are made in reference to the world of adornment, which is not unlike the world of art, and to the concept of accessorizing or the banality of trends (one website was like, “bagels are going to be the must have spring accessory.” Like…what?!). But unlike a bag’s purported aims, my sculpture is meant to be completely dysfunctional. It is meant to hang on a wall, and as a bag it’s literally dysfunctional and does not open. So to answer your question: I am pleased and intrigued that the target of my lampooning here came to unknowingly embrace a critique of itself.
What’s your message to people with your bag sculptures?
These bags are mostly a commentary on the uselessness of beautiful objects—art objects included. Sculptures or paintings are works that hold both monetary value and cultural capital, as do designer goods. There’s a ridiculousness to those designer “it” bags from the early 2000s that I am so obsessed with—they were so tiny they could barely hold anything, and yet they represented status, wealth, and luxury, despite their uselessness. This is not a negative thing, just a speculation on the importance we place on commodities in our consumer culture.
Why do you like to incorporate fashion brands into some of your art?
I incorporate fashion brands into my art in order to draw parallels and make comparisons between the artist as brand and the fashion label as brand. Artists, like musicians, clothing companies, law firms, actors, and so on, function with branded identities in order to create hype and ultimately sell work. Nearly every individual today creates their personal brand using social media platforms, curating their chosen performed identity. Referencing fashion brands in my work, as well as making fake logos for myself or packaging for my “products,” is my way of being transparent vis-à-vis the use of personal branding in millennial culture.
What’s your process like when you make your bag sculptures?
I make a mold of the chosen carb using silicone. I then use a two-part liquid urethane plastic to create the sculpture. I oil paint the plastic bread to look real, and in some cases add sesame seeds. I drill into the sculpture and add straps, chains or whatever hardware is required for the specific bag.
You also make sculptures of tampons. Are you drawn to female products for your art?
Yes. I try to be honest with my work and am extremely self-reflexive and self-deprecating in my sense of humor. I like to work with imagery and content that I’m familiar with, and that affects me. The tampon series was meant to be a satirical prod at marketing attempts made at women. Advertising is so funny. It is literally designed to access individuals based on their most niche desires and interests, compelling them to think they need to buy a product simply because those desires are held up blatantly in front of them. I like to take things that are aimed at my demographic and deconstruct their specific tropes and visual elements.
Seems like you also have a lot of fun creating advertisements for these sculptures. What goes into that?
I love making fake ads. Infomercials and campaigns are some of my main inspiration. I love As Seen On TV and cheesy ads like Jessica Alba for ZICO coconut water. I also like working with a variety of media when making my artworks, so these ads are a fun way for me to combine media—photo, photoshop, video, sculpture, and so on. I love doing fake photoshoots for the sculptures; I think the ads really add to the confusing nature of these pieces, which are meant to make the viewer chuckle and then reconsider what they just saw.