Louis Vuitton Exhibit Canceled Over Public Outcry

Russian retail center GUM asked for the dismantling of Vuitton's giant exhibition structure in response to a popular outcry.

The giant trunk on Red Square

MOSCOW — A mammoth Louis Vuitton suitcase set up on Moscow’s Red Square is being dismantled after inspiring outrage among Russian lawmakers and the general public, who complained that it blocked the iconic view of Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

This story first appeared in the December 2, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Russian retail center GUM said on Wednesday it had “informed the Russian representatives of Louis Vuitton of the need to immediately remove the pavilion,” which was supposed to house an exhibition about the French luxury house from Dec. 2 to Jan. 19.

The show was to have been the latest among several glitzy events this year to mark GUM’s 120th anniversary.

“However, in the opinion of some members of the public, the size of the exhibition pavilion turned out to exceed acceptable limits. Out of respect for public opinion, the exhibition structure began to be dismantled on Nov. 27, 2013,” GUM said in the second of two statements issued Wednesday.

The exhibition’s star-studded launch party, originally scheduled for Friday, has been canceled.

“In light of the present situation, GUM has made the decision that it is inappropriate to carry out the planned celebrations for a small group of invited guests, and will change the format of the event into an open public holiday set among the New Year’s decorations of GUM’s departments, a New Year’s gift market of handmade Russian crafts and the beloved traditional ice rink on Red Square,” it said.

On Wednesday evening, “dismantling in process” signs were plastered around the chain link fence surrounding the venue, as a crane hovered nearby. Workers had started taking apart the base.

“I’m sure it’s good for the brand, but to the average person, it feels like nothing’s sacred anymore,” said Sylvie Ilyasova, a young woman who, like many passersby, was taking photos of the suitcase with her smart phone. “Even Red Square is for sale.”

A spokeswoman for Louis Vuitton said the brand had received no official order to move from Red Square, adding that it had obtained all the necessary authorizations in advance.

The trunk’s fate was sealed Wednesday morning when a presidential administration official told journalists that the Kremlin had not approved it. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA Novosti that the Kremlin had not explicitly ordered its removal, but said it was “a problem of scale.”

The venue, which measures 102 feet long and 30 feet high, was set up to house “The Soul of Travel,” an exhibition of 30 iconic Louis Vuitton suitcases associated with Greta Garbo, Catherine Deneuve and other luminaries.

The giant structure was inscribed with the initials “P.W.O.” in honor of Russian Prince Vladimir Orloff, whose 19th-century trunk inspired the design. Louis Vuitton called the exhibition “a way to thank Russia for accompanying us for more than a century and a half,” but many Russians were unimpressed.

Communist lawmaker Sergei Obukhov complained that the venue “defiled a sacred place for the Russian government.” It inspired widespread mockery on Russian media, with one popular meme featuring a Godzilla-like creature crying out “Where’s my suitcase?” as it lumbered near Red Square.

Proceeds from the Vuitton exhibit had been destined for the Naked Heart Foundation, a children’s charity created by Natalia Vodianova. The Russian model is expecting a child with Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault.

GUM said it would instead donate all proceeds from ticket sales on the Red Square ice rink in December to the Naked Heart Foundation.

A spokesman for the All-Russia Exhibition Center quashed press reports that it had offered to house the dislocated exhibition venue. “The pavilion will not be located there,” spokesman Sergei Yegorov said.