Parisian-born, New York-based conceptual artist Cyril Duval works under the fictional alter ego brand Item Idem (Latin for ‘the same’), specialising in art, fashion, branding and retail design – and it’s fair to say he has a pretty sweet resumé. Having done everything from designing Bernhard Willhelm’s flagship boutique in Tokyo to working with brands like Gucci and Comme des Garçons, Item’s also gained his fair share of notoriety over the years, having been sued by Louis Vuitton (among others). We caught up with him for an exclusive interview.


LOGO: Your work explores modern day preoccupations like fashion, branding, retail and vanity – would you say that you are generally setting out to comment on/satirize these ideas, or rather celebrate them?

ITEM: All that and more. Commenting, satirising and celebrating are just potential manners to appropriate and make mine; contemporary forms of language I’m curious about or inspired by. It’s not very interesting to be involved with a single type of discourse – even if art can be a good vessel for social/political militancy, it doesn’t apply to my practice. I’d rather be part of the system and help its disintegration from within, rather than being simply against it. I’m using vain commercial culture to inject socio-cultural dynamics in its whole vacuity – in other words (Jenny Holzer’s, not mine!), “Use what is dominant in a culture to change it quickly.”


LOGO: I love the retail theme behind your website. What inspired the idea of the ‘Concept Cart’ feature?

ITEM: My website is a collaboration with Ryder Ripps and his company OKFocus, and has an appropriated e-shopping appearance. When I first emerged as an artist in the mid Noughties, I was inspired by retail structures (among others) as a paragon of commercial culture. Most of my early work relates to this capsule genre as a medium in itself – or simply something playful to distort into new concepts. It’s been a very efficient tool for me to appropriate a commercial medium as my own channel, to relate to larger topics such as art, architecture, sociology…


LOGO: Sometimes it feels like a lot of artists are reluctant to brand/position their work as commodities, or even enter into a discussion about the buy/sell commercial aspect to art – but I get the impression that you embrace the concept. Do you think it’s necessary/important for creatives to sell themselves as a brand these days?

ITEM: I’ve always doubted about recognized artists licensing their work to commercial entities for the sake of it… It’s weak conceptually, and diminishes the work of both the artist and the brand. Though branding is obviously an important part of my strategy, there’s nothing new or old in the essence. For an artist, branding is just a very precise way to singularize your personality, in order to stand out. It’s not intended to reply to expected customers’ appreciations, as we’re not commodities; it’s a way to exist in our own little parallel world, untouchable and non-replicable. In a way, it’s a rather poetic conception of the artist role within society, don’t you think?

Some of my peers are working among similar lines: AIDS-3D coined their moniker through a conceptual branding strategy, and the DIS collective launched their DIS Image Studio recently, producing and licensing new kinds of artist-made stock imagery. K-HOLE is a trend forecasting report published by artists and editors who are trying to coin the reality of the impacts of brands by mimicking the corporate realness.


LOGO: You’re known for your “chameleonic image” – is that just in regards to your style, or something bigger?

ITEM: The concept of reinvention suits me, as I have a very old school romantic way of considering the supposed role of the artist within society. We exist through our artistic identities. Everything else – such as appearance – comes as more artifice for the purpose of communication of our ongoing state of branding. A colourful personality bound with an equally flamboyant external appearance, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, it’s just another level of honesty and differentiation. Every brief deserves a specified answer, every mood a unique interpretation.


LOGO: Tell us a bit about the store design you created for Bernhard Willhelm’s Tokyo flagship. What provoked you to fill it with trash?

ITEM: Bernhard wanted a shop entirely designed with trash – first, I had to negotiate with his sponsors to fire the architectural company which was going to industrially fake economically-poor materials (sigh). As references, I used the habitats of homeless in Tokyo – whose cardboards and tarpaulin outdoors cabins are, sadly enough, chef-d’oeuvres of ingenious crafts – and sourced various industrial and natural elements from the same broken-down areas.

A shop was born, and created a buzz – but [it was also] heavily criticized by many, who thought it was an apology and celebration of the aesthetic of poverty; I presumed they were looking for a fight. I don’t mind this; an interesting piece has to induce interrogations – and possibly revolt – but it should be an open format for dialogue, rather than a closed statement. Those who know me and/or my work will know to differentiate true sincerity from real sarcasm. I’ve been exposed to more controversy over the years, being censored by companies like Louis Vuitton, among others…


LOGO: You’ve collaborated with luxury labels like Comme des Garçons, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Colette – what other names do you think would complement the Item Idem brand? And how do you think the concept of ‘luxury’ has changed over the past few years?

ITEM: I’ve had the opportunity to produce large-scale projects with brands like Céline, and Ford Automobile – but luxury is a tricky concept. For me, it’s encapsulated by the richness of an idea, an emotion or an intention, rather than the simple and slightly retarded sublimation of anything expensive and shiny towards the perpetuation of an ideological status quo. The idea of luxury is a dangerous scam, an opium for the masses, containing the middle class in an utopia of social climbing and fantasies about the rich and wealthy. It’s a very limiting and not-so-smart appreciation of the beauty of life and existence.


LOGO: What are you inspired by in fashion right now? (And what are you more disappointed in/dismayed by, if anything?)

ITEM: It’s a tough one. I actually don’t go to shows or look up collections online. I’m not at all interested to know what the next ‘It bag’ of the season is! I’m inspired by bits here and there, from street markets in China, to products on display in gas stations in Mexico, or possibly an article on LVMH‘s takeover of Hermès in The Economist


LOGO: You’ve worked across a pretty impressive range of creative mediums, from fashion to film to even theatre design – is there one form that appeals to you over another?

ITEM: I’m still a sucker for industrial design and large-scale architectural interventions incorporating sociological components – and I’m interested in extending my practice in the field of pop culture by becoming a sort of impresario, masterminding the idea of product as a human being. For the sake of scientific experience, I’d love to avail my skills to someone [and their] career; toying with my own artistic Frankenstein!


LOGO: And leading on from that, given that you’ve worked with a long list of prolific names, brands and titles already, what would be your dream once-in-a-lifetime project to work on, if money/time/opportunity etc were no object?

ITEM: I wouldn’t mind doing creative direction for a juggernaut like TARGET, as it seems like a right tool to possibly change things from within? Or maybe I am just too much of a dreamer…. Being commissioned by internationally active NGOs involved in social trading or cultural development in third world countries would be a dream evolution – any projects with a large cultural impact.


LOGO: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

ITEM: Off the top of my head, there’s an architecture-related intervention at MAD (Museum of Art & Design) in collaboration with W/— Projects; product design with Italian shoemaker FORFEX, and a lot of activities with SHANZHAI BIENNIAL, the international fashion-line-cum-art-scam project I’ve co-founded with artist Babak Radboy. I wouldn’t mind running my own non-profit or media entity – maybe [one day] some kind of art centre or independent publishing house? I’m probably going to evolve accordingly to my surroundings…. I’m an optimistic, so that should say it all.


Interview: Charlotte McManus


About Charlotte McManus

Editor for and Freelance writer - The Creator's Project, SUPERSUPER!, Don't Panic, FAULT, Flux, Who's Jack & more.

Posted on 10/06/2013, in Art, Fashion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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