After last season’s boxer-shorts-as-interesting-piece-of-fashion, it lifts the spirit to see that Nicolas Ghesquière does not need to resort to such cheap styling tricks for Louis Vuitton’s autumn/winter 2018 collection. In fact, it is nice to witness Mr Ghesquière going back to what he does best: design. Pure delight are the details that draw the eyes, stir desires, and, as important, engage the mind. This, to us, is the Nicolas Ghesquière that made us love Balenciaga under his watch. Some memories don’t fade. This time, watching the LV show online was like drinking iced coffee after sucking on a mint drop.
Mr Ghesquière’s best collection for LV yet? We think so. He has dug deep into his love for old military uniforms and sporty shapes (but now paired with elegant other halves), a beguiling sense of contrast, the unexpected mix of garments, and a welcome love for creating panels/pieces and joining them to parts of the bodice normally not considered for application. More exquisitely, he made the clothes totally and acceptably wearable.
Extreme wearability has been the main thrust of many fashion houses in recent years. By this, we don’t mean that unwearability had dominated prior. Rather, wearability that edged closer to the banal and almost nothingness has taken centre stage, and many brands have taken that as cue for their products to be desired, to be successful. Now that that approach has slowly failed to grip, designers are choosing to go meretricious, as evidenced by the chronic loudness among many of the Italians.
Mr Ghesquière had come rather dangerously close to just-retail-ready when he took over LV from Marc Jacobs in 2013. His debut collection for the house in the following year (as well as those subsequently), while a clear departure from Mr Jacob’s tired over-design and a thrill to many fashion editors, did little to draw LV to us. Perhaps he was adrift with the winds of change at that time, when looking un-designed was aesthetic du jour. It did not have the clutch of the little extras, the sprinkling of quirkiness, and the dash of defiance that characterised his work before LV. It seems to have taken some time (from the start at LV, he wasn’t a young man in a hurry), but Mr Ghesquière has found his place in the house that, until 1998, did not boast a fashion line.
This season, there is so much to love, just as there is much to hold us rapt. For us, it has the definite kick that brings to mind the Balenciaga of autumn/winter 2007, which Mr Ghesquière had described as “a big mix—a street mix.” It was a collection that imbued Balenciaga with all the constituents of cool. A decade down the road, his work for LV has that similar jumble, only now it does not project the insouciance of girls dressed for school, or a date after class; it collates the sleekness and the confidence of the assuredly fashionable of yore with the swagger that has a whiff of today’s street style, one that is less linked to Lafayette Street, NYC, and more to Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
We’re particularly drawn to the shoulder treatment of many of the tops and blouses—those horizontal panels across the collarbone, shaped like a capelet over the shoulders, but appear to us, to be inspired by the shoulder panels of the gaktis tunics of the Sámi men of Lapland. There is, of course, nothing literal about Mr Ghesquière’s take (if it is so) since there is clearly a sportif treatment to his panels, particularly the extra, contrasting diagonal bands in some of the blouses that contrast the natural curve of the armscye, and, in particular, on one top that looked like an extra-long epaulettes rising from mid-upper arms. The graphic elements are not indistinct, and they highlight the skills of the LV pattern-makers, as much as the wealth of technical ideas dreamed up by Mr Ghesquière.
Sold too we were to the corsets (that could pass off as a waist-shaper from a fitness supply shop), appearing when they are least expected—as base on which the tiered ruffles of a halter-neck top shimmer somewhat incongruously, or the asymmetric overflow of fabric of the garment beneath; the textiles and prints that don’t appear to match (a clash that, conversely captivate rather than confuse; the angles, seams, and drapes that juxtapose happily; and the irrepressible desirability of the collage-like sum effect. Looking at the ensembles, you’re not merely seeing a dress or a blouse: you’re gazing at clothing of hardly ever seen complexity.
Mr Ghesquière has sometimes been called an avant-garde designer. In light of what is happening elsewhere in French fashion, perhaps he is. But avant-garde as we once knew it, pitched to Japanese or Belgian deconstructionism, has left the popular consciousness, so much so that we don’t really see unorthodoxy and experimentation in clothes anymore; we see ‘looks’. But Mr Ghesquière has not really abandoned the spirit of the avant-garde. Rather, he has stayed closed to it, applying his unconventional ideas within identifiable forms and graceful silhouettes that do not attempt to distort the shape of the body. The clothes, for instance, veer not towards the ultra skinny or the outsized, except for the dresses which, we suspect, are made somewhat big and baggy to goose interest among those weaned on the apparent size-disregard of Vetements.
You sense that with these clothes, the wearer belongs to a certain élan, one not kept afloat from the bubble-up effects that have put pressure on much of today’s fashion houses. To be sure, Louis Vuitton has always been a commercial brand. Nicolas Ghesquière makes it less so.
Photos: (top) FF Channel/Youtube, (catwalk) indigital.tv