PARIS — Luxury behemoth LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the owner of brands including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Sephora, wants to be known for more than its robust financial results and spectacular fashion shows.
This fall, the world’s top luxury group will throw open its doors for the fourth time for Les Journées Particulières, which gives members of the public a rare opportunity to meet the craftspeople who make everything from Dior handbags and Tag Heuer watches to Guerlain fragrances.
This year’s edition, set to run from Oct. 12 to 14, promises to be bigger and better than ever, with 23 new houses taking part in the free event. For the first time, it will stretch to the United States, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, with a total of 13 participating countries, versus six in 2016.
Among the 39 sites that will open to the public for the first time are a Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in Paris; the restored Château de la Colle Noire, formerly owned by Christian Dior; the Caffè Cova pastry shop in Milan, and Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley, Calif.
The conglomerate headed by Bernard Arnault, France’s wealthiest man, launched the biennial initiative in 2011 to counter a perception that it was only interested in making money.
“I think it’s important to balance this image of the group, centered on profit and performance, with the reality,” said his son Antoine Arnault, who is head of communication and image of LVMH and chief executive officer of Berluti. “We don’t design our collections or make decisions in terms of profit or performance targets, but rather in terms of creativity and desirability for our customers.”
For Anthony Delos, a master bootmaker at Berluti, the event is a rare opportunity to explain what he does. Considered one of the finest practitioners of his trade, Delos spent eight years traveling across France to complete his training under a centuries-old apprenticeship system known as Les Compagnons du Devoir.
“Mastering the different stages of boot making requires at least 10 years. To be good at everything, you need a minimum of 20 years. I’m 42, and I’m not good at everything,” he said during a recent visit to the Berluti workshop in central Paris.
His C.V. suggests otherwise. Since his independent workshop was acquired by Berluti in 2012, Delos has traveled across Asia to conduct fittings with clients. He believes in designing each shoe by hand, eschewing computers for the personal touch — something he also applies to his encounters with members of the public.
“It’s always a pleasure to explain my trade, especially as it’s a traditional trade, and nobody talks about those. The Journées Particulières event is an exceptional opportunity to expose the general public to French traditional professions,” he said, noting that artisanal career paths are trickling back into favor.
“There was a time when the French education system discouraged people from sending their children to learn shoemaking. The same is true of Italy, which is why there are practically no young people in shoemaking there. Nowadays, they are coming back with a vengeance. We have a lot of young people who get a degree and then return to study in our training system,” he noted.
LVMH runs its own vocational training program, the Institut des Métiers d’Excellence, which has partnerships with top French schools in areas including jewelry, dressmaking, winemaking, leather goods, client advisory and retail design. The initiative, which launched in 2014, took in 300 students this year.
French luxury goods trade association Comité Colbert, meanwhile, has worked with the French government to distinguish artisans with the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in order to highlight exceptional skills and encourage young people to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s not just about prestige,” cautioned Delos. “When you do manual work, it’s always nice to produce a new piece and to grow. For young people, it’s great. Some trades aren’t linked to luxury and are less prestigious, but it’s the same principle: you’re learning a traditional skill.”
Some 3,000 employees from a total of 56 LVMH houses will take part in this year’s edition of Les Journées Particulières, which is expected to draw more than 150,000 visitors. Arnault said free entry tickets for Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior visits usually get snapped up online in less than one minute.
Having appeared in the documentary “Dior and I,” Florence Chehet is used to being in the spotlight. During a recent visit to the workshops of the Paris couture house off Avenue Montaigne, the head of the atelier flou expertly peeled open a floral gown designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri to expose its corseted underpinnings.
“You can turn our dresses inside out: they are as perfectly finished on the inside as they are on the outside. You could, if you wanted to, wear them inside out,” said Chehet, who heads a team of 32 people. It’s the type of detail that typically surprises visitors, she said.
“It’s hard for us to imagine how little people know about what we do. They have no idea what goes on in here,” she remarked. “It’s always surprising, because to us it’s so obvious. For example, when you look at this dress, you would never think there is all this bustier and boning inside it. That’s a lot of work.”
Eric Leroux, maker of leather goods and trunks at Louis Vuitton, takes similar pride in his creations. On a recent July afternoon at the company’s workshop in Asnières, on the outskirts of Paris, he was cutting a black crocodile hide to cover a custom-made trunk designed to be used for Japanese tea ceremonies.
Leroux, who was named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2014, said it was only the second time in his 35-year career that he had handled such a large crocodile skin. Nearby sat his own trunk, customized with dozens of gleaming metallic badges.
“They were going to destroy it, and I asked if I could salvage it to turn it into a tool kit,” he said. “Now it’s become a bit of an obsession: I designed my initials on the lid using 1,500 nails.”
Thierry de Longevialle, director of the Louis Vuitton museum and adjoining family house, said the venue was used to welcoming guests, but he expects to greet upwards of 1,000 people a day, divided into groups of 10 to 15, during the Journées Particulières.
“We entertain a lot of press and customers here,” he noted. “However, we do want it to remain a fairly exclusive experience, so we don’t want people standing in line in the street. We want to keep a sense of intimacy.”