This is Nicolas Ghesquière’s second resort collection for Louis Vuitton without a destination show. A year ago in the early months of the pandemic he staged a studio shoot, but this time around he filmed a short movie at Axe Majeur, a sculpture park outside of Paris conceived by the late Israeli environmental artist Dani Karavan. An in-the-know local says of the place, “You feel like you’re outside time. You could be in some indeterminate future or some past utopia vision of the future.” Anyone familiar with Ghesquière knows that that description jibes with his career-long interests in sci-fi and outer space and with the time-collapsing fashion he’s made his métier at Vuitton. The monumental setting definitely befits a collection that was partly inspired by the nascent possibility of space tourism. In fact, Ghesquière said the prospect of public space travel inspired the collection’s anachronistic prints, which set an escalator, a basketball court, and a roadside motel, among other things, amidst alien landscapes. There were also parachute pleats on minidresses, pants with the padded quilting of spacesuits, and nods to the iconic vinyl of André Courrèges, the French designer whose streamlined Space Age creations of the 1960s still read as futuristic half a century later. “It’s a very optimistic, joyful collection,” he said. “There’s a jubilance to it.” This was reflected in the heraldic tailoring, a top and skirt aflutter with feathers, and a cocktail dress that glittered like a disco ball. A group of silk blouses with cape-like backs that added softness to the structure of their accompanying pencil skirts and high-waisted trousers achieved a more everyday kind of chic lift-off. However, personally, the collection doesn’t click for me – just like most of Ghesquière’s recent offerings for the brand.
Nicolas Ghesquière continues to induldge in his favourite theme: a journey through time. Past, present, future. He made Louis Vuitton‘s autumn-winter 2021 runway of the Louvre’s Denon wing, his models mingling with ancient Roman, Greek, and Etruscan sculptures to the tunes of Daft Punk’s mega-hit “Around the World.” The notoriously hard-to-get duo agreed to lend the song for the show weeks ago, he said, pre-breakup. He also divined a collaboration with the Italian design atelier Fornasetti, and its famous hand-drawn faces of women from antiquity peered out from all manner of clothes and leather goods. “Since we are all in a motionless situation, we have to double our imagination of inventing an extraordinary journey,” Ghesquière told Vogue. That goes for the collection as much as the production values surrounding it. Propelled by the concept of movement, he alternated between blouson jackets and cocooning capes on the one hand and elongated torsos punctuated with skirts that bubbled around the knees on the other. Nearly all the looks were accompanied by wedge-heel boots with a slouchy, swaggering disposition. In general, I found most of the looks too clumsy, even though this collection was a showcase for the LV atelier’s savoir faire: jewel-encrusted tunics peeked from under color-blocked parkas and bombers, and otherwise simple ’60s-ish dresses in A-line or sack shapes were minutely embroidered in graphic patterns and motifs. The closing pair of gladiator dresses were canvases for Fornasetti drawings of ancient statuary. “I wanted something impactful, something that conveys hope and joy for what’s coming next, and for people to have a good time watching,” Ghesquière said. “A moment of fashion.” Well, there were better Ghesquière fashion moments in history, but this will do as the official end of digital fashion month.
I’m really unconvinced by this Louis Vuitton collection delivered by Nicolas Ghesquière. It just felt so clumsy and messy. Which can’t be said of the show’s venue, which nearly each season looks better than the actual clothes on Vuitton’s runway (sorry…). Interspersed among the live audience in the freshly remodeled-by-LVMH La Samaritaine department store were 360-degree cameras that allowed viewers at home to swivel in their chairs, watch models coming and going, and see who did and didn’t score a better seat. It was almost like being there. “This season is very new in every way. The conditions that we’re facing are making us think differently. We came up with the idea of different degrees of presence.” In addition to the 360-degree cameras, green screens lined the walls and, in some places, the floors of La Samaritaine. Viewers of the livestream – the third way to watch and hear the show (there were live mics) – saw footage from Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire. Beyond the ’80s-ish silhouettes that have long been a touchpoint for the designer (and I think that’s the problem!), the connection between the Wenders movie and Ghesquière’s collection, was angels, which have two wings, but no gender. “My question this season was less about one theme; it was about this zone between femininity and masculinity,” he explained. “This zone is highlighted by nonbinary people, people that are taking a lot of freedom dressing themselves as they want, and, in turn, giving a lot of freedom to all of us. I found it inspiring to explore what the items are that represent this wardrobe that is not feminine, not masculine. I wanted to zoom in on that section in between.” The show began with a look that combined a timely Vote t-shirt (his absent American friends appreciated that) and baggy pleated chino pants cinched with a thick belt. It was emblematic of a collection that felt more spontaneous and street-ready than some of Ghesquière’s more glamorous outings. Basically, the entire line-up was kept in this sporty style. I’m intrigued by Nicolas’ take on the genderless fashion hitting such bourgeois brand as Louis Vuitton, but the clothes just don’t express that to me.
