For its March 2012 issue, Harper’s Bazaar magazine has collaborated with contemporary Chinese artist Liu Bolin to celebrate four major fashion houses: Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin, Missoni, and Valentino. In the series of elaborate photographs, the designers for these brands were portrayed as being lost in their own work in very literal ways by having their signature designs and patterns painted on them.
Bolin’s political message about the role of the designer and of fashion in creating and erasing identity has been explored in similar formats in his recent work. In 2005, he watched as the artists’ village in Beijing where he worked was demolished by the Chinese government. In protest, he created ‘Hiding in the City,’ a series of portraits that began when he painted himself into the wreckage of the artists’ studios.
Liu’s portraits, where he seamlessly blends into backgrounds as diverse as a supermarket shelf, a forest, or the Great Wall of China, speak volumes about the individual and society. By immersing himself in disparate, sometimes provocative settings (in New York at Ground Zero and by Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture), he makes a powerful comment on the invisible humanity in every environment.
“Liu Bolin’s work is like evolution,” Jean Paul Gaultier observed. “It doesn’t stop. He becomes part of it, morphing from a man into a chameleon. And it’s very good for my work to be a chameleon.” Of the process, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli sai, “We felt like Veruschka in a Franco Rubartelli picture. But you don’t really know what’s happening, and all the people around you are saying, ‘It’s amazing.’”
Angela Missoni said, “I am Missoni myself, so I wanted to totally disappear into my fabric. But if I could be invisible, I would forget about clothes for a day. I’d be invisible but naked.” She also added that “it was a privilege to be painted by Liu Bolin” even though, she said, laughing, “I still have paint in my hair.” And as for Alber Elbaz, who disappeared into his signature jewel-tone dresses for Lanvin, “I loved it. And don’t worry; my glasses have recovered.”