Nicolas Ghesquière recently attended a book signing in honour of the reissue of Grace Coddington’s Grace: The American Vogue Years. Its author, the 75-year-old creative director at large at US Vogue, inscribed his copy with the following: “To Nicolas Ghesquière, who more than anyone else makes me still love fashion.”
Sometimes fashion is really that simple. It makes you fall in love. It’s the primal instinct of desirability on which this multibillion industry has been built. Some designers make you fall harder, they thrill you with their clothes. Ghesquière is one of them. His SS17 collection for Louis Vuitton was especially strong: rare are the shows where one feels a frisson of excitement. On the last day of the season, here it was.
Staged in the shell of the house’s new store on Place Vendôme, which is due to open next year, the show space was an architectural salvage of raw concrete, exposed piping and half-finished stairwells, the exact kind of brutalist space Ghesquière’s tastes naturally lean towards. It also placed the show directly in the heart of the 1st arrondissement, in the nexus of the luxury shopping district. After several seasons showing at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault’s enormous gallery space in Bois de Boulogne, the change of location found the collection somehow more relevant. Show something in a shop and — surprise! — it looks more shoppable.
Location played a part in its mood, but this collection also represented a new departure for Ghesquière. Having explored sportswear for the past year, this season the designer was more focused on the “luxury pieces” that his clients expect of the brand.
“I love streetwear,” he explained backstage, “and certainly many of our clients are coming to Vuitton for luxury sportswear, but people are looking also for more refinement. I wanted to look at these contrasts at Louis Vuitton, and this collection was about finding my position there. It’s a quieter collection, more Parisian, more sophisticated . . . more French.”
It was more work-orientated also — the suit played a major role here. Fluid separates in business grey, the blazers and jackets had tab fronts and were worn with smart knee or three-quarter-length skirts. They had a relaxed fit but a sleek silhouette. Many of the jackets were slit along the sleeves, skirts were slit to the thigh: but the looks had an executive precision. This was boardroom chic, Ghesquière-style.
“Men have never let go of the suit,” said Ghesquière, who had been watching the 1984 film Rive droite, rive gauche, by Philippe Labro, for inspiration. “Casuality for them is not accepted. Women can be more free, so I wanted to see how the suit could be made part of their wardrobe.”
The 1980s have been an ongoing refrain at the shows (see Chanel, Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney for further examples). Here that era had been explored for its corporate dress sense and a softer silhouette. Shoulders were bold without being exaggerated, jersey silks draped in flattering lengths. There were block-heeled cowboy boots and a phone case, too: “a little brother or sister” to join the tiny Petite Malle trunk bag Ghesquière introduced in his first season at the house. “Women today carry their phone, so I made her a sophisticated iPhone case.” The playful branded phone case has been the mainstay of many a luxury brand of late: Ghesquière’s offering will bring some healthy competition to the market.
But it wasn’t all work, work, work. The daywear was mixed with lots of “dress up”: a silvery metallic midi-dress, a gold embellished jacket and gold-trimmed black trousers that had slightly Thriller vibes, exotic prints on metallic silky jerseys, electric-blue laces and tulle dresses embroidered with tiny round beads. It was very luxurious, very light, and deliciously easy.
Ghesquière is an incredible, innovative designer but his vision at Vuitton has sometimes proven a tricky fit. With this collection he nailed it. “He let go,” said Louis Vuitton chief executive Michael Burke in the melee backstage. “I got goosebumps.” Me, too.