Indefinable Is Best Kept That Way

Louis Vuitton waded into a mashup of flat shapes, unusual embellishments, and odd bulks, and they are

Louis Vuitton does not follow a fixed route to where it intends to go with their womenswear, which has worked well in its favour. Each season, the collection looks different from the previous, and indeed, the past. Still, there has always been a numinous quality about them. Nicolas Ghesquière has paved a somewhat erratic path for LV, taking us away from the mundane and the easily-scaled. This season, it’s a similar amble, but one does not encounter familiar characters or see the same scenes. Social media babble post-show asserted that Mr Ghesquière was in defining mode, specifying what “French style” might entail (even when LV has positioned themselves as a global brand). It was not a neat conclusion that he could easily arrive at. As he told the press, a tad anticlimactically, “French style belongs to everyone”. But are there that many who want to own it? Those who have been following his work know that Mr Ghesquière’s approach to design often escapes definition, even adequate or accurate description. If there is one designer who truly marches to his own constantly changing beat, it’s Nicolas Ghesquière.

Musée d’Orsay is the venue of choice for LV’s autumn/winter 2023 season, rather than their much-loved Musée du Louvre, diagonally across the Seine. Once a train station, Musée d’Orsay, on the left bank, is now home to a vast store of 19th century art, particularly the world’s largest collection of Impressionist paintings. Inside the Beaux-Arts building, LV built a runway—a part raised—that mimicked the cobbled streets of Paris. It wound through the audience like a train track in a village town. As the show started, what sounded like outdoor urban sounds, including chatter and birdsong, were picked up. Above this, a verbal introduction of the museum was made, which could have come from an audio guide. Insistent footsteps could be heard as the models walked past. We tried to determine if this was in sync with their purposeful stride; we wondered—in hindsight, foolishly—if tiny microphones were lined along the runway to pick up their tread. There was another perceptible disturbance: flickering and plinking chandeliers and garlanded lights, as if the building was just sputtering to life.

Audio and illuminative distraction aside, the clothes held their own. There were Mr Nicolas Ghesquière’s off-beat silhouettes, but it was what he incorporated within them that was a pull. There are always those who think his shapes are tricky to handle (more than Demna Gvasalia’s?)—perhaps, evidenced by the MediaCorp stars who wore the spring/summer 2023 pieces for the re-show at the Pasir Panjang Power Station last week? Back to Paris, however extreme the shapes, the garments circumscribed by the exaggerated lines composed of parts and details proportionate to the outsized silhouettes. If there was any vestige of French style, Mr Ghesquière certainly warped it. The first look, for example, was a bulgy, pleated, lapel-less blazer worn belted over a open-work dress; it challenged the notion that French girls like a sleek, lean appearance with pronounced shoulders (such as at Saint Laurent?). There was the odd ovoid white collar and suspended tubular sleeves of a dress or the oversized petal sleeves of another that sported one more pair of sleeves that didn’t appear to belong to the main garment. And the pin-striped, sleeveless, V-neck dress with a skirt that looked like a flat isosceles trapezoid.

Illusionary tricks were at play too. Knitted pieces were, in fact, embroidered to look like that. As with other houses, there were treatments of leathers that rendered them appearing less like hides. A leather camel coat was embossed and then printed to make it seem like it was cut from wool. One pinstriped pants—also in leather— was hand-painted and then sequinned in parallel lines. There was almost a couture sensibility in the details (and we’re not just referring to the embroidery), to the extend that we wondered how the finished garments could be offered at retail without astronomical pricing. The show closed with Squid Game’s Jung Ho-Yeon in a black and white, floral-embroidered dress, not unlike the petal-sleeved version we described earlier, but sans the additional covering for the arms. Nicolas Ghesquière made sure there would be items in the store that are irresistible, regardless the cost.

Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: