Louis Vuitton: The Ghesquière Years, Taken From Issue 63
The tastemaker of our time, over the past six years, Nicolas Ghesquière has gone from the shock of ultra-luxe normcore to a new, cacophonous individualism. Here’s the show-by-show account.
A year after his sudden departure from Balenciaga in November 2012, the futuristic fashion ace, Nicholas Ghesquiére, announced his next move: he would replace Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. The biggest name in luxury, this house is blessed with lavish resources and expert craftsmanship. Add Ghesquière’s visionary talent to the mix and the possibilities become endless. All of which made his debut even more surprising. Freja Beha Erichsen took to the catwalk (a vast marquee pitched in the Cour Carrée, an inner courtyard at the Louvre), wearing a perfect black leather, snap-front, A-line coat, A-line cream minidress, and knee-high boots. Swinging from her fingers was a miniature Vuitton trunk – the first sighting of the Petite Malle. With her Françoise Hardy fringe and easy, breezy attitude, Erichsen could have been a latter-day It-girl heading out for a café au lait.
The king of experimental futurism was serving a shock dose of ultra-luxe normcore. The precision of the cut and the richness of the materials were unmistakable, but, said Ghesquière, “The clothes have to be functional… What do the girls around me want to wear?” Forget fashion histrionics. Ghesquière’s Vuitton mission was to build, “a wardrobe”.
Ghesquière made a bold entry onto the destination-show circuit with a runway at the Place du Palais in Monaco. Guests (including Princess Charlene) sat on specially commissioned Pierre Paulin sofas and watched as Nathan Westling, Maggie Rizer and Liya Kebede showed off Pepto-Bismol-pink co-ords peppered with playful portholes.
This show inaugurated the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a Frank Gehry-designed spaceship-cum-art hub in the Bois du Boulogne, and was the first of many Ghesquière catwalks held at landmark architectural sites. In the basement show space, android-like models intoned “The journey starts here” on video screens. Then we travelled through time to the 1960s with white lace shift dresses, velvet kick flares and A-line striped leather minis. The Twist bag made its debut.
In a space-age te-pee at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Ghesquière upped the drama with yeti coats, silver knits slashed at the bust, and metal “tech” trunks. Fernanda Ly made her Vuitton debut and almost stole the show with her baby-pink hair.
To Palm Springs and the concrete swoop of Bob Hope’s flying-saucer house, designed by John Lautner. Ghesquière introduced a new maxi proportion – a weaponised version of the 1930s screen-siren dresses, crisscrossed with leather straps – and pushed craft to the fore with leather broderie prairie dresses.
Tron: Legacy, Wong Kar-wai’s 2046, anime and gaming all fed into this space-saga-meets-boho collection of moto jackets and bubble skirts.
A tough-girl muse emerges. Ghesquière’s idea? Tomb Raider meets futuristic treasure hunter. Top of the shopping list were giant trapper hats, red leather biker trousers and tractor-soled bovver boots (still in the collection to this day).
The Oscar Niemeyer-designed Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, rising from the sea on a Rio cliff edge was the backdrop for a collection that tilted to Millennial taste, with Zendaya in the audience and sporty body-con knits on the catwalk.
Held in the shell of what became the vast, art-filled Maison Louis Vuitton on Place Vendôme, this focused on Parisian chic. New to the Ghesquière lexicon were 1980s shoulders – and the Petite Malle iPhone case was born.
The cultural ambition of Ghesquière’s Vuitton is impressive. This show was the first to be held inside the Louvre, with models snaking through the central sculpture atrium. The designer’s wardrobe building continued apace with slinky bias dresses paired with chisel-toe cowboy boots.
Next on the Vuitton architectural world tour? IM Pei’s Miho Museum outside Kyoto, Japan. Notably, Ghesquière collaborated with Kansai Yamamoto (who made David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust looks) for a series of illustrated sequined dresses. Did someone say collector’s item?
This show was a high point. Couture-level embroidered frock coats were paired with silk running shorts, and Ghesquière’s Archlight sneakers, with their distinctive, high-rise, curved soles, making their debut. The audacity of his fashion time travelling – taking us from the 18th century to the 21st in one outfit made this his boldest Vuitton collection so far.
The tweedy skirt suits and respectable silk blouses of bourgeois chic were about to become a “thing”. Precise, strict, rigorous, the silhouettes were inspired by the women Ghesquière grew up with in the small town of Loudun, western France.
Against the backdrop of Miró’s Labyrinth at the Fondation Maeght, on the French Riviera, this exhilarating collection championed craft and individualism. Having just renewed his contract with the house, Ghesquière sent out confident models crunching along the gravel in thigh-high Archlight boots. The designer spoke of his mission: “Balancing an incredible heritage with a constant quest for innovation.”
This show allowed Ghesquière to “dig into my obsessions”, namely space-age styling and empowering women. He did this with glorious, metallic, floral jacquard astronaut suits and joyful Memphis Group prints. It was also a significant moment for one of Ghesquière’s favourite models: it was Westling’s last show. Eight months later, he would return to the catwalk as Nathan.
Ghesquière recreated the distinctive Centre Pompidou exterior inside a tent at the Louvre. This epic set build created a discombobulating “meta” museum moment and ushered in new-wave, 1980s eclecticism, marked by extreme silhouettes, flamboyant colours and next-level craftsmanship. Backstage, Ghesquière talked of a “melting pot of different tribes coming together”. Rather than variations on a theme, each model wore individually crafted looks. This was high-stakes high fashion.
The Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Centre at New York’s JFK airport opened in 1962, looking like a white concrete stealth bomber. It’s now a hotel, and so the models stalked the lobby in a satin board shorts, strass-embellished capes, bubble skirts and crystal-studded bustiers. Ghesquière’s cacophony of styles matched the frenetic energy of New York.
Photographs by Jason Lloyd-Evans. Taken from Issue 63 – MONIED, SOCIETY, SUBMIT – on newsstands now.