The Place Vendôme, like Louis Vuitton, is a monumental triumph of French luxury branding. The grandest square in Paris – which is not square but octagonal, faceted like a diamond so the rows of tall symmetrical windows reflect the maximum amount of sunlight – is an illusion. The Place Vendôme is a facade, a 300-year-old shopfront, behind which the owner of each plot is free to rebuild at will, so long as what the well-heeled shoppers on the pavement see is unaffected.
Louis Vuitton, the new owners of a large plot in the south-east corner, operates in a similar way. The name above the door remains paramount, whoever is working behind the scenes. Whether they are buying a bag designed by Nicolas Ghesquière, as now, or one created by Marc Jacobs five years ago, the customer is paying for a Louis Vuitton bag.
Moving his catwalk show from the Fondation Louis Vuitton art gallery, where it has been staged for the past two years, to the concrete shell that will become the brand’s Place Vendôme flagship store in 2017, Ghesquière seemed to shift his focus from fashion as art to fashion as commerce – or at least, a blend of the two.
“People expect sportswear from Vuitton now,” he said backstage, alluding to his leaning toward futuristic, technical fashion. “But they also want high luxury from Vuitton, always. So I was thinking, how can I fuse those?”
The night before his show, Ghesquière Instagrammed a photo of himself using an iPhone 6 case modelled on the current Vuitton “it” bag, the Petite Malle, which is a miniature version of the famous brown and gold travel trunks. The same phone cases appeared on the runway, carried by models wearing fluid, lean dresses, vaguely sporty in silhouette but in exquisite fabrics.
“I was thinking about the Place Vendôme, and what Parisian sophistication means today. About that woman who is dressed up and embellished, and just carrying her phone,” he said. The phone case as an alternative to the handbag is a strikingly modern image – and a lucrative line to add to the shop floor.
There was a direct connection between the clothes on the Vuitton catwalk and what chic women wear now, and the instant desire it generated in the audience was palpable. The collection, the last major show of Paris fashion week, was one of the best of the week.
There were long skirts gathered at the hip for elegance and ease of movement, and slim trousers worn with boots. Traditional tropes of Parisian dress-up were modernised: Swiss dot lace remade in metallic beads, for instance. Last season’s chunky, heeled hiking boots – a front-row stalwart at this Paris fashion week – have evolved into a elegant take on the cowboy boot.
There were party clothes – electric-blue caviar lace was a standout – and tailored suits. “I was thinking about women who get dressed up not just to go out, but for how they look at work. It’s funny how men have never let go of the suit,” said Ghesquière.
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