For many people still working from home, the word “office” sounds abstract. Tailoring isn’t a novelty in the resort 2021 collections, but only the Louis Vuitton line-up by Nicholas Ghesquière makes you think that some day, the “business” dress-code will come back to our lives and replace the lazy Zoom homewear. Emphasizing the more everyday, less editorial aspect of his ready-to-wear, the look-book was shot on location in Louis Vuitton’s Paris headquarters. A photocopier stands at attention in the opening shot, and exit signs and fire doors appear in the background of others. The promise of gorgeous hourglass blazers and chic silk blouses makes the longing for “back to life” life even more intense… but this wasn’t the only aspect of the collection (which, by the way, was good without any far-fetched venue location). “I looked somewhere that has been calling out to me for a long time, somewhere I hadn’t taken the time to go back to. It was like a reset to uncover one inspiration after another, to imagine the next steps and how to create and work within this new context. I took the time to explore my creative identity and prepare the future.” Confronted with the unknowns of the coronavirus and the crushing recession it precipitated, designers have been revisiting their past successes. Nicolas Ghesquière is among them, though the search for lost time is not only a quarantine pursuit for him. On his autumn-winter 2020 runway, with the then as-yet uncanceled Met Gala and its theme of “Fashion and Duration” still on the horizon, Ghesquière held up a mirror to his own work. For this resort collection, he followed similar guidelines – lifting cargo pants from one collection and frilly rococo collars from another, and reuniting with the blouson shapes of the 1980s he likes – with results that read more easier than his runway outings typically do. Additionally, running through the collection is a playing-card leitmotif. When asked, Ghesquière claimed “the tarot” as his favorite card game, “because it can be used in many different ways. And the cards are full of symbols.” Nonetheless, he made effective use of the clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades of the playing-card deck. They bear more than a passing resemblance to the elements of the Louis Vuitton monogram, which Ghesquière made the most of by hybridizing them and then either adding them as decorative details on bags, or supersizing them as color-blocked patterns on streamlined mini and maxi dresses.
This season, Louis Vuitton‘s Nicolas Ghesquière enlisted the costume designer Milena Canonero, a frequent collaborator of Stanley Kubrick’s, to create a monumental backdrop of 200 choral singers, each one clothed in historical garb dating from the 15th century to 1950. It was a mammoth undertaking, and a truly beautiful one. “I wanted a group of characters that represent different countries, different cultures, different times,” Ghesquière explained beforehand. “I love this interaction between the people seated in the audience, the girls walking, and the past looking at them—these three visions mixed together.” The time-collapsing sensation was heightened by the fact that the chorus performed was a composition by Woodkid and Bryce Dessner based on the work of Nicolas de Grigny, a contemporary of Bach’s. All of today’s fashion is a synthesis of the past, but Ghesquière makes a closer study of it than most. He’s compelled by the anachronous. A few seasons ago he clashed 18th-century frock coats and the high-tech trainers, creating a look as full of contrasts as the times we live in. For autumn-winter 2020, he offers even more time clashes: jewel-encrusted boleros (I can already see Rosalia performing in one of those) meet parachute pants, buoyant petticoats are paired with fitted tops whose designs looked cribbed from robotics, bourgeois tailoring is layered over sports jerseys. My favourite look of the collection – a sheer tulle dress with latex finishings worn over a leather motocross body – carried the quintessence of Ghesquière’s concept. The collection comes perfectly in time with the upcoming Met Gala (which is scheduled for the beginning of May and isn’t surrendering to coronavirus – for now) and its theme. Nicolas is the cohost of the gala, and Louis Vuitton is sponsoring the Costume Institute exhibition, “About Time: Fashion and Duration”. Just as in the exhibition’s idea, the collection says it out loud: fashion is a mirror of the present moment, built from the past. And it has future, as well.