Tucked into the outskirts of Eastern Market is Doug Schwartz’s sleek and industrial studio. Today, just inside the door there is a film crew; Schwartz is wrapping up a TV interview. There is a millennial entourage milling about, although it’s not clear who it belongs to as the talent and crew all linger long after the interview is over. Schwartz, a native Detroiter, is an artist and the owner of scent branding company DetroitWick. His tousled salt and pepper hair suggest that he’s older than his concert t-shirt and fancy kicks suggest. His energy and passion, however, are evergreen.
Schwartz’s artistic medium is acrylic; the finished product, hefty polished sculptural cubes encasing just about anything. There are champagne bottles from Jay-Z-owned Armand de Brignac emblazoned with the ace of spades, suspended at the point of explosion, as if they had just been dropped on the floor. There are cubes with shotgun shell casings floating in space. There is the head of a rose, perfectly dried but not wilted. Simple, benign objects are the focus of the art. Plunged into acrylic, insulated from the world, it is hard not to connect to them even though we can no longer make physical contact with them. It is mesmerizing and fascinating.
Most of Schwartz’s work is privately commissioned and deeply personal. He lends his skills to the Raise The Caliber initiative, which connects artists and partners with police departments to bring awareness to gun violence while helping to get illegal guns off the streets. It is important work, often somber, but purposeful.
But none of this is why I am standing in his studio today. Today, I’m here to see the piece perched on a table in the middle of his studio. A red brick from hip-hop brand Supreme, encased in acrylic and etched with the famous Louis Vuitton logo of quatrefoils, flowers, and the “LV” monogram. It is both awesome and ridiculous, but it is also timely.
On June 30, seven pop-up stores sprang up around the globe announcing the much-anticipated Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration. It was a surprise to many that the 158-year-old fashion house — whose previous collaborations included architect Frank Gehry, designer Karl Lagerfeld and artist Jeff Koons — would cozy up to the streetwear brand. Notably, because in 2000 Louis Vuitton sued the then six-year-old brand for trademark infringement for using the “LV” monogram on a series of skateboard decks.
What was no surprise to anyone was that upon the release of the vast collection of clothing, bags, accessories, and skateboard decks, everything sold out quickly — snapped up by both brands’ most loyal fans.
I ask Schwartz how this project of his came to be. Born and raised near Seven Mile and Livernois in Detroit, he’d always been passionate about hip-hop and skateboarding. “I’ve followed Supreme for a long time, and I was fascinated by this collaboration, this blending of streetwear and luxury. I wanted to pay homage to it in a medium that was familiar to me.”
The red brick was, in fact, part of the Fall/Winter ’16 Supreme collection. The brand has a history of manufacturing outlandish, but relatively useful accessories sporting their box logo. Everything from dog bowls to baseball bats. Unless you were going to use it for a paperweight or a doorstop, the brick was relatively useless and $30 a pop. Thanks to legions of rabid Supreme fanatics, the bricks sold out in a day, and can now be purchased on eBay for upwards of $1,000.
“Following the brand for so long I knew the history of their accessories, but I had never purchased any of Supreme’s hard goods before,” Schwartz says. “This one was just so controversial I had to have one.”
And so the brick sat in his Detroit studio until this summer when Supreme and Louis Vuitton announced their collaboration, and then he knew exactly how to make the brick useful. “It was really just meant for myself. Something I did to commemorate this moment in fashion and art,” he says. Schwartz had never intended for it to be for public consumption, but in 2017, the only thing more de rigueur than unlikely fashion collaborations is being the victim of a leak.
Schwartz’s studio is open to the public, clients and friends stop by all the time. Still, he has no idea who first took and posted the images of his Supreme brick, but Instagram, Twitter and a number of Supreme-centric blogs lit up with pictures and commentary on the sculpture. “You are an evil genius man.” “Would LOVE to see this sitting at the LV boutiques.” “I need this.” A number of commenters also offered up suggestions for Supreme-branded (and everyday) objects for Schwartz to incase next. “Not a Supreme fan at all. But I can’t lie, the crowbar or basketball encased could be quite dope man!” “Frog,” “Gold tooth,” “Air.”
There were critiques as well. “What can this be used for?” “Name something more stupid than this Supreme Brick in a Louis Vuitton case,” @Wh4tsGucci tweeted. “The Supreme brick without a Louis Vuitton case,” @Big_Frank__ replied.
A few even reached out to speak to Schwartz for insight on his work. “I can’t say I didn’t want publicity, the manner in which it happened was cool. I enjoyed watching the conversation swell around it,” he says. When asked if he read the comments that folks posted, he tells me he read them all. “I liked hearing from the people who loved it as much as hearing from the ones that hated it. It was not unlike when Supreme first released the brick last year, only amplified. Like it was on fire.”
As an artist more than anything, Schwartz is hopeful that his art creates opportunities for conversation and has no intention of trying to control what is said. He welcomes the fans and the naysayers alike to engage in discussions that transcend his projects and go deeper into culture, our collective fascination with brands, and the role of art in the 21st century.
This one-of-a-kind piece, however, has no price tag. Schwartz has no plans to encase and etch anyone else’s brick either. When asked if he’s concerned if Louis Vuitton or Supreme might reach out to him, Schwartz says, “I’d love for them to reach out to me. Perhaps where it belongs is in one of their brick-and-mortar stores or in their private collections.”
Schwartz isn’t pretending that it is part of the collaboration collection, or that it is authentic Louis Vuitton. “It’s really just meant as a statement — commentary on where we are at this moment in time, immortalized in acrylic.”