Walking into the courtyard of the Louvre museum after a season dominated by fears of the coronavirus, and yet another day of antigovernment protests that snarled traffic in Paris, you were struck by the impervious majesty of the place.
In its eight centuries of existence, the palace has seen its share of coronations and revolutions. Surely, this too shall pass?
The Louis Vuitton show venue was a simple black box with wooden flooring, and the guest list had been reduced by a third due to the coronavirus outbreak. The world’s biggest luxury brand was going sober, it appeared.
It turned out Nicolas Ghesquière has been thinking about history, too. As the show began, a screen lifted to reveal a vast podium filled with 200 characters dressed in costumes spanning five centuries — to the front and left, you could distinguish what appeared to be Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I.
It was a breathtaking tableau, worthy of a Hollywood production — the costumes designed by Milena Canonero, who worked with Sofia Coppola on “Marie Antoinette.” Yet rather than tap into France’s storied past, as he famously did with his spring 2018 collection of brocade frock coats, Ghesquière used it as a jumping off point for a wild romp through time.
He kicked off with a return to his conceptual roots: chunky technical outerwear paired with ruffled leather or tulle skirts in cartoonishly large proportions. He picked up on the graphic elements of the color-blocked jackets to segue into a couple of motorcycle leather dresses and skirts.
Out tumbled more references: masculine checked and pin-striped suits, shown on androgynous models; Seventies-style leather coats with lush shearling collars and cuffs; vintage-inspired sequined slipdresses.
A gentlemanly waistcoat topped a ruched flight suit, while a garish matador jacket was slung over a chic gray wool version of biker pants.
“This collection is about sartorial ‘tuning,'” said Ghesquière, referring to the practice of customizing cars. “It’s sort of an anachrony of genres. It can simply be the pleasure of dressing and its many possibilities, free of protocol or constraint.”
Earlier in the week, at a press conference outlining the fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in May, sponsored by Vuitton, the designer had spoken about the joy of rifling through the institution’s archives.
“I Still Breathe the Past,” read a top worn with a sequined leather jacket and pants. Yet he also kept an eye on the future, with fabrics in glossy textures that appeared like protective shells.
Coming in the final slot of the monthlong fashion marathon, Ghesquière’s shows often seem jarringly disconnected from the rest. Viewed from the designer’s perspective, he has to make a bold statement if he doesn’t want to look stale.
With its haunting soundtrack — the costumed extras included a choir of 115 singers who performed a Baroque-meets-minimal composition by Woodkid and Bryce Dessner — this show spoke of the breadth of history, and our brief passage through it. It felt like a wonderful release.
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