words Oliver Wainwright
On the roof of a car park in Hong Kong, in the shadow of Norman Foster’s HSBC building and IM Pei’s Bank of China, sits Chanel’s latest publicity ruse, the snake-like Mobile Art Container.
Designed by Zaha Hadid, the futuristic caravan is filled with work commissioned from 20 international contemporary artists, all charged with interpreting the brand’s famous quilted handbag.
“We started with the fundamental diagram of a museum: a continuous loop around a central courtyard,” explains project architect Thomas Vietzke. “We then deformed this, parametrically, to create a variety of dynamic internal conditions.” Designed with yacht-modelling software and digitally manufactured in hundreds of unique components, the 700sq m building will be dismantled and shipped around the world, stopping off in Tokyo, Moscow, Paris and London, to spread the gospel of the handbag.
“Through our architecture, we can give people a glimpse of another world,” claims Hadid. Drawn into a dizzying labyrinth of undulating fibreglass sinews, visitors are free to roam the opulent bowels of Chanel’s vision for “a dream world of luxury, in a universe of fashion” – a surreal realm of tattooed pigs and naked women writhing inside boxes.
“I want to be part of what’s happening,” Coco Chanel used to say, initiating several pre-war collaborations with such figures as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky. Karl Lagerfeld’s commissioning of Hadid and a roll-call of contemporary artists – from Yoko Ono and Nobuyoshi Araki to Wim Delvoye and Pierre et Gilles – attempts to continue this tradition. “For what this costs, we could have inundated the world with posters and ads, if it were a commercial operation,” he argues. “But it is a nobler project.”
images Virgile Simon Bertrand