Who’s the man behind Louis Vuitton’s shelves?
“I’m not the most fashionable person,” says architect Andrew Kudless, the first American selected to design for Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades, a limited-edition, travel-inspired collection of furniture and home accessories.
“But I’m always inspired by fashion,” he says. “Luxury brands tend to be leading the cutting edge of experimentation with new materials, new techniques and new tools that eventually work their way into the general design world. So working with Louis Vuitton was incredible, with their 166 years of history of exquisite craftsmanship.”
Until a recent relocation to Texas, Kudless lived in San Francisco for 12 years and designed everything from public pavilions and landscapes to lighting and screens while teaching at California College of the Arts. Last month, he was in L.A. at Milk Studios to speak at the French luxury brand’s Frieze Los Angeles exhibition.
Introduced in December at Design Miami, Kudless’ Swell Wave shelving units are undulating oak boards strapped with Louis Vuitton leather. Suspended and free-standing versions are available for $35,000 and $40,500, respectively. (For information, call 866-884-8866 or visit us.louisvuitton.com.)
“I’ve never had a client as difficult, in a good way, as Louis Vuitton,” Kudless says. “I would propose something, and they would say, ‘Oh, no, that’s not Louis Vuitton.’ So I would have to swallow my pride a bit. It was a negotiation between the direction of their brand and my aesthetic, so we went through many rounds. I presented about 10 different designs — there were rugs and light fixtures and chairs and stools — over a few months before we settled on the hanging shelf. And then we did a free-standing version.”
Although he was initially concerned about whether leather straps could support the weight of wood long-term and suggested embedding carbon fiber between the strips of leather, the Louis Vuitton team reassured him. “It’s probably a trade secret,” Kudless says. “But they said, ‘Don’t worry. We already know how to do that. We have a standard way of making sure that straps on handbags are very strong and won’t rip.’”
Kudless connected with Louis Vuitton in 2016 at Design Miami, where he had created an installation for Champagne maker Perrier-Jouët consisting of digitally fabricated oak veneer screens lighted from within, a 3-D-printed cocktail table, concrete benches and an ice bucket fashioned out of “chardonnay grape skins, ground into a powder and 3-D-printed, so the Champagne was the liquid essence of the grapes, and the bucket was the solid essence of the grapes,” Kudless says. “I was there for two weeks, and the whole time I was 50 feet away from the Objets Nomades collection, across the hallway, so I got to meet the head designer. We talked, and she must have put me on some list.”
More than two years later, Kudless received an email from Louis Vuitton asking him to participate in Objets Nomades, and he and the fashion house began their design journey in May 2019.
The California inspiration behind the undulating shelves becomes apparent in the name, Swell Wave.
“My students say, ‘There’s a storm in Indonesia, which means we’ll have waves in California in a few days,’” Kudless says. “Even when you’re not traveling, everything is traveling around you: the clouds, the waves. I wanted the shelves to capture that balance or tension of being neither here nor there, of being pulled in two different directions. When you’re home, you want to go on vacation; when you’re on vacation, you miss the comfort of home.”
While in Los Angeles, Kudless had plans to visit the Schindler House in West Hollywood, which he had never seen but says he references “at least once a term” to his students. Other architectural destinations on his list included the Eames House in Pacific Palisades and two downtown L.A. spots, the Broad Museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Kudless left California in mid-January for the University of Houston’s College of Architecture and Design, where he’s developing an Advanced Media Technology Lab focused on computational design, construction robotics and augmented reality. He also said he has been 3-D-printing ceramic vessels — “an exploration of using new technologies with some of the most ancient materials that humans have ever worked with” — and is additionally working on a series of drawings and paintings.
“I’m a trained architect and a professor of architecture, but I’m interested in it all: art, design, furniture, landscape, urban planning — from the smallest thing to the biggest thing,” he says.