The clicking of high heels, car horns, cabaret singing, Bastille Day marching bands, they are all part of the French experience that Nicolas Ghesquière wanted to channel into the Louis Vuitton fall collection.
Paris is hosting the Olympics next year, so it’s only natural that Louis Vuitton would want to join in the national pride. But the inspiration was more personal for Ghesquière.
In January, he was asked to create the traditional uniform for architect Anne Démians to wear when she was inducted into the historic French Academie des Beaux Arts, and it got him thinking about the many layers of French style and the clash between now and then. (The academy was founded in 1648.)
“It’s a very classical uniform with embroidery, and every inductee must have a sword, but she decided her sword would be a pencil,” he said during a preview, recalling the formal blue coat dress with green laurel embroidery.
He decided to put the question “what is French style” to his studio, which has designers from France, Britain, the U.S. and Asia. But rather than listing all the ideas in the show notes, he let the collection do the talking.
And the sound installation, which was built for the runway by Philippe Parreno and Hollywood set designer James Chinlund in the grand former ballrooms of the Hotel D’Orsay, now the Musée D’Orsay, where gilded historicism contrasted with high tech acoustic foam and speakers.
On the runway, like many designers this season, Ghesquière reverted to a lot of classic, wearable tailoring, but still applying his own singular imagination.
The show opened with a series of beautiful soft pleated and draped blazers cinched with belts over ballooning pants or short skirts, that brought to mind the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe and other landmarks by French artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The pearl necklace, another icon of French style according to the studio at least, was interpreted in a modern way as gorgeous embroidered abstract lace and pearl dresses. A black and white section, including a café server’s uniform reimagined as a fabulous black minidress with white point collar and off shoulder cuffs, was meant to nod to the excellence of French service.
Ghesquière leaned into “the blanket side” of Vuitton on covetable soft tailored pieces, including a herringbone blazer with a knit back and layer of wadding inside that looked like a forever classic, and a checked suit with a white scarf incorporated into the blazer.
Leather was also part of the vision, as on a tromp l’oeil camel herringbone coat that was actually woven leather, and a boxy black and white check jacket and skirt set with black leather patch pockets and stripe accents that was just the kind of smart take on a suit the French first lady would wear.
The show ended with a section called “voyage,” mixing kimono jackets and silk prints that might have been brought back from travels.
Ghesquière pointed out the trompe l’oeil shoes and boots in inclusive skin tones. “It says what France is today,” he said.
There was more of an emphasis on bags, which were styled with nearly every look, from a quilted top handle biscuit-colored style reminiscent of a loaf of bread, to the whole Place Vendôme Louis Vuitton store done as a chic box.
Patriotic red, white and blue bags after a Louis Vuitton flag on the Champs-Élysées store, were also in the mix of accessories, which also included (City of Light?) future-looking glasses, more classic eyewear, racing gloves and jewelry in the shape of tiny horns. (Fun fact, the piston used on a trumpet is a French invention.)
Sadly, the brooches are not working instruments. “I wish,” Ghesquière said.
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Maybe Pharrell Williams can help with that.
The newly appointed Louis Vuitton menswear director was at the show on Monday, and all eyes will be on him when he presents his first collection in June, which could take the brand even more into the entertainment space. (That playlist should be insane.)
One only has to look at the supersized Yayoi Kusama statues and spots dotting the world to see how Vuitton is already spreading its culture far and wide. This confident women’s collection should do the same.