In January, Shaw welcomed what appeared to be another clothing boutique. Except it wasn’t a store at all, but a cheeky art experiment, unbeknownst to those who ventured in.The first thing visitors see when they enter Vaulte X-XII is its signature item — a plain white T-shirt vacuum-sealed in a Mylar bag and displayed in a glass case. The $50 price tag seems absurd, but not surprising given Vaulte’s high-end motif. It’s also the only item for sale.This is the moment, according to artist Christian Dutilh, when most visitors realize that Vaulte X-XII isn’t the “anti-streetwear” clothing store it claims to be.“There’s an initial sense of confusion,” Dutilh says, “but when they start to understand that [Vaulte] is a brand with hype and no substance, there’s this wide smile that goes across their face.”
Dutilh and Jacob Weinzettel, co-founders of local design studio Composite Co., pitched their art project last fall to Washington Project for the Arts. The pair had dreamed of starting their own brand, but with a twist — so they proposed a store that would serve as a case study on consumerism.
Washington Project for the Arts signed on to co-produce the project and helped the duo secure a venue, open through March 23. Dutilh and Weinzettel have extended the brand with a magazine and a series of Vaulte events. And yes, people have actually purchased the shirt (they keep extras in stock and sales proceeds benefit Washington Project for the Arts). Dutilh notes that once people discover Vaulte’s true identity, the shirt feels less like a rip-off and more like a prized art piece.
“It’s a laugh, a little bit of self-reflection or interpersonal interaction; everybody has their own associations with the project,” he says.