For his latest “destruction series” photo shoot, young Hollywood provocateur Tyler Shields desecrated the ultimate luxury status symbol — an Hermès Birkin bag. And Shields didn’t opt for just any Birkin bag. He selected a red Crocodile Birkin VS, for which he says he paid $100,000. Shields’s girlfriend, Francesca Eastwood (Clint Eastwood’s daughter), went on to obliterate the coveted handbag by chainsawing through it, setting it on fire, and chainsawing it some more — all while Shields pointed his camera at her.
Now the Internet is abuzz over the act, with one commenter writing on Shields’s Web site: “The money someone would have payed [sic] for the bag would have really gone to needy families or animals, get real!” Another on Jezebel called Eastwood “a horrible human being.” Eastwood has even received death threats over what she and Shields consider art.
This isn’t the first time the photographer has caused controversy. Last year, he released photographs of “Glee” actress Heather Morris in a shoot that many complained glamorized domestic violence, and gory images of Lindsay Lohan covered in blood and pointing a gun at his head. Shields spoke to ARTINFO about the Birkin bag fiasco, describing how he acquired the iconic item, why he decided to destroy it, and how he’s going to try to win over critics with a $100,000 donation to a needy family — if somebody buys the photographs.
How did you meet Francesca?
A long time ago, almost a year maybe? A friend of mine was like, "You have to meet this girl, she’s amazing, you should shoot her," and we just did it, and we became friends for a while, and then we started dating.
How long have you been dating?
I want to say eight months.
Why did you decide to destroy a Birkin bag?
Well, I’ve been doing a series for a while where we sawed a pair of Christian Louboutins in half, and whenever I asked anybody, “What’s the best brand? What’s the biggest thing?" Everyone said, "the Birkin," and then I looked it up, and the cheapest one is like $30,000. There’s a waiting list to get them — these things are amazing. And when I was in London doing my last gallery [exhibition] I ended up getting the opportunity to get one, and I did.
Where did you get the bag?
I got it from — basically one of my very good friends over there has a bunch of them, and they set me up with the person who they get them from, and somebody brought me one in the trunk of a Bentley.
How much did you pay for it?
From your own pocket?
Why the red Crocodile Birkin VS?
It just appealed to my aesthetic the most. I love red. I use red a lot and I just loved the way it looked.
Many critics have commented that the photo shoot was insensitive to those in financial need. What do you have to say about that?
I think if people are [upset] because I spent money on a photo shoot, then they should be upset about every single photo shoot that takes place ever. A $100,000 photo shoot, actually — Paris Hilton spent $200,000 on her album cover. The catering budget for the movie “John Carter” was $5 million. It takes money to make art. People spend money to make their work. If I was operating a McDonald’s, would people be upset because I bought inventory? How many people buy sports cars? How many people buy watches? What if I bought a $100,000 car and I crashed it? I’m not taking anything away from anybody else. That’s the thing, somebody wrote me an email, and she was very upset, and she was like, “How could you do this? You should have given that money to me.”
I was very poor just like six years ago, I had $11 and nobody gave me any money. Nobody just handed me anything. I had to fight for it. I had to work to get what I have. That’s the thing about the country that we live in. You can dream anything you want, and if you’re willing to work hard enough, you can get it.
I support a lot of people. I help a lot of charities. I do a lot of things and when people want to attack me like that, it’s laughable.
What charities do you support?
I do the Love Is Louder charity – they were a part of my last gallery [show]. We tried to raise a bunch of money for that. When the Heather Morris thing happened, we donated three sales of prints to anti-domestic abuse charities, and things like that. I’m all for that and I’m all for helping people. I’m all for people who have nothing being able to have something because that’s exactly what my life has been. I didn’t have anything and now I’m able to feed myself and all the people who work for me. The idea that I took from people or that I spent the most that’s ever been spent on a photo shoot is ridiculous.
Some people in the fashion world are calling it blasphemy that you destroyed such a rare and expensive bag. How do you respond to that?
That’s probably the best bag you can get in the whole world. People spend a lot of money on it, and I wanted to see what was inside it. I wanted to see what it was actually made of. It’s durable. It’s amazing. I didn’t do it because I hated it. I did it because it was such an amazing piece. I didn’t destroy it because I was like, "Oh this thing is a piece of shit." I did it because I liked it. I wanted to immortalize it.
I have nothing against Christian Louboutin. I love Christian Louboutin. I have a pair of Christian Louboutin’s men’s shoes that I wear. The reason why I did it was because I wanted to see what was inside them. It took us six saw blades to cut through one pair of shoes. So the money that you pay for those is obviously worth it.
That bag is still standing, I still have it. It has been chain sawed. It has been set on fire, and it is still standing upright.
What are you going to do with it?
I don’t know. It’s bolted to a table in my basement. There’s not much of it left, but it’s still there. I think it’s a beautiful bag, it’s really incredible. We weren’t taking anything away from anybody. It didn’t prevent anybody from being able to do anything. One of the things that people are upset about is that because some people are in hard times. I’ve been in hard times. I’m all for people getting out of that. As far as the blasphemy of it — look, the bag is immortalized now and now we know how it stands up to a chain saw.
Francesca has since received death threats via Twitter and Facebook for the photo shoot. Does that worry you at all? Are you two taking any security precautions?
Yeah, I’ve gotten death threats before. I got death threats when we did the Heather Morris thing and the Mischa Barton thing. Obviously you have to assume that any threat could be real, but it’s more just people displaying their anger and emotion on the Internet. It’s not like people are around the house trying to start fights. It’s just people upset on the Internet. Obviously you have to take certain precautions. I think it’s just fine, but people are upset.
Why do you consider this to be a work of art?
Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I do. I like to create things. I did this completely for myself because this is what I wanted to do. To me, that’s what it is.
Why did you select Francesca to be the star of this shoot instead of one of your many other young Hollywood friends?
She was with me when I came up with the idea for the whole series. She was there and we did the Louis Vuitton thing first and then the Christian Louboutin thing. She’s just an integral part of what I do and I wanted her to be a part of it. And I knew that she could handle using a chainsaw, which maybe, certain other people, they couldn’t.
How did you know that?
When you’re in love with somebody you just know these things. You know if they can handle a chainsaw or not. She’s very good at learning things very quickly and that was her first time ever using a chainsaw.
What’s next in the destruction series? How are you going to top a Birkin bag?
I don’t know. How do you top a Birkin bag?
That’s a hard one.
It is. It is a tough one.
Yeah, I’m just going to blow some diamonds up. I don’t know. There are a few things that I’d love to destroy, but I haven’t. We’ll see if I can get my hands on them.
I can’t give you the hint without giving it away, but it will be elaborate.
Are you planning any gestures for the critics who said that the photo shoot was insensitive?
What kind of gesture would I do?
I don’t know. Donate a Birkin bag to charity.
That’s the thing – what would a charity want with a Birkin bag?
They can cash in and get money, or have an auction.
What’s the resale value on that thing? Is it that high?
I’m sure it must be.
Right? I guess so.
Or you can donate the amount a Birkin bag costs to a charity.
The Birkin photos are for sale. If somebody were to buy — all right, let’s do this. If somebody wants to buy one of the Birkin photos, I will donate $100,000 — not to a charity — but to a family. I will give one family in need $100,000 cash, tax-free.
In cash, tax-free?
Yep. How does that sound?
That sounds exciting. We’ll see how that turns out. How will you select the family?
I’ll have to figure it out. I just came up with that right now, so I’m not fully prepared on that. I would select somebody who — my father had a stroke when I was 15, and it became very difficult financially for the family, so I think I would do that. I think I would find a family that someone had a stroke or some type of ailment. I think that if somebody had done that for us when that happened to me, it would have been like a miracle. So, I’ll find somebody who that just happened to and I will help them out.
So this wasn’t a publicity stunt for Francesca's new E! reality show “Mrs. Eastwood and Co.”?
We were doing it. The reality show was just there. I had already done a few of these shoots before, and now it’s on the reality show platform. It was on TV, so a lot more people saw it. And it’s a Birkin and so it’s a much bigger deal. I just was more excited for people to be able to see the behind the scenes of how we did it. I love the idea of people being able to see Francesca with the chainsaw because all the things that I do are real.
Click on the slide show to see Tyler Shields's images of Francesca Eastwood destroying an Hermès Birkin bag.
See more ARTINFO fashion and style coverage on our blog Silhouettes.