PARIS — With a window showcasing a 30-carat diamond in one of the shapes of its famous monogram — and an attic atelier flooded with natural light — Louis Vuitton has arrived in grand fashion on the Place Vendôme.
This story first appeared in the July 3, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Taking its fine and high jewelry activity to a new pinnacle, the boutique is the first freestanding Vuitton unit dedicated to the category, occupying a prime corner spot in the historic square, now a Paris epicenter for hard luxury.
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Designed by American architect Peter Marino, the unit opened Monday, just in time to catch the couture crowd. The boutique — measuring about 1,600 square feet — boasts two VIP areas, a watch showcase lined in glossy eel skin the color of melted chocolate and a custom-order service.
Several floors above lies a warren of narrow rooms with slanted ceilings where Vuitton has created a new high-jewelry atelier to realize the designs of its artistic director for fine jewelry, Lorenz Bäumer.
“It is well known that jewelry is the art of making light scintillate even more, so the activity of the atelier and diamond department is based on light,” said Hamdi Chatti, Vuitton’s vice president in charge of watches and fine jewelry, as he lead a tour of the U-shaped atelier, whose windows offer views of the Place Vendôme column and the tip of the Eiffel Tower.
“There is a special quality to Parisian fine jewelry that you don’t find anywhere else in the world,” he asserted. “There is a way of setting and showing off the stones that is unique in the world, and we want to express that through our collections.”
The rooms are dotted with heavy mechanical equipment, such as one for stretching gold into fine strands, and high-tech instruments, from microscopes to rhodium baths to deliver a mirror finish to precious surfaces.
There is plenty of handwork, too. One artisan wielded a whirring drill resembling dental instruments, while another maneuvered a tiny hacksaw whose fine blade was barely visible. In the polishing room, a worker whisked jewelry components up and down strands of cotton, employing various colorful pastes.
The ateliers include a dedicated room, anchored by two hulking safes, for buying and selecting precious stones.
Peeking down onto the street, Chatti pointed at No. 4 Rue des Capucines, the original address for packing specialist Louis Vuitton, who founded his company in 1854 with a storefront operation, and a leather goods atelier behind, foreshadowing Vuitton’s setup with fine jewelry today.
Downstairs, the boutique traces the more recent trajectory of the company into watches — introduced in 2002 — and fine jewelry.
Charms, introduced as a fashion lark by Vuitton’s artistic director Marc Jacobs in 2001, are showcased in a circular fixture smack in the center of the store. A trio of permanent lines from 2004 and 2006 — dedicated to monogram and nail shapes — greet visitors as they enter the rectangular space.
Fantasy snail sculptures of various sizes, echoing the store’s brown and golden color palette, are incorporated into display cases. A pair of them flank the main-floor VIP suit, holding aloft pillows supporting one-of-a-kind minaudières, including a globe-shaped, tasseled style set with 13,900 white and brown diamonds set in Vuitton’s monogram pattern. The retail price: 800,000 euros, or about $1 million at current exchange rates.
Artworks by Farhad Moshiri, Rashi Rana and Teresita Fernández dot the walls, covered in rosewood paneling, dark leather or an intricate marquetry of straw.
Chatti noted that Vuitton’s leather goods roots allow it to create such specialized products, unusual among the square’s many watch and jewelry purveyors. Another in-wall case showcases exceptional leather goods and accessories from Vuitton’s fashion shows, including a crocodile clutch that’s chained to the wrist via a diamond handcuff.
Vuitton is slated to host an opening party for the boutique tonight, and present new high-jewelry designs at the nearby Ritz hotel. This week, Vuitton is also presenting five new fine-jewelry sets. Highlights include a dainty Peter Pan collar necklace strung with diamond floral motifs. Bäumer selected exotic rocks from far-flung places, such as a Burmese gray spinel on a ring with lacework diamonds on its side.
The company is also building a 38,000-square-foot center for its watchmaking activities in Geneva, which it hopes to open in July 2013. Vuitton has taken steps to become more self-sufficient with the purchase of a number of its suppliers, most recently the Geneva-based watch dial manufacturer Léman Cadran in March.