Billie Zangewa Translates a Cherished Swimming Scene Into Louis Vuitton’s Latest It Bag

The South Africa–based artist realizes a deeply personal bag with motifs inspired by her son
Billie Zangewa in her Johannesburg studio.
Billie Zangewa in her Johannesburg studio.Photo: Ulrich Knoblauch.

The pool being embroidered.

Photo: Piotr Stokłosa.

In her evocative silk collages, the South Africa–based artist Billie Zangewa often mines everyday events—preparing a bottle for her child or taking a shower, even just lounging on the sofa with a book. For the 2020 work The Swimming Lesson, she revisited the weekly trips to the pool that she took with her son, Mika. In it, a young boy sits along the water’s edge, juxtaposed against a washed-out terra-cotta-color sky. “It was unfamiliar to him,” she recalls of the emotional waves that accompanied those sessions. “I still think about how courageous he was to navigate this challenge, even though he was afraid.”

Studies for her penguin charms.

Photo: Ulrich Knoblauch.

An adaptation of that hand-stitched tapestry now graces a coveted Louis Vuitton handbag as part of the brand’s latest additions to its Artycapucines series. Here, as in the original artwork, a scrap of the scene appears to have been torn off, leaving negative space that exudes a slight uneasiness. “I’m drawn to unfinished things,” says Zangewa, explaining the fragmented language and raw edges found throughout her practice. “It shows experience and use. It creates a more sculptural feel.”

Zangewa’s new Artycapucines bag for the French Fashion House.

Photo: Ulrich Knoblauch.

Louis Vuitton’s Monogram flower.

Photo: Piotr Stokłosa.

She collaborated closely with Louis Vuitton to capture such idiosyncrasies in her Capucines rendition, a limited edition of 200, relying on the French luxury house’s legendary savoir faire. The collage’s raw silk was scanned and painstakingly printed on leather, re-creating every crease and irregularity. Slightly off-kilter stitches lend a sense of the hand, as does the metallic embroidery and beadwork used to capture the pool and the figure of her son. For a final touch, Zangewa also added a trio of gold African penguin charms—another nod to Mika, who, after those lessons, went on to swim with the birds along the Cape Town coast. “It’s a tribute to my son,” Zangewa says of the handbag. “My creativity just blossomed when he was born. He accelerated my being.”