The Imaginarium of Louis Vuitton

Unfolded between the Brutalist buildings of the Salk Institute, and backgrounded by the setting sun on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Other-planetary? The clothes sure are

Chanel’s cruise collection, shown in Monte Carlo last week, marked the return of the inter-season line often staged in far-flung places. But there was nothing to say about that collection. Fast forward to yesterday evening (our time), Louis Vuitton’s cruise is a journey to some unknown desert planet (or known—how about Mandalore or Arvala-7 or Tatooine, for Star Wars nerds?) although the runway was winged with the Brutalist buildings of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in Southern California. Against the stark setting with nary a plant in sight, the models are attired as if filming a scene of some movie not set on this earth or surrounded by earthly tech. Inter-galactic vagabonds, mercenaries, resistance fighters, or even Jedis? Some people say they saw Amazonians, but we doubt Nicolas Ghesquière, who, although reportedly used the word “goddess” in relation to this collection, was thinking of Paradise Island, home of the Princes of the Amazons, aka Diana. Yet, the Bracelet(s) of Submission made their visible appearance!

These are not clothes that many would immediately call “pretty”. There are enough pretty clothes in this world—a surfeit, in fact. What Mr Ghesquière has proposed do not even look like they are destined for a holiday wardrobe (let alone be considered for a cruise). Battle-ready? Or for climate change? Who knows? This isn’t Mr Ghesquière writing the story of LV in plain hand. There is exaggeration beyond the paniers of the current spring/summer season (Gemma Chan wore one of them at the Met Gala, looking somewhat mis-clad and misplaced). Mr Ghesquière has offered aesthetically-challenging clothes before, but this time, they are extreme to the point of being, strange, otherworldly. As one stylist said to us, many women here who buy French RTW are not into such looks as they do not make them look feminine, like Dior does. And the very straight shoulders of the shell tops, for example: “too aggressive”.

The clothes are not hostile-seeming in a way military fatigues (or the mish-mash of them worn on the Mad Max movies) could be. The show opened and closed with three silhouette-curious looks that seem to serve as eye-opening parentheses, within which the more accessible but no less convention-defying outfits arouse the imagination. The first three, with their tented shapes and floor length, are no gowns we imagine any film star would wear to a movie premiere or on a red carpet. But they are no doubt gowns, as well as some ceremonial robes of an unknown religious order. Glamour is not the intended effect. The last three have even less spots to be seen in: the considerable tops with what could be some flying saucer landed on the shoulders, under which a possible geomagnetic storm raged, would be for parties where the stranger you dress among strangers, the better.

Discounting those, the collection has a discernible wearability about them, but probably just so. The above-mentioned shell tops, cropped (to better fit the squares of the Instagram grit, assuming you still crop your photos to that shape?) and looking anything but sexy. A few are composed of ‘scales’, (some matte, some irridescent. The idea appear as trims too), and are draped with scarves or throw-ons (some with one sleeve, worn), all a tad ancien. The are also the X-shaped tops and those dresses and skirts made of strands of assorted shapes that gives off something gladiatorial. To augment the fierceness of the looks, there is a suggestion of something vaguely dominatrix: The grommeted leather belt worn on the bare skin of exposed stomachs (and the loose end hanging between legs) hint at something that might be construed as S&M. It’s hard to pin the looks or decode them, and therein lies the frustration and the thrill (or, perhaps, just a tingle). We are of two minds about the collection: Not (yet) sure if we like it or do not. The dilemma stems from the unnecessary showiness of the designs (or over-designs?). As one headline went, “Eve Jobs Holds Court in Thong Sandals, Bralette and Skirt at Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 Fashion Show”. These days, you don’t hit the scene, you make it. That is annoying.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

At LV, The Young Will Change The World

Nicolas Ghesquière pins his hope on youths

Louis Vuitton showed its womenswear outside the Louvre for the first time since 2017. The presentation this season took place at the Musee D’Orsay, situated roughly 800m diagonally opposite the Louvre, on the left bank of the Seine. As it turns out, the museum, a former railway station (Gare D’Orsay), is host to a fashion show for the first time. It is not known why the change in venue (the previous show was still at the Louvre, also a nascent fashion show venue with LV five years ago), but going from one museum to another may not be that much of a difference for Nicolas Ghesquière. The models (still) parade among the exhibits—sculptures, this time from the 1800s—under the watchful gaze of the musee’s famous 1900 clock on one side and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere from 1872 on another. The clothes, typical of Mr Ghesquière’s output for LV, are, however, much more multifarious.

This is the mix and match that he does so well. Perhaps, more the mix than the match. And what has been described, as far back as his Balenciaga days (who even remembers that now, given how different the brand looks today?), a reflection of how the young, unconcerned with perfect pairing, dress—a mediation that never quite left him. Only now, the youths are not togged in the same devil-may-care disregard to styling as those of some twenty odd years earlier. Now, it’s still lacking the match, but with a heap of the mis. In addition, there’s the cradling of gender-neutrality. And a love of exaggerated shapes. The massive jacket, for one (the doing of a certain Demna Gvasalia?). And, to join that hulk, those oversized polos and rugby shirts. Just as clothes no longer stick to either function or occasion, could the last look—a Ralph Lauren-ish polo beefed up by IOC-frowned substances over an airy date dress—be an undergrad recovering from a night of partying in her boyfriend’s dorm room and leaving in the morning with his sports shirt?

The boyfriend’s polo aside (a natural progression from the boyfriend’s jeans?), Mr Ghesquière is partial to a more masculine aesthetic. We are not referring to the mannish blazers, sized to fit those with way broader shoulders; we are referring to shirts and trousers, and the overcoats that would just as easily fit a beau’s wardrobe. This androgyny has been rather consistent in Mr Ghesquière’s collections for LV, and they could be a deliberate consideration. We have been told on more than one occasion at LV stores that guys are buying from the women’s section, even when, a staffer once informed us firmly, “Nicolas Ghesquière does not design for men. But guys can buy”. Could it be because LV Men is too gender neutral? The women’ clothes do not, however, bank on masculine appeal. There are clearly feminine tropes—some previously explored, such as this season’s flaccid panniers (as opposed to the last’s more rigid and bouncier ones) and those vague mini-crinis with tails. A school-going lass with caparison in her mind than scholarship?

The general cheerfulness of the collection and the collegiate leaning, shown in a beautiful Beaux-Arts former train station, say almost nothing about the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe. Not that it has to. LVMH has already announced a €5 million donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Perhaps that is enough for LV to stay mum about how it feels. Or perhaps, the choice of venue speaks adequately. Its own history as a railway station is connected to World War II. A plaque, hung on the side of the building, commemorates its role in the war years. It was used to collect parcels that were sent to prisoners of war, and when the conflict ended, it served as a reception centre for freed prisoners during their return. That perhaps is the message: the present war will end.

Screen grab (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com