ASNIERES-SUR-SEINE, France — Louis Vuitton is opening its second private museum in less than a year. But unlike the monumental Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of Paris, its new venture has a more intimate feel.
Dubbed La Galerie, the 6,500-square-foot exhibition space is located on the historic Louis Vuitton grounds in the northern suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine, which also houses the former family home and the workshops where the luxury brand still produces its most exclusive made-to-order items.
Inaugurated on Sunday with a garden party attended by Vuitton face Michelle Williams, the invitation-only exhibit was curated by Judith Clark, a professor of fashion and museology who has previously worked on shows about brands including Chloé and personalities such as Frida Kahlo and Diana Vreeland.
“We wanted it to be perceived very much as a gallery intervention,” Clark said during a preview tour of the venue. “It’s like an installation reflecting on the idea of exhibiting the Vuitton archive. It’s intended to be kind of slightly disruptive in that way.”
Spread over two floors are around 400 objects and documents from the house’s archive of 26,000 objects and 165,000 documents. They range from couturier Paul Poiret’s trunk to items from the Vuitton family’s personal collection, including a pair of 17th-century Venetian women’s platform shoes.
“Everything about this exhibition is in a way against unidirectional chronology, but instead around a kind of restless interpretation of the absolutely huge number of objects that they have,” said Clark.
She was inspired by a small interlocking object called a Pateki puzzle, designed by Gaston-Louis Vuitton in the Thirties, for the design of the display cabinets and plinths, which are made of poplar wood and fixed on wheels.
“I kind of thought, OK, let’s build a Pateki where the walls never quite match, they never quite sit and so the tension between pieces is always there,” Clark explained.
The floors, plinths and walls are inlaid with marquetry patterns that allude to calligraphic studies. “It’s the idea of using the material of the poplar that was always brought in for the trunks, but morphing it into shapes associated with design. And so instead of telling a story of savoir-faire, showing it,” the curator added.
The ground floor houses a selection of trunks and toiletry kits, alongside period product brochures, Vuitton correspondence and more modern designs, like a bag designed last year by artist Cindy Sherman.
“I think people underestimate how material was generated knowingly by them and how imaginative they were in terms of playing with the new shapes associated with travel, and so there’s a kind of wit,” said Clark, singling out a page of playful monogram designs from around 1910 as one of her favorite pieces in the show.
With its high arched poplar wood ceiling, the first floor conveys a sense of drama that is reflected in unexpected juxtapositions, such as a Keepall bag from 1930 that belonged to Gaston-Louis Vuitton displayed next to a Bowling Vanity Tuffetage bag from creative director Nicolas Ghesquière’s fall 2014 show.
Dotted throughout are clothing designs from the label’s current and past creative directors – Ghesquière, Kim Jones and Marc Jacobs – as well as vintage items from the likes of Jeanne Lanvin, Christian Dior and Madeleine Vionnet, designed to represent different eras.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is referenced in a small-scale model, held up by a mannequin dressed in Ghesquière’s designs, and film footage projected on a back wall. The exhibit also showcases the house’s history of collaborating with artists including Richard Prince and Daniel Buren.
“It’s about fashion as fashion, it’s fashion as collaboration, and it’s fashion as the muses and owners and wearers associated with the luggage, so at a certain point, you’re kind of personifying it,” Clark said.
“There’s a kind of longevity to this dialogue between fashion and Vuitton, even though it remains essentially about the trunks,” she added.
While some pieces may seem familiar to anyone who saw the “Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs” exhibit held at Les Arts Décoratifs in 2012, Clark said she tried to look at the archives with fresh eyes.
“I work predominantly as an academic. I think that was important to them, to have an outsider’s view, someone who could come in, research the archive and work slightly more experimentally around it,” she said.
Clark was particularly sensitive to the historic resonance of the space.
“One of the motivations for having something a little bit more permanent and a little bit more complete here was the fact that people come to this site, come to the maison de famille, see the atelier, and they kind of fall in love with the idea that this is the cradle of the company,” Clark added.
“It’s giving people context when they come and they make their special commission of their trunk, or whatever, that this is what they’re participating in.”
Williams, in Paris just for Vuitton, had not yet had enough of museums, and planned to hit the Musée d’Orsay and the recently revamped Musée Picasso.
She’s also preparing herself for her next film, “Gold,” which takes place partly in Reno, Nev., and has visited the city, walked its streets, met its people, checked out the restaurants and bars. “I just like to soak it up,” she said.
Architect Peter Marino, Olympia Scarry and Gaia Repossi also attended the afternoon event.