Louis Vuitton is proving in dramatic fashion that its runway shows don’t start and end in Paris.
The luxury behemoth is plotting two major “spin-off” shows this month — in Shanghai and Miami — which elaborate on the original spring 2022 fashion statements of Nicolas Ghesquière and Virgil Abloh, its artistic directors for women’s and men’s collections, respectively.
“Each show has an intimate relationship with its predecessor and announces its successor. A spin-off reinforces and builds on the previous show,” Michael Burke, Vuitton’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in an exclusive interview about the two spectacles, drawing a distinction with brands that continue to mount repeat or replica shows in key international markets. “The client wants to see the next iteration of the designer’s point of view.”
Ghesquière goes first and has designed 21 new looks and three bags for the Nov. 17 event at the Shipyard Repair Docks on the Huangpu River in Shanghai, which will be decorated with hundreds of crystal chandeliers, winking to the set design for the Paris Fashion Week show staged on Oct. 5 in the Passage de Richelieu of the Louvre museum.
Abloh has cooked up 10 new looks for his display on Nov. 30 in Florida, which is to unfurl on a barge flecked with birch trees parked in front of the Miami Marine Stadium, with the audience in perfect position to catch the skyline reflected in the waters of the south channel.
The Miami spin-off coincides with the opening of Vuitton’s first dedicated men’s store in the U.S., in the Miami Design District — its second in the world after Tokyo, which opened in the Shibuya neighborhood in 2020.
Burke extolled the virtues of the spin-off shows, which it pioneered in October 2019 when Ghesquière brought his spring 2020 collection to an airplane hanger in Seoul.
“We’re not flying people to events: we’re taking events to people,” he explained. “It was our vision of how fashion would be communicated in the future.”
Burke allowed that the coronavirus pandemic sped the adoption of the format. Despite worldwide travel restrictions, Vuitton empowered local teams to conceive and mount five spin-off shows to date, in cities including Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo.
The executive extolled a multitude of benefits of spin-off shows, headlined by a strong boost to sales of runway designs.
“Because the local teams are so engaged, the clients are also so much more engaged,” he said.
How much more engaged?
“They spend 10 times more,” he announced matter-of-factly. “You add a zero to whatever your business was.”
What’s more, Vuitton is able to get an immediate read on which styles and items are attracting the most interest, allowing it to achieve higher sell-throughs, and produce healthy amounts of the collection to order.
For clients, “it’s a lot more fun buying when you see the show and you get to try it on before putting down your money,” he said, noting that the practice of preordering takes Vuitton back to “the days of the carriage trade when everything was made to order.”
To be sure, not every fashion house is in a position to mount spin-off shows. In Burke’s view, the first requirement is having creative leaders that conceive of their work as a continuum.
“It requires a designer that values that approach; that doesn’t want to shock and awe each time,” he said. “It’s a more luxurious approach, a little bit less fashion-y. It instils more permanence in the aesthetics. It’s like different chapters in a book, and the audience has embraced it.”
Abloh has exalted spin-off shows for slowing down the fashion system to some degree, reinforcing recurrent design signatures, cuts and fabrics and thereby “making what’s already in their closet more valuable,” Burke noted.
The second is entrusting regional Vuitton employees to orchestrate the spin-offs, from choosing locations, scouting models and conceiving the hair and makeup.
“It requires a local team that is at the same level of Paris,” and one that “understands the brand narrative,” Burke said.
Headquarters also has to be willing to let go. “It’s the empowerment part that most companies don’t get right,” he explained, stressing that most major cities in China have enough creative talent to mount a runway event in a “world-class” manner.
A spin-off show requires “a lot more effort than a repeat show, but the benefits are multiple,” according to Burke.
Ghesquière and Abloh have not traveled to spin-off shows to date, largely due to travel restrictions linked to the pandemic, though Abloh will be present in Miami later this month.
Vuitton chose Miami, and the late November date, to capture all the press and high-net-worth individuals in town for the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, taking place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, with the first two days invitation-only.
About 1,500 guests are invited to each of Vuitton’s spin-off shows, with a slightly larger client contingent than the typical Paris Fashion Week display, Burke noted.
All of them are livestreamed to attract large audiences. According to Vuitton, its men’s spin-off show in Shanghai in August 2020 garnered more than 104 million views.
“The next level would be to pull off simultaneous spin-offs. If need be, we could look at that,” Burke said. “Our zones are clearly requesting it.”
Drawing analogies to the gaming world and blockchain technology, the latter based on distributed ledgers, he declared: “The future is distributed fashion shows!”