PARIS — Michael Burke won’t be enjoying his office at Louis Vuitton’s Paris, France, headquarters for much longer.
In an interview with WWD, the chairman and chief executive officer of the French luxury brand revealed plans to transform Louis Vuitton’s corporate offices into a sprawling complex including the world’s first Louis Vuitton hotel and its largest store worldwide — and that involves giving up his office, with its sweeping vistas of the historic center of Paris.
“It is the most spectacular view in the world,” he said, describing a panorama stretching from the Eiffel Tower to Notre-Dame de Paris, not to mention the neighboring Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, which dates back to the 13th century.
Parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has radically transformed the surrounding neighborhood in the last 18 months with the unveiling of the renovated La Samaritaine department store and Cheval Blanc hotel, and the opening of the first Paris branch of its Italian pastry stores, Cova.
“Parisians are finally rediscovering it. They’ve embraced it. There’s street music now at 11 p.m. outside here. When we took it over, this was a no man’s land, if not worse. Nobody in their right mind would walk here in the night,” Burke said.
And he revealed that Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, is only getting started, with plans to attract more offices, stores, housing, restaurants and cultural activities to the area.
“My dream was to create a renaissance of the original commercial downtown of Paris,” Burke said. “It’s been Bernard’s vision all along and we’re halfway there. It’ll take another 10, 15 years to take it to where we think it should be.”
On Tuesday, Vuitton will hold an event to inaugurate an experiential space dubbed LV Dream as the first step toward its ambitious transformation of the 400,000-square-foot headquarters. “I’ve told Bernard, you know, my office is not going to be my office within five years, that’s for sure. There’s better uses, more contemporary uses for it than a corporate office,” Burke said.
The plans reflect a growing push by fashion and luxury brands into hospitality, as consumers increase spending on experiences. “That’s what our clients want from us. They want a 24/7 relationship,” Burke said.
The space actually isn’t set to open to the public until Dec. 12. Due to remain open for one year, the 20,000-square-foot locale features an exhibition highlighting the brand’s collaborations with artists, alongside a gift store, and a café and chocolate shop run by Maxime Frédéric, the head pastry chef at Cheval Blanc Paris.
It occupies a commercial space, located within the Vuitton building, that formerly housed a Conforama furniture store. Before that, for almost a century, the edifice was home to La Belle Jardinière, a department store famed for its accessibly priced clothing. Together with La Samaritaine, it turned the area into a magnet for shoppers in the second half of the 19th century.
“Ultimately, Vuitton’s largest store, most probably, is going to be where this event is opening,” Burke said.
“It’s going to be a work in progress for the next 10 years. The exhibition space has a one-year shelf life, and then next year, we’re going to do something else. And ultimately, probably the majority of this 400,000-square-foot building is going to be something else than an office,” he added.
“It has all the hallmarks of an ideal lodging venue. Just two years ago, people were pooh-poohing the idea, and saying how crazy you must be to put in the Cheval Blanc,” he remarked. “And it is a smashing success.”
The executive said LVMH was not concerned about a future Louis Vuitton hotel cannibalizing the Cheval Blanc. “It would be its own identity, and own segment and own service — a completely different experience,” he said, adding that he hopes to open the hotel “within five years.”
LV Dream will feature nine rooms offering interactive experiences and a deep dive into the brand’s partnerships with artists, architects and designers. On display are designs by the likes of Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama, in addition to previously unseen portraits of founder Louis Vuitton by Alex Katz and U.S. graffiti and tattoo artist Mister Cartoon.
Visits are free but must be pre-booked on the Vuitton website. Access to the café, chocolate store and gift shop does not require a reservation. The eatery, filled with tropical plants, will offer a selection of pastries adorned with the brand’s signature motifs, created especially by Frédéric, who was named Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2022 awards of gastronomic guide Gault & Millau.
It’s the latest hospitality venture for Vuitton, which in the last year has opened a pop-up restaurant at its flagship in Seoul’s Gangnam district and a summer restaurant in Saint-Tropez with buzzy chef Mory Sacko. It also has a restaurant and café at its flagship boutique in Osaka, Japan, and a café inside its seven-story Ginza Namiki building in Tokyo, Japan, both run by celebrated Japanese chef Yosuke Suga.
“Food and beverage and lodging are clearly in the future of Louis Vuitton. And our specific approach, which is very different from everybody else’s, is that every one of those experiences is absolutely contextualized. It is not about taking one individual’s food tastes and taking it to the world. That was maybe appropriate 20 or 30 years ago. Today, it’s about creating unique food experiences,” Burke said.
“The chef invariably changes depending on the city and the timing. The menu changes, the teams change, but it’s always around Louis Vuitton values,” he added. “There’ll be 20, or 30, or 50 or 100 places where you’re going to have Vuitton chocolates, but each time the chocolate recipe and the experience will be unique to that location. We’re banning cookie cutters.”
LV Dream, open seven days a week, marks the brand’s first exhibition space in the center of Paris and is expected to attract 2,000 visitors a day.
Vuitton has previously showcased its archives at La Galerie, a mini-museum opened in 2015 on the historic Louis Vuitton grounds in the northern suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine, France, which also houses the former family home and the workshops where the luxury brand still produces its most exclusive made-to-order items.
“Asnières has always been a destination and mostly by invitation. We have weekends in the spring and in the autumn where anybody can sign up, so it’s not completely private,” Burke said.
The display builds upon previous exhibitions including the “Louis Vuitton X” show in Los Angeles, California, in 2019, designed to spotlight the collaborative process, which the brand launched in its current form in the ’70s, and turned into an industry game changer under the tenure of former artistic director Marc Jacobs.
Burke said these presentations were key to channeling the values of the house.
“Vuitton is so inclusive, and it has been so inclusive for the last century and a half, that it’s not that easy to synthesize Vuitton. It’s much more than a fashion house, it’s much more than a luxury house, it’s much more than a luggage manufacturer, it’s much more than a retailer,” he argued.
“There’s so many things that Vuitton gets involved in, it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the totality of it. And what this exhibit does is, it allows you in 2,000 square meters, and half-an-hour, to really get a good grasp of the wealth and richness of Vuitton’s history and presence,” Burke said.
Reverting to his future projects for the location, the executive said it was part of a broader rethinking of the role of city centers.
“Where do people live, where do they work, all that is changing right now. We’re rewriting the history of cities for the 21st century as we speak, and brands like Louis Vuitton have to be a force in it, we have to be a participant. It goes way beyond a store,” he reasoned. “From an ecological perspective, it’s craziness to have all these buildings that are occupied only 20 percent of the time.”
And if that means losing the fancy office, so be it. After all, Burke’s maxim is: “The brand is the boss.”