One of the most memorable moments whilst touring the Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition at 180 the Strand in London, which will be coming to a close on the 18th October, came just as we were about to exit. It was behind the video screen room, entirely exposed, with cables and plastic sheeting there for all to see. That was left as such on purpose. “This is the back of the experience with its pants down,” remarked Es Devlin, the renowned stage designer, who was showing me around as she has been working with Nicolas Ghesquière since S/S 15 on the staging of his shows and on the creative direction of these Series exhibitions.
“So erm… Louis Vuitton were ok with this?” I asked tentatively as I peered into the industrial space with its metal shelving and exposed projectors. According to Devlin, Michael Burke, the CEO of Louis Vuitton was the first person to really urge Devlin and Ghesquière to expose all of it. “They’re so up for it,” affirmed Devlin. “I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.”
That illustrated just how different this brand immersive exhibition is to the ones we’ve seen before in the past. Dior’s Miss Dior and Esprit Dior or Chanel’s Little Black Jacket exhibitions that have toured the world often feel like branded Disneylands, designed to delight, tell a straightforward narrative and re-affirm the history of each house in a very deliberately spoon-fed way. At Louis Vuitton, we’re starting a new chapter with Nicolas Ghesquière. This exhibition dubbed Series 3 follows on from Series 1 and Series 2, where each of Ghesquière’s game changing collections have been explored. “Whilst I respect the patrimony of the house, I’m also here to look forward and create something new,” said Ghesquière backstage after his most recent S/S 16 show. That also in turn sums up the point of this exhibition. The history of Louis Vuitton and what it represents as a house lingers in the background, but isn’t hammered into you like a branded bludgeon. Instead the focus is on the way Ghesquiere’s thought process behind the A/W 15-6 show reveals itself to you through ways that you might not have thought about. It’s the antithesis to linear story telling and easy-to-digest brand messaging. For the fashion rabid amongst us, that felt exciting. And for the everyday person passing by? It could be a head scratcher.
“For Nicolas, that idea of a museum exhibit is not his thing at all,” said Devlin. “We could have taken his moodpboard and sketchbooks and hung up some of the clothes and left it at that. But we just wanted to approach it in the way that Nicolas would do anything he does – with imagination.” Imagination is exactly what’s required when stepping into a room where Juergen Teller’s poem is read out by actress Adele Exarchopoulos underneath a geodesic structure, mirroring the set of the A/W 15-6 show. Through a wind tunnel you’re then confronted with an archive Louis Vuitton trunk, from which characters, CAD-like break downs of the Petite Malle and the set are unpacked on to a 360 degree surround screen. Then you enter a recreation of the A/W 15-6 show space where models walk at you in different directions and you can sit wherever you like to see the show in different angles, which is essentially an expanded view on the rigid structure of show formats. Devlin was interested in the participatory experience of a fashion show. “How do I share a fashion show with my mates?” she asked.
Exposed behind the scenes debris
Recreation of the A/W 15-6 showspace with models walking towards you
Over the next series of rooms, Ghesquiere challenges the presentation of “savoir-faire” not with classical and nostalgic demonstrations but with a futuristic vision that involves close-up cameras zooming in on artisans putting together the Petite Malle, a leather laser-cutting room and the making of a bag, presented in real time and sped up as an abstract interpretation of those skilled hands.
Artisans from Asnières making the Petite Malle with close-up cameras
Videos of hands in simultaneous in real time and sped up
Laser cutting machines following the lines of pattern pieces for the Petite Malle
In essence, it’s also a more abstract exhibition to engage with but one that intrigues if you stay there just that bit longer. It’s not an exhibition for quickie selfies just to say you were there – although the physical takeaways of the motif stickers, are obviously social media worthy but one that’s open to interpretation and there to be unpicked. That’s Ghesquière in a nutshell though. His collections aren’t open books either, that can be read in an instant, which is precisely what makes them exciting. It’s why Alexander Fury and I were able to spend an hour “unpacking” the fashion identity that Ghesquière is creating at Louis Vuitton. Why the Petite Malle holds so much significance as a symbol of the coming together of Ghesquière with Louis Vuitton’s history. Why he looks at the archives and is able to extract symbols, motifs and techniques and incorporate them into the clothes. Why we never really associated a fashion silhouette with Louis Vuitton but how in a few years, that short and sharp A-line 1970s inflected ensemble feels very “Vuitton” and has subsequently permeated into other designers’ work.
Exploring the A/W 15-6 wardrobe
The view from the lounge, looking out on to a London in flux, much like Louis Vuitton
Those stickers that make excellent physical souvenirs
A teenage bedroom taped up with campaign images
Which brings us neatly to Ghesquière’s latest collection presented in Paris last week. If Series 3 is one indicator of how visions of the future intrigue Ghesquière, then S/S 16 saw these ideas really gestate in the clothes. The wardrobe has been made concrete with the first few collections. And now Ghesquière is free to hurtle towards the unknown, towards a future that plunges Louis Vuitton into a very exciting moment, where you don’t quite know what to expect. The beginning of the show, soundtracked by an ad for the game Minecraft said as much. “Let’s go whoever you want to go… build anything you want. Build your own little community…Nobody can tell you what you can or cannot do. With no rules to follow, this adventure begins now.”
Where we went clothing wise wasn’t necessarily a stretch. This wasn’t about creating sci-fi costumes fit for the films like Tron (original and rebooted), Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 or the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which Ghesquière cited as inspirations for the collection. The wardrobe is still there but this time, amplified by unexpected techniques and sharpness. The opening pink leather jacket on Fernanda takes on an anime-like saturation (along with her Sailor Moon-esque headband). Metallic embroideries on black mirror oscillate between flowers and motherboards. The softness of billowing poet’s blouses and Edwardian-esque bubble-hemmed dresses are contrasted with motocross panelled trousers and leather holster straps. Ghesquière also exercises his fabrication prowess with gel induction embroideries that look like liquid capsules adhered on to silk jumpsuit as well as coiling sequins under painted tulle for a finale of mind-bending dresses that look straight out of Cloud Atlas (starring the Korean actress Doona Bae, who Ghesquière is really inspired by).
I was really struck by what Ghesquière said about looking at this digital and virtual world as some sort of a reality. Fashion has had to confront the digital world with anxiety and trepidation over the last ten years. And even now, there remains scepticism. At Alber Elbaz of Lanvin’s latest exhibition “Alber Elbaz / Lanvin: Manifeste” at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which I wrote about for AnOtherMag.com, it begins with a classic Elbaz quote inscribed on the window: “In this digital age, we live through our screens, documenting the moment. We no longer look; we film. We no longer listen; we tape. And we no longer talk; we post.”
I loved the exhibition and its contents but to that quote, I’d have to heartedly disagree. Can we not live through our screens and also take in life outside? Can we not look AND film? Listen AND tape? Talk and post. Ghesquière’s collection for Louis Vuitton seemed to highlight the joys of our cyber lives. It is a reality, and one that can be reversed now. Devices, screens and connecting without physically being present aren’t going away anytime soon. And by embracing that, Ghesquière manages to unlock something incredibly potent in his own work.
When Louis Vuitton has previously talked about travelling – it’s in reference to its steam boats, carriage and planes – now that journey is one that travels through data and pixels. Being along for the ride suddenly feels exhilarating because the final destination is unknown as yet.
Louis Vuitton Series 3 on until 18th October at 180 The Strand, London – ticket booking not necessary, walk-ins welcome