The primary ambition of luxury fashion houses today is to become relevant to our lifestyles and to feel personal. It is a mission that lies at the core of Louis Vuitton, one of the most famous luxury brands in the world, with revenues of around €8bn a year and more than 460 stores worldwide. To help reach our hearts and our purses, Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of the LVMH group, has signed up Nicolas Ghesquière, one of the most talented and visionary designers of our age and the perfect choice to spearhead the label’s next chapter.
But how does Louis Vuitton, with a logo that has become so ubiquitous, begin to reinvent itself? Transport yourself for a moment to Paris’s Bois de Boulogne at the end of summer 2014. Imagine walking through the leafy pathways clutching a red Epi leather envelope with a hand-addressed invitation to the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2015 presentation. Through the trees, you spy the towering glass and steel sail-like structure of the new Fondation Louis Vuitton building, designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry. You, alongside a few hundred other guests, descend into a gallery that is mysteriously illuminated with hundreds of light beams.
So right and so desirable
The show begins with a series of LED holograms of young men and women seeming to appear out of thin air. ‘Louis Vuitton wants to explore the possibility of travel to any part of the universe without moving,’ their voices chime, and then, hauntingly, Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence begins to play. The audience is buzzing with anticipation.
Out walks model Jean Campbell in a white lace-knit minidress carrying a denim-blue Epi leather handbag. There follows a series of nostalgia-tinged outfits featuring little cropped jackets, leather skirts meticulously crafted from stripes of eel skin, perfectly cut silk denim flares and flower-print velvet suits. There are quilted bags, striped bags and large fold-over clutches that could double up as travel pillows, patchwork ankle boots and disc earrings. What may seem like a retro pastiche suddenly seems so right and so desirable for now. Those cropped velvet jackets and flares could make hearts skip a beat.
The personal touch
Past, future, present, the familiar and the strange: Ghesquière has an extraordinary talent for fusing ideas. ‘On the personal side, I think everyone has a little story about Louis Vuitton – it’s very touching that the biggest brand in the world can be very affecting, very touching and very human,’ Ghesquière comments. ‘From the outside, it is so powerful and so iconic, but on the other hand there is this affection. I had an old LV bag that my mother gave me, a holdall.’
It is this particular bag that Ghesquière had in mind when he began making a new range of future heirlooms. This lexicon of bags includes the Mini Trunk, a reproduction of the travel trunk that secured Louis Vuitton’s reputation in 19th-century Paris. The Doc bag is a one-handled design that plays on the house’s signature cylindrical designs, while the chain-handled bags and fold-over designs produced for spring/summer 2015 herald the start of a new family of styles.
'The house of adventure'
Ghesquière’s predecessor Marc Jacobs re-established the label’s fashion credentials, launched its ready-to-wear collection and introduced the blockbuster catwalk show; Ghesquière’s approach could be described as more ‘French’. Born into a middle-class family in a small town in north-west France, Ghesquière understands the need to reboot the aspirational appeal of the brand. After all, he spent 16 years turning the once moribund house of Balenciaga into an image-making and trendsetting fashion powerhouse. For him, Louis Vuitton is bourgeois, but can also be very cool; it has heritage, but is ready for the future. ‘It is the house of adventure,’ he says.
Making luxury fashion relevant and personal is fundamentally about delivering great design. A logo without substance will remain devoid of meaning. The best way to truly understand the new Louis Vuitton is to follow in the fashion editors’ footsteps to Paris, explore the collection in store and venture out to the Bois de Boulogne and the Fondation Louis Vuitton gallery. Somewhere, between the works of art, the iconic logo and the handbags, you are sure to discover the allure of this quintessentially French super-brand.