By  on October 3, 2006

PARIS — Stephen Sprouse graffiti on handbags was just a teaser.

Taking the fashion-art link to a new zenith, Louis Vuitton revealed plans to establish a 100 million euro ($127 million) art foundation in Paris, in a new structure designed by architect Frank Gehry.

"It's more akin to a cloud than a building," a beaming Bernard Arnault told a packed press conference here Monday as Paris Fashion Week kicked into gear. "It's a foundation for contemporary creation, but rooted in the past….It will promote the cultural and artistic influence of France in the world."

Construction of the 45,000-square-foot museum — a showcase for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton's vast corporate art collection, plus temporary exhibitions — should start next year, with the opening scheduled for 2009 or 2010, barring any unforeseen administrative tangles.

Arnault and Gehry described an arduous, almost three-year process to obtain the necessary permissions to build on a site in the Bois de Boulogne in the city's western suburbs. Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë was on hand to urge politicians to "forget self-interest" and accept "this tremendous gift to Paris."

Arnault's luxury rival François Pinault scuttled plans to open a Tadao Ando-designed art foundation on Paris' Ile Seguin in 2005 after years of red tape stymied the project. The PPR founder ultimately bought Palazzo Grassi in Venice, which opened to visitors last May as a showcase for his vast collection of contemporary art.

Asked by Agence France-Presse if this was a case of one-upmanship, Arnault shrugged, "I don't think that the comparisons with other foundations are relevant," then dimmed the lights to screen a computerized walk-around of the eye-popping building.

"Bernard is a very impatient man. If it was up to him, he would have built it last year," quipped Gehry as a model of his building spun into view on a rotating dais.

"I think it's amazingly beautiful," declared Marc Jacobs, Vuitton's creative director and an art collector himself. "I'm excited."

Gehry said when Arnault took him to view the site of the museum, his mind went to Marcel Proust, and he quickly sketched an abstract cloud-like form that he is still fine-tuning. Sweeping glass forms shroud stacked white gallery spaces inside and a rooftop garden.

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