GRAND AFFAIR: Louis Vuitton sure knows how to put on a show. To celebrate the opening of its new store in Vienna, the French luxury giant co-hosted a dinner at Palais Schwarzenberg here on Saturday, where the night sky was brightly lit by the open flame of a hot air balloon flown in from Paris for the occasion. It was the same red-and-white striped airship which took off from the Cour Carrée at the Louvre carrying model Arizona Muse in the company’s latest commercial, “L’Invitation au voyage”.

Co-hostess of the night was contemporary art doyenne Francesca von Habsburg. The art collector with a knack for unconventional collaborations said she had many things in common with this travel authority deluxe. “They are very involved in the art world and we’re both constantly on the move. They also made a really generous donation to my foundation to celebrate our 10th anniversary yesterday,” she said.

Von Habsburg looked radiant in a long coat woven with thick gold thread which she spotted at Vuitton’s fall-winter show. “I tried it on and I realized you need my color of hair to pull it off. It’s a very unusual piece. I call it the Klimt coat — it reminds me of his paintings,” she said.

Vuitton’s store is part of a new luxury shopping hub set in Vienna’s historical center. “With all the geographical and political changes that have gone on in the last 20 years, there is a huge drive”, enthused von Habsburg. “It shows me that Vienna is coming into another Golden Age.”

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The flagship, sitting elegantly behind a listed facade dating back to 1909, is partly outfitted with original design furniture from the Wiener Werkstätte, one of several gestures to its new home.

Once completed in March 2013, it will be one of the largest flagships in Europe, measuring close to 13,000 square feet, with a separate entrance for a watch and jewelry unit. Still under construction is the second floor, which will eventually house women’s ready-to-wear, for now available through Vuitton’s smaller venue on Kohlmarkt.

The party crowd was entertained by a DJ and two experts trained in the art of packing. They skillfully stuffed shoes with accessories, and packed and unpacked silken skirts without producing a single wrinkle, under the watchful eyes of Anna Netrebko.

“I travel with a kid, so I need to carry a lot of stuff with me and that bag I have is fantastic”, raved the opera star. Famous for her perfect pitch as well as her predilection for high-end fashion, the Vienna resident gave the store a glowing review. “You can just go and take a look around — I don’t know why, but it makes you feel better,” she said.