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:

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: