The Story Behind Lil Kim’s Iconic Louis Vuitton Logo-Print Portrait
It’s one of the most iconic photos in fashion history: Lil’ Kim nude, covered in Louis Vuitton logos, shot by David LaChapelle. But while it’s been rumored to be a commission by former Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs, LaChapelle has the real story.
“No, it’s not true,” said LaChapelle, sitting down for a coffee in Paris this weekend. “It wasn’t made for Louis Vuitton, but they gave us a cease and desist after it was made. Now they own it. Go figure.”
The photo and more are part of LaChapelle’s solo show at Galerie Templon, Letter to the World, which showcases over 40 images by the legendary Pop art photographer. From early works from the 1980s to his iconic portraits of Paris Hilton and David Bowie made during his days at Andy Warhol’s Interview, there’s even a Kardashian Christmas card, pre-Caitlyn.
But wait a minute—back to that Lil’ Kim image. Vuitton owns it?
“They own an edition,” LaChapelle’s assistant jumps in to correct him.
The iconic image didn’t start out as a grand gesture. In fact, it all started at another exhibition, in 1999, when LaChapelle put “Lil’ Kim: Luxury Item” in his New Photographs exhibit at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York.
As soon as then-Interview editor Ingrid Sischy walked in, she demanded it for the magazine, telling LaChapelle: “Take it down!”
He took the image off the wall and put it in the back room of the gallery, then called Lil’ Kim and asked her: “That photo we did with that Louis Vuitton thing.... Can Interview use it as a cover?”
But Lil’ Kim already had plans to use the photo for Chocolate Singles, a free magazine based out of Queens, which was available on the New York subway. He had to convince Lil’ Kim to let the magazine use it, telling her, “Interview is a really important magazine,” and, “You have to trust me.”
After it was published on the November 1999 cover of Interview, the New York fashion scene went bananas for Lil’ Kim, and she rose to superstardom. “I was working with her a lot and just had lots of ideas,” he said.
And to think this one picture was made for play, with no commission from a brand or magazine. “I introduced Lil’ Kim to Giorgio Armani and it was a big, big deal when that happened,” said LaChapelle. “There wasn’t this connection between rap music and high fashion back then; it didn’t happen yet. Now, everyone works hard to be seated next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week.”
The photo helped propel the crossover between hip-hop and high fashion, almost two decades before Cardi B was rapping about Louboutins, and happened within the same year that Puff Daddy and Jay-Z launched their own sportswear lines.
“When I did that image, it was about the skin as a luxury item,” said LaChapelle. “I was taking cues from Harlem designer Dapper Dan. Logos hadn’t come back yet [into runway fashion]; that happened a season or two later.”
The Vuitton logos were applied with a stencil and airbrush. “I was questioning this idea of materialism,” said LaChapelle. “That was a bit of an outsider opinion, since I was working in fashion.”
Though LaChapelle was shooting Lil’ Kim pretty often in the early aughts—he shot her as a blow-up doll and as a police officer—this one shot of her became her trademark image. In 2013, the print sold at Sotheby’s for $20,000. (Vice)