MONACO — “Once in a lifetime — it’s never to be repeated. You blink, you miss it.” So said Michael Burke, chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, of the house’s cruise collection shown on Saturday night.
He was referring to the fact that it was the first — and reportedly the last — time the tiny principality would allow a fashion show to be held on the square in front of the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, home to the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years. “In this day and age when everything is available to everyone, knowing that you’ve just witnessed a moment that is not to be repeated is very desirable,” Burke remarked, standing on the Place du Palais, where tourists flock to see the daily changing of the guards. Behind him stood a specially constructed glass box, stamped with an LV logo, where Nicolas Ghesquière had just presented his first resort collection for the luxury brand.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jennifer Connelly, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi were among the 350 guests at the event, held under the high patronage of Princess Charlene of Monaco to coincide with the neighboring Cannes Film Festival. “This was Princess Charlene’s idea. She wanted to make this weekend part of the worldwide global fashion calendar,” said Burke. “It was her vision and we were very happy to participate in it, so when you have that kind of meeting of the minds, anything is possible.”
Despite the pomp and circumstance of the surroundings — not to mention royal protocol, which required guests to stand to greet the arrival of Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene — Ghesquière’s collection was a resolutely youthful affair, one that he worked in contrasting colors and materials to joyously dissonant effect.
After planting his debut lineup in March in the visual landscape of the late Sixties, the designer consciously moved things into the Seventies for resort — though innovative materials prevented the clothes from veering toward pastiche. There was a high-shine python that almost audibly crackled; a Neoprene-like fabric that gave belted pantsuits a softly structured feel, and holographic sequins that nestled under black lace on a coatdress with a stiff black leather lapel.
Running throughout was an embellished take on the malletage patterns inspired by the lozenge-shaped quilting inside vintage Louis Vuitton trunks. These were rendered abstractly as undulating motifs that crisscrossed long-sleeve tops and skirts with jagged hems, evoking coral branches or algae — references that tied into the seabed images projected on video screens embedded in the catwalk, and the aquatic photos by Ange Leccia that were used as place cards.
The patterns were echoed on bags including a red-and-white malletage Twist and a gold Petite-Malle that sprouted silver fringe.
The organic designs contrasted with graphic Damier checks and stripes — a nod to the Formula 1 Grand Prix taking place here next week — that were printed on sheer silk knits, including a white dress worn under a structured beige beaver fur coat shaved into horizontal stripes.
“My imagination, or my imagery if you will, of Louis Vuitton is quite strongly rooted in the Seventies,” said Ghesquière. “I mean, I think there was a moment when people like Charlotte’s mother, Jane Birkin, were doing their thing with this really cool and slightly offhand look with a real sense of mixing genres. At the same time she had Vuitton luggage, which was the symbol of a certain bourgeoisie, and as a result she gave it a completely different spin.
“It’s also potentially very interesting for younger generations, even if the references are rooted in the Seventies,” Ghesquière continued. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Look, this is accessible, this is something you can have fun with, this is something offbeat and you can indeed wear a monogram pattern and still be extremely cool.’”
With its mustardy palette and wallpaper-inspired prints, the collection produced some jarring effects. Ghesquière noted that people might need some time to adjust to his vision. “What is interesting is to see things that can appear offbeat or surprising or perhaps even ugly will eventually make mentalities evolve, and suddenly they can become a benchmark and then you move on to something else. It’s not up to me anyway to say what exactly constitutes good taste or bad taste,” he remarked. “I like to shake things up and make them clash. Some of the colors here were very new for me and quite surprising, which I like. It opens the eye and prepares the viewer perhaps for what will follow, which could be a return to all-black. That’s often how it works.”
Burke noted that Ghesquière has already been making an impact on the red carpet in Cannes, with both Exarchopoulos and Julianne Moore wearing Vuitton made-to-measure creations in recent days. “Nicolas is using materials that were typically banned from red carpet,” Burke said. “They were too rough. Like leather — leather was never a red-carpet material.”
Gainsbourg was heading to the festival for the screening of “Incompresa” (“Misunderstood” in English), directed by actress Asia Argento, as part of the Un Certain Regard selection. “She is the way she is, that is to say, very explosive. I adore that girl,” Gainsbourg said of working with Argento. Gainsbourg will also star in Ghesquière’s first fashion campaign for Louis Vuitton and said she was glad to make the jump from Balenciaga muse. “I was happy he asked me, that it worked out and [is] to continue,” she said. “This is of course a new adventure but he’s a friend, so there is a bond there.”
Connelly is another fixture of Ghesquière’s inner circle. She was the first to wear one of his Vuitton designs on the red carpet, donning a varnished leather and tweed dress to the New York premiere of “Noah” in March. After costarring with husband Paul Bettany in a number of films, Connelly worked under his direction in the upcoming “Shelter,” in which she plays a homeless woman. “I didn’t sleep on the streets but I spent a lot of time walking around, meeting people, talking to people,” Connelly said.
Brit Marling, who has been in London working with Danny Boyle on the Channel Four series “Babylon,” was combining her trip to Monaco with a writing break. “I think there’s a reason why so many artists are drawn here — something about the quality of the light,” she said.
Louis Vuitton has a long-standing presence on the French Riviera. Georges Vuitton, the son of Louis, opened a store in Nice, the first outside of Paris, in 1908. Though it started supplying Monaco’s royals with luggage around the same time, the brand didn’t open a store in Monaco until 1983. Come September, it will move from its location on Avenue des Beaux-Arts to a temporary pavilion in the Jardins des Boulingrins opposite the Monte-Carlo Casino to make way for the demolition and rebuilding of the existing Sporting d’Hiver complex, which houses brands including Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent and Céline.
The permanent store will reopen in four years in a “sufficiently bigger” location, said Burke, noting that the customer base in Monaco was becoming increasingly diversified. “Five years ago, maybe there were 10 principal nationalities. Today, there’s 30 — places that didn’t register 10 years ago are now important across the globe. The usual suspects, of course, but then you also have African states, Southeast Asian states — it’s everywhere. You cannot generalize anymore,” he said.
Resort has become Vuitton’s most important collection, reflecting its growing customer base in regions with warm climates, ranging from the southern United States to Brazil, the Middle East and parts of China. Saturday’s show was designed to directly engage customers, who made up the bulk of the audience seated on the curved beige banquettes designed by Pierre Paulin.
“You may have noticed, the benches were brought in really close together.…There’s no second rows, third rows — everybody’s first row,” said Burke. “It’s a little bit of a return back to where we were back in the carriage trade days, when shows were just for clients.”