THE Q&A: LUIS GISPERT, PHOTOGRAPHER

The patterns and logos of high-fashion brands are almost primitively appealing. Primitive, at least, in the sense that they answer to a human being's most basic requirements for visual allure: the colours are bright, the designs loud, the symmetry apparent. If you placed a Takashi Murakami-designed Vuitton handbag in front of a baby, the baby would doubtless crawl forward to cop a feel. That particular pattern features an LV signature in 33 colours, as well as a shower of rainbow-confetti shapes.

Photographer Luis Gispert was interested in the seamier side of logo mania. So he set out to find vehicles intricately customised with bootleg versions of familiar patterns. By way of message boards and word-of-mouth, Gispert tracked down the owners of decked-out cars and photographed the most theatrical examples. High fashion, he discovered, has little bearing on the choices of car-customisers. Selecting a Fendi over a Gucci theme turns out to be partly a matter of aesthetic—do you prefer the look of an "F" or a "G"?—and partly a matter of status. A small handful of blockbuster labels crop up in car after car. 

The efforts captured by Gispert—his photographs are being shown at New York's Mary Boone Gallery from September 8th—are personal and attentively assembled, if not exactly subtle. Think of them as the drag queens of the vehicular world: bold, stage-ready and brazenly artificial. (Their owners might not agree with this characterisation.) Naughtily enough, Gispert's gallery display coincides precisely with New York's Fashion WeekMore Intelligent Life spoke with the photographer about his work. 

In the case of the vehicles you photographed, the designer logos were obviously counterfeit. Was this sense of phoniness a part of the car culture you encountered?  

I never heard the word "phony" used, but the owners were all aware that the fabric was phony. The aesthetic choices they made also amplified the phoniness, in terms of colour combinations and choices of material. Often the printing was shoddy, and the colours slightly off.

How did you find the car owners?  

It was a taxing, obsessive, two-year quest. It began with a project in Miami, Florida, where I was photographing low-rider cars. I encountered a man who owned a Louis Vuitton-outfitted Escalade truck and thought, "Whoa, wait a second. What is this all about? Can I find more of these cars throughout the country?" I did, but there's no tight-knit community of car-customisers. There's no central place. It took countless hours on discussion forums to find people, and many of them were apprehensive. 

In a research paper published earlier this year, a pair of social psychologists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands found that strangers wearing designer labels were rated as higher status than strangers dressed in clothing without a designer logo. Does the lust for counterfeit goods suggest that a logo retains its status even if it is known to be phony?  

It's complicated and problematic. The people I met were paying homage to these brands, and the logos do index a kind of social status. And yet, they're not trying to pass off a $5,000 handbag as something purchased at a Gucci store. They're appropriating the logo and turning it into something else. This happens with all luxury brands—customers take Jaguars, Mercedes or Rolls Royces and they "urbanise" them. In the end, the items still have a cultural currency because not everybody can have them. These people are aware of what the brands mean, but their relationship with them draws on a history that has nothing to do with the history of the brands themselves. 

What is it like to sit inside one of these cars?  

It's extremely distracting, because the coloured leather reflects light. A lot of these cars are being used every day by guys driving to work. You can see the wear-and-tear. Colours start to fade and stitching comes apart. You can see dirt, fingerprints and shoddy craftsmanship. Sometimes you see personalisations that are not part of the theme, like a picture of a girlfriend clipped to the dashboard. 

What does it cost to fully outfit a car? 

Some guys will put fifteen or twenty grand into a car that's worth ten grand to begin with. It's not done as an investment. 

Did you notice any trends?  

It's about creating a loud, high-contrast experience. Pink was very popular. Some cars were more tasteful and balanced; others felt like giant handbags. 

The name of the show is "Decepción". In Spanish, that word has a sense of disillusionment. Was that a feeling that arose as you worked?  

I like the word because it's close enough to the word "deception" that there's a double meaning. There is a deception going on here—there's a fakery. Is it self-deception? Are these people deceiving that higher stratum of society that has the real McCoy? I can't really wrap my head around the meanings of what's going on here. I ended up coming home with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. 

Luis Gispert's "Decepción" is on view at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York until October 22nd. 

~ MOLLY YOUNG