I’m having a hard time in understanding what’s Nicolas Ghesquière‘s Louis Vuitton is about lately. Once a leader in fashion that was both ergonomic and absolutely intriguing, for seasons now the designer does some of the most gimmick-y fashion – and not in an ironic way. Also, I can’t picture who is actually wearing Louis Vuitton’s women’s ready-to-wear, expect for celebrities who are trapped by life-long contracts. The last show of Paris Fashion Week doesn’t feel like a cherry on top, but an event to which people feel forced to go to… because it’s LV after all. The show’s location was Cour Carrée. Ghesquière invited his longtime friend French artist Philippe Parreno to create an installation, and together with the Hollywood production designer James Chinlund they created a set that felt a little as if a spaceship had landed in the heart of Paris and the aliens had set up a fun fair for locals to see the special attraction. “It’s the first time I designed a collection in dialogue, in correspondence, with someone,” Ghesquière said at a preview, adding that Parreno’s sculpture was in fact “kind of a flower, a carnival flower.” Its massive proportions inspired the supersizing that happened on the runway. The cloche clés key holder that accessorizes many of the brand’s bags was enlarged, as were its Vachetta leather luggage tags, and the wallet that Ghesquière wears on a chain attached to a belt loop became a portfolio that the models clutched to their hips. Most of it looked silly. Something similar was happening with the cumbersome clothes. You might recognize the giant zipper pulls on HoYeon Jung’s opening look from one of the first Ghesquière collections. The designer reported that they’re the largest ever manufactured, and the process of zooming and exaggerating one element of a garment led to the scaling up of other parts as well. Which explains the hyperbolic neckline and hips of Jung’s crop top and skirt, and the oversized straps dangling from the inner hems of vests and jackets, like sportswear panniers. “There is always that game of what is real and what is manipulated,” he explained. “Being with Philippe and working through the eyes of an artist,” Ghesquière said, “sometimes I had the feeling we were a little childish. I think I was maybe more free to break some boundaries for myself.” Releasing your inner child is fine. But I wish Nicolas delivered fashion that’s substantial and not so pointlessly painful for the eye.
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It’s been a while since I truly enjoyed a Louis Vuitton collection by Nicolas Ghesquière. Something clicked again for me. The collection was a powerful ode to goddesses – of the past, present and future. The resort 2023 line-up – presented in La Jolla, California – was a wonderful reminder of how forever-forward this Parisian designer is.
His two post-pandemic Paris shows and the one shown in USA, form a sort of trilogy, starting in the 19th century, making a pitstop in the ’90s of his own post-adolescence, and zooming off into a utopian future. At all three Ghesquière has set out to break down dress codes and build up complex silhouettes. And here’s another Vuitton epic: Ghesquière has made a tradition of staging his cruise shows at architectural marvels. John Lautner’s Bob Hope House in Palm Spring, Oscar Niemeyer’s Niteroi Museum in Rio de Janeiro, I. M. Pei’s Miho Museum outside Kyoto, and now the Louis Kahn-designed Salk Institute in La Jolla. Kahn’s masterpiece, its monumentality is matched by its humanity, but Ghesquière was as switched on by its setting as by its Brutalist concrete. “The guest of honor for the show is the sun,” he said poetically. “The elements are invited.” This was a collection about playing with those elements. He chose metallic fabrics and embellishments that reflected the setting sun, some as glassy as mirrors, and other materials that offered protection from it, wrapping long swathes of linen, for example, around the head and across the body. Other pieces lifted design details from water sports; the airbrushed colors of half tops and boxy short skirts apparently came from jet skis. Ghesquière is a designer whose collections are minutely pored over and studied, and some of these gestures looked like callbacks to earlier seasons, only amplified, maximal where he used to be minimal and streamlined. The show began and ended with a bang. The opening dresses, one more voluminous than the next, were cut from robust jacquards (he compared them to molten lava) that looked like they really could’ve repelled enemy fire. The effect was almost stately, but for the soft-soled sneakers they padded out on. At the finish came a trio of jackets with enormous sculpted collars as shiny as armor perched above tinsel sleeves. These were extraordinary: imaginative and otherworldy. Ghesquière was firing on all creative cylinders here, creating a positive feedback loop. You left wanting to be one of his Amazon superheroine goddesses.
