The Louis Vuitton gallery at the Asnières workshops

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 1

If you love fashion and luxury, you may have heard of LVMH’s Journées Particulières. For the 3rd time last weekend, the industry leader opened its doors in France and other European countries for us to witness brands’ history and craftsmanship up close. Back in 2013, I visited the Berluti ateliers and the Christian Dior couture salons. This year, I had the chance to admire the Chaumet salons on place Vendôme and also the Louis Vuitton workshop in Asnières-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris.

Si vous aimez le luxe et le savoir-faire, vous avez sans doute entendu parler des Journées Particulières LVMH. Le weekend-dernier, le groupe a ouvert les coulisses de ses maisons en France et en Europe pour la 3ème fois. Lors de la dernière édition en 2013, j’avais visité les ateliers Berluti et les salons couture Christian Dior. Cette année, je me suis rendue dans les salons Chaumet situés place Vendôme, ainsi que dans les ateliers Louis Vuitton à Asnières-sur-Seine.

Ateliers Louis Vuitton Asnières

At Louis Vuitton, the visit took place in two parts. First, we went around the workshop itself. This is where the iconic pieces of the brand are created: trunks, rare leather goods and special orders. It was sadly forbidden to take pictures, but I can tell you that I was impressed by the precious leathers (python, ostrich, porosus…) that we got to touch, by how precise and careful the craftsmen were in their work and by the incredible special orders. For example, our guides showed a trunk designed for celebrity hairdresser John Nollet which was pretty much a portable hair salon, complete with flameless candles and a champagne box. The bed-trunk, originally designed for an explorer, had been recently ordered by a CEO who secretly wished to nap in his office. And we couldn’t help but chuckle at a cute Murakami-monogram trunk with a lipstick pink interior, ordered as a little girl’s toy box.

La visite s’est déroulée en deux temps. Tout d’abord, nous avons découvert les ateliers à proprement dit. C’est là que les artisans réalisent les pièces phares de la marque : malles à structure rigide, modèles en cuirs rares et commandes spéciales. Il était malheureusement interdit d’y prendre des photos. Cependant je peux vous dire que j’ai été impressionnée par les matières précieuses utilisées (python, autruche, porosus…), la précision des gestes des artisans et la folie des commandes spéciales. On a ainsi découvert l’incroyable malle / salon de coiffure portable du coiffeur de célébrités John Nollet, avec emplacement prévu pour bougies électriques et bouteille de champagne. La malle-lit, à l’origine conçue pour un expéditeur, a été commandée récemment par un PDG qui souhaite faire sa sieste discrètement dans son bureau. On a aussi rit devant la malle au logo Murakami avec intérieur rose bonbon… destiné à devenir le coffre à jouets d’une petite fille (riche).

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 5

Our guides then took us to another building housing the Louis Vuitton gallery. The objects on display on 2 floors tell us the history of the brand with the first trunks, the sources of inspiration behind the designs and collections by Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière. My pictures show the second floor which is dedicated to fashion and bags. The place is rarely open to the public and used more as a training center for Vuitton employees.

Nos guides nous ont ensuite amenés dans un autre bâtiment constituant la galerie Louis Vuitton. Ce lieu d’exposition sur 2 étages contient les pièces de collection retraçant l’histoire de la maison, les sources d’inspiration à travers les âges et les articles de mode dessinés par Marc Jacobs et Nicolas Ghesquière. L’endroit est rarement ouvert au public et sert davantage de point de formation pour le personnel de la maison. Dommage, il gagnerait vraiment à être un lieu d’exposition permanent ! Les photos sont celles du 2ème étage ; le 1er étage est destiné à la naissance de la maison avec les malles et son évolution suivant les progrès des modes de transport.

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 4

Luckily for us, Vuitton regulary holds exhibitions, like at the Grand Palais recently or the retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and it was fun to recognize the pieces seen there. I wish I could have spent more time in this gallery: the history of the brand is really interesting and it is fascinating to see how it transitioned into a leading luxury brand with its fashion collections over the past 20 years.

On redécouvre dans la galerie les pièces des récentes expositions Louis Vuitton, que ce soit celle du Grand Palais fin 2015 ou la rétrospective mode du Musée des Arts Décoratifs. J’ai eu beaucoup de plaisir à découvrir ce lieu : la maison a une histoire passionnante et a su se réinventer avec une créativité débridée sur les 20 dernières années. Il était intéressant de voir se confronter des pièces d’époques aussi différentes dans une seule pièce.

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 2Looks from Marc Jacobs’s last collection for Louis Vuitton. On the left: a trunk made to carry 36 (!) pair of shoes

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 3Silhouettes designed by Paul Poiret, an inspiration for the brand, and trunks that belonged to him. In the front, glass trunks designed by Nicolas Ghesquière.

