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Maiden Voyage

Norah Jones sported looks by the storied fashion house for her on-screen debut in Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights," which opened at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night.

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CANNES — Louis Vuitton has polished up for the silver screen.

Norah Jones sported looks by the storied fashion house for her on-screen debut in Wong Kar Wai’s “My Blueberry Nights,” which opened at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night.

But Vuitton is keen to separate its sartorial sortie from more prosaic product placement deals common in filmmaking today. Instead, executives of the brand likened the collaboration to an artistic endeavor in the spirit of its avant-garde art space, L’Espace Vuitton, situated atop the company’s flagship on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.

Vuitton began talks on the project with Kar Wai at last year’s festival, during which the director was dressed by the house for his role as jury president.

“When I heard that the script was all about travel, a journey in both the literal and mental sense, I thought, that’s exactly what we’re about, Route 66 and all that,” says Vuitton’s president, Yves Carcelle, who recalled backpacking in South America in 1973 and waking up to a new place every day. “It’s a universe that we all long to experience somehow.”

The premiere offered Carcelle, who walked the red carpet with the movie’s director and starring actors Jude Law and Norah Jones, his first glimpse of the movie. Until then, sporadic film stills sent in by Kar Wai had served as the house’s only impression.

“It’s his movie and his own personal take,” says Carcelle, deeming Kar Wai a “master of atmosphere, color and ambience.”

For the project, the director chose an indigo-hued cherry-blossom print dress from Vuitton’s spring-summer 2005 collection by Marc Jacobs — a veritable faux pas in the season-conscious fashion world — and was even allowed to tinker with its design. Kar Wai had the dress lopped shorter, and also had two of the house’s key chains — one sporting a disco ball, the other, a ceramic monogram flower — fused into one. The object, significant to the story line, actually gets some hefty reel time. Even Vuitton’s black denim handbag, the only product used in the movie that has not yet hit the market, was stripped of its handles and reworked for the film.

“It’s not about product placement, and none of the pieces exist in our stores,” says Carcelle. “We like to think we’re a house that has depth.”

Carcelle concedes, however, that the house will garner some attention via the film’s promotion. But, like Vuitton’s old campaigns by Jean Larivière that featured, say, sand dunes or boats to evoke the spirit of voyage, the aim is to associate the brand with a mood. For the movie’s party Wednesday night, for example, Vuitton called upon Paris-based events firm Yo Events to re-create the film’s ambience. The firm also is producing Fendi’s upcoming show on the Great Wall of China in October.

“Lighting was key,” says Yorick Levesque, Yo Events’ owner, who installed 350 projectors to disperse showers of colored lights over revelers. “Purple was key, along with touches of pink, green and blue. In the palette, they’re quite kitsch, but once fused, they capture Kar Wai’s ambience.

“Silver trailers, neon lights and a diner-themed decor also set the scene, along with a revolving dance floor drenched in colored spots. We liked the idea of seeing dancers turning slowly bathed in colored lights,” he says.

Looking on, Kar Wai approved the scene. “I connect with Vuitton as I find it an edgy brand that takes risks,” says the director, who adds he was nonetheless careful to adapt the house’s pieces to the film.

“There’s a difference between a movie and a commercial,” he says, flitting back to the moment he laid eyes on that dress. “I was looking for a shade of blueberry and when I saw it, I knew it would fit the role.”

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