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For his AW19 womenswear collection for Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière rebuilt the Pompidou. At the Louvre. As you do.
The set, by Renzo Piano, the architect who conceived the Pompidou Centre with Richard Rogers in the 1970s, was a comment on the “beauty of controversy” and the Louis Vuitton designer was pretty relaxed about the fact not everyone would like what they saw. The show was an Eighties medley of “museum people, goth gangs, street dancers and fashion groups”, as one might have observed from the Café Beaubourg in the days before Instagram, when real life people watching was still in vogue. And it was pretty extreme — like no real people I’ve ever seen. One model wore a tweed dress with a leopard-print capelet, like a fashion superhero. A pink flowery dress with a bouncy skater skirt, belted waist and a ruffle yoke might be described as “Sloane Ranger on acid”. The women wore sensible flat shoes for getting around in — I was touched to see a late-Eighties style of lace-up with a pinched trim around the toe we dubbed “piss catchers” at school — but overall the looks were fairly otherworldly. I was most taken with a crafty micro-floral cape ensemble which looked like Laura Ashley meets Marvel’s villainous Loki.
With its leather all-in-ones, chequerboard minis and romantic florals, the show was many things. Ghesquière described it as a celebration of “self-expression”. Bourgeois it was not. Nor was it conservative, or stripped back, or pared down, or any other of the buzzwords of the season. As the looks emerged, each one more eccentric than the last, I thought of the brand’s many celebrity ambassadors — including the actresses Emma Stone, Alicia Vikander and Catherine Deneuve — and which styles on the runway we might see them wear in future. Perhaps Deneuve will opt for the leather ruffled ra-ra skirt or a biker-style blazer? Will we be seeing Stone in a Mondrian-style sweater with high-waisted leather trousers and a pair of pixie boots?
Ghesquière seemed ready to have that discussion. Just as the Pompidou Centre was reviled when it first opened, so too was he trying to push a different point of view. “I wanted to remind people that what was so controversial has, through time, and the gymnastics of the eye, become an icon of the landscape,” he explained of the hi-tech exhibition space. “I want fashion to be exciting, a place of discovery, to offer new shapes and be controversial. I want to do fashion that takes time to understand.”
Will these ruffled dresses become an icon of the landscape? Time will tell, but Ghesquière’s enthusiasm and ambition is refreshing. His collections can be confusing, sometimes difficult, but they deliver the ideas which percolate and his show is still one of the creative cauldrons from which other more commercial designers like to nab ingredients later on. It was also fun to see a designer take an already common theme and approach it in a totally different way. Eighties shoulders and statement tailoring have been massive this season, his blazers were broad and blouson through the shoulders, and his trouser shape was carrot-legged and high. Likewise with the florals — which have been another key trend. Ghesquière described them as “craft piece meets classic”, and dedicated them to a certain type of museum woman he sees. He might have meant my mother, although I doubt she’d go for these.
Most significantly, these clothes helped tell the long-held Louis Vuitton story — that today’s women should be modern, always in motion and strong. They ticked all the codes of the brand, they’ll take a while longer to understand. But Ghesquière can enjoy the privilege of belligerence. He designs clothes that the house doesn’t depend on to sell. The jewel of the LVMH group, the Louis Vuitton recorded around $10bn in revenues in 2018, and the vast majority of that business was in sales of its famous monogram — the canvas bags on which the house has built its fortune.
Ghesquière’s contribution to that cannon has been significant, and his AW19 bag offering was a far more accessible affair: a dinky clutch bag in a patchwork of fabrications, Tambrourin, an old-school satchel, and the ladylike Dauphine Mini, with its three tidy compartments, finished in different materials, including tweed. So, yes, my eye has done gymnastics, and the more I study this collection, the less bonkers it seems. But next time you’re people watching in the Beaubourg, the bags will be the icons that you see.
Jo Ellison will be hosting the FT’s Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. For more information visit ftbusinessofluxury.com
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