Louis Vuitton mini malleThe Mini Malle, a clutch designed by Nicolas Ghesquière which uses the codes from the original (and much larger) Louis Vuitton trunk

Louis Vuitton window display elephant

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 6Silhouettes inspired by artists and designed by Marc Jacobs. In the back, projections of the Louis Vuitton Foundation. I highly recommend you visit this amazing building!

Louis Vuitton Asnières gallery 7Two white silhouettes: on the left, a design by Marc Jacobs for his first Louis Vuitton collection; on the right, design by Nicolas Ghesquière

VuittonNurses-1

Art and luxury: a necessary relationship?

VuittonNurses-1

Last week I attended a conference organized by my school on the relationship between luxury and art. The people around the table included Jennifer Flay, director of the FIAC art fair, and Lorenz Bäumer, a Place Vendôme high-jewelry designer who collaborated with Chanel for nearly 20 years. I found the discussion fascinating as it touched upon how our need to connect with art is used by brands as a marketing strategy. It is a debate that could go on and on but I just wanted to sum up the few points that were raised and elaborate a bit on them. And of course I would love to hear your opinion on the matter!

461_1prada_marfa_texas

Let’s start by a few definitions to see what separates luxury from art.

Luxury is an industry that creates objects that we use and wear with profitability goals in mind, hence for example the importance of it-bags in brand strategies.

Art by comparison questions and upsets. Art pieces are unique and have a meaning that is different to every one of us depending on our personal history. It can also be controversial. Lorenz Bäumer gave the example of Paul McCarthy’s Tree which was set up on Place Vendôme in October 2014. It sparked outrage and was damaged by protestors. After the terrorist attacks of January 2015, he felt people became more lenient towards art as they realized that freedom of speech should be protected. Broadly speaking, art has become more necessary than ever as an emotional relief when people find it harder to believe in formerly trustworthy values like politics and work.

What luxury and art do have in common is excellence and aesthetic, as well as bringing out a sense of comfort. The separation between them can be thin. There is this concept in Japan of “Living National Treasures”, craftsmen whose work is recognized as art for its level of excellence. And let’s not forget that designers are creatives too. Jennifer Flay talked about how fashion exhibitions were no different to her than art exhibitions. Indeed, I find it hard myself not to consider some haute-couture gowns as works of art. Not to mention that fashion can have a critical dimension. Yves Saint Laurent gave power to women with his Smoking; the tuxedo was controversial as women wearing pants were not allowed entrance in “good” restaurants and hotels in the 1970s. Later on, Jean Paul Gaultier challenged traditional gender roles with his collections. And there is a thin line between “designer” and “artist”. What do you make of designers who create costumes for art performances? I have in mind Riccardo Tisci who collaborated with the Paris Opera Ballet a couple of years ago.

Riccardo-Tisci-Bolero-Ballet-Costumes-Pictures

How do collaborations benefit luxury and art?

Collaborations between luxury and art can take many forms: sponsorships, commissions, creation of museums and performances to name a few. Not to mention that art can simply be a source of inspiration, as Yves Saint Laurent could testify with his Mondrian dresses.

One speaker pointed out that designers never call themselves “artists”: they are aware that they work on products, not works of art. Generally speaking, they have a great respect for art and collaborations often stem from the designers’ own passion. Marc Jacobs for example is known to be an avid collector and Louis Vuitton fashion flourished with partnerships during his time there. Collaborations could then be a means for luxury to get closer to a goal of emotional and aesthetical heights that only art can claim.

If we dig a little deeper, we can also see artistic collaborations as part of brands’ strategies to not lose their credibility. With globalization, partnerships with cheaper brands like H&M and the rise of social media, luxury has become widespread and no longer a precious rarity, thus losing its aura. Artistic partnerships allow brands to regain a touch of exclusivity. They create publicity for both parties and give access to different customers. Not that this is enough. Louis Vuitton is now considered too popular among luxury customers in the huge market that is China. Some of them go as far as to call it “a brand for secretaries”. Will initiatives such as the newly-opened Fondation Vuitton play a part in changing the brand’s image?

1062075_olafur-eliasson-a-la-fondation-louis-vuitton-le-choc-des-geants-web-tete-0203922687024

That said, art benefits from luxury as well. The industry has been a long-time sponsor of artistic events and businessmen like François Pinault are known for supporting the arts.

As such, art is a marketing argument that mass brands have started to take advantage of as well. For example, H&M recently featured a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog on a bag. Absolut Vodka is active in the art world. Such collaborations give the illusion that the brand is more high-end than it is. This is the next step after partnerships with luxury brands and designers, in which Karl Lagerfeld played a big part with H&M and Coca-Cola. If art becomes more widespread among mass retailers, luxury brands might better refocus and advertize on what they do best: high-quality and exclusive products. Think Hermès.

Image sources 1 2 3 4