MSCHF, the Brooklyn-based satirical art collective whose greatest hits include ‘Satan Shoes’, $76,000 Birkenstocks made from destroyed Birkin Bags, lip gloss dispensed in ketchup packets, and a Vans knockoff that landed it in court, is back with its latest antiestablishment drop.
This time, the target of its particular brand of cultural exploration is the outsize importance the luxury industry places on where an item is manufactured, and the vessel is ‘Made in Italy’ unisex handbags with faux suede interiors big enough to tote a laptop. They are available for $500 on the MSCHF website starting today.
As a point of literal fact, these handbags were assembled in Italy—Italy, Texas, that is, a town of 2,000 souls 44 miles south of Dallas where the biggest industry is Monolithic Dome Institute, a company that constructs small-domed houses, the perfect holiday gift for doomsday preppers everywhere.
“As we’ve operated as MSCHF, we’ve made so many things and we’ve started to understand that nothing is really made in one place and how many weird system exploits there are in all of that,” said MSCHF’s chief creative officer Kevin Wiesner, who along with fellow in-house artist Lukas Bentel is running point on the ‘Made in Italy’ project. “If you have a ‘Made in China’ label, to an American audience, that indicates low quality. But China, because so much is made there—that’s where all the expertise is.”
Of the scores and scores of products MSCHF has produced as a commentary on the culture of high fashion, ‘Made in Italy’ likely takes the cake with MSCHF MADE IN ITALY embossed and raised in all caps covering both sides of the bag. The caveat of TEXAS appears only on the bag’s underside.
“The MSCHF M.O., in general, is taking the present and making it more intense until it’s spiraling in on itself,” Wiesner said. “In this case, we already have location-specific quality connotations that are outdated and meaningless… Right after World War II anything made in Japan was considered poor quality and now it connotates high quality, second maybe to only Germany.”
Bentel, a classmate of Wiesner’s at the Rhode Island School of Design, knows first-hand how fallible belief in the permanence of one country’s supremacy in production can be.
“I grew up in Italy and my grandmother would always say, ‘don’t buy things made in Italy; they’re all made of piss,’” Bentel said. “Our handbag is a little bit of Italy, a little cowboy—think Spaghetti Western.”
Much of MSCHF’s most famous work pokes fun at the fashion industry—like the Satan Shoes promoted by rapper Lil’ Nas X which contained in the soles one droplet of blood and sold for $1,018 in homage to Luke 10:18, which reads, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” The Satan Shoes also included the Nike swoosh, which promptly got them sued, but fashion is just one of many kebabs on the MSCHF skewer.
“It’s funny, we put out many things that are all very disparate and our work in the fashion sphere is only a grid within a larger collection of products,” Wiesner said. “The unifying theme for MSCHF is a certain sense of humor wanting to exploit places where money or commercial culture start to get weird.”
Bentel said jumping into the handbag market is the next logical step for MSCHF given its notoriety in shoe design, which also includes a boot that makes it look as though the wearer’s foot is clad in a cast.
“Handbags, like sneakers, are both very useable objects,” he said. “They’re almost art objects but also very functional.”
While the ‘Made in Italy’ handbags are assembled in Italy, Texas by a blend of temporary contract workers and MSCHF staff—a rational assumption given the ubiquity of cattle ranches dotting the prairie of north Texas—they are not actually manufactured there, though, Wiesner pointed out, the black and brown leathers are sourced in the Lone Star State… for whatever that’s worth.
“There’s definitely no tannery in Italy, Texas, but that was part of our thought—no matter what you make, something is getting sourced from the other side of the world,” Wiesner said. “One of the things MSCHF is always looking for is loopholes we can use in an unusual way. We’re looking for exploitable loopholes we can turn up to 11 and this is fertile ground.”