The latest Louis Vuitton collection makes no sense. But not in a surreal way like at Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe, where the absurd was both hilarious and intriguing, and conveyed through jaw-dropping craftsmanship. In general, Nicolas Ghesquière‘s recent runway offerings look peculiar and overworked, but his autumn-winter 2022 collection wins with its randomness and chaos. Of course, there’s a reason behind that madness. Time has been a subtext for Ghesquière since the beginning of his tenure at Louis Vuitton. He’s made a practice of mashing up references and collapsing centuries in the process, most famously when he combined Louis XVI frock coats with running shorts and sneakers on a sub-floor of the Louvre that was once a medieval moat. This show wasn’t hooked to a particular era as much as it was to a time frame: young adulthood. In prepared notes, Ghesquière called the collection “an excursion into a perceptible, fleeting, and decisive moment when everything comes to the fore, in all its innocence and insight. The impermanence and beautiful volatility of adolescence.” He conjured that state of being most straightforwardly with a trove of photographs by David Sims. The photographer came of age in the 1990s – like Ghesquière himself – and shook up the status quo the generation before him established by shooting his peers and other young people with a vérité grit that eventually became the look of that period. By applying and embroidering Sims’ images onto floral jacquard polos, some of that edgy spirit seeped in here. Channeling the sense of youthful experimentation he remembers, Ghesquière topped evening dresses with sporty rugby shirts or chunky sweaters wrapped around waists. He also played with androgynous tailoring, often in oversized shapes, styled with tacky-looking men’s ties. Other silhouettes looked delineated from Ghesquière’s more extravagant collection for spring, only here the pannier and bustle shapes were remixed in softer embroidered knit and tweed, which made them look more everyday. The location – Musée D’Orsay’s main hall – had nothing to do with the collection’s forced spontainety. “Freedom is all,” the designer, “without directive or impediment.” But why should that freedom look so haphazard? I miss the times when Ghesquière’s work was more streamlined and focused – both at Balenciaga, and in his first seasons for Louis Vuitton.
During his eight collection residency, Virgil Abloh, who passed away in November 2021, turned the house of Louis Vuitton upside down and inside out. He made the exclusive inclusive. Autumn-winter 2022 collection apparently marked the final segment of that arc, and in the set at least it appeared to come full circle. The collection was named “Louis Dreamhouse“, and around the runway were scattered the upended elements of a house that had been hit by some enormous force of energy now spent. In one corner was a staircase, from which opening dancers bounced up and down on hidden trampolines. An empty bed rested alongside the roof and chimney, from which a homey puff of steam emerged. On the other side of the roof was a long dining table, down which sat the Chineke! Orchestra musicians whose performance of a Tyler the Creator-composed piece contributed swooningly to making the show so moving. On the wall above them a stopped clock read the time as eight, on the dot.
The collection unfolded on 20 dancers and 67 models. Abloh’s great gift as both designer and lightning rod – masterfully to navigate an elusive commonality of commodity and community in order to service the former and uplift the latter – was posthumously still very much alive, even when referencing death. The inclusion of a Jim Phillips-esque Grim Reaper graphic was a breathtaking detail from a man designing his own legacy while gazing upon his own mortality. Bags came shaped as bouquets. The closing four all-white looks, some featuring Leonardo-esque wings, required no interpretation. Then there were the two tapestried looks, one on a topcoat, the other on an acutely waisted parka, upon which were reproduced De Chirico’s The Melancholia of Departure, a piece the artist created multiple versions of. These, said the notes, were illustrative of the 2020 Abloh-termed concept named “Maintainamorphosis,” defined as “the principle that ‘old’ ideas should be invigorated with value and presented alongside the ‘new,’ because both are equal in worth.” Returning then to the “old,” it was back in June 2018 for collection 1, his very first for Louis Vuitton, that Abloh transmitted multiple references to The Wizard Of Oz, all of them specific to Dorothy’s dream. As members of Abloh’s design studio came out en masse to a standing ovation after his very last collection for Louis Vuitton, they stood within the inside-out of Abloh’s cyclone-scattered dreamhouse.
What an irreplaceable force he was. Gone too soon.