Genius at Work
When we think luxury, constant reinvention doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. Those who seek renewal are generally better off heading for hip-hop or Madonna to see how it’s done; those experts sample the past and reconfigure it for a generation whose own history is still measured in years, not decades—let alone centuries.
And therein lies the struggle for most luxury brands: how to reconcile tradition with the sort of irreverence (and bling) that today’s consumers associate with status and wealth. So how do those behind the 152-year-old Louis Vuitton brand do it?
Setting their elite history to a pulsing, throbbing beat has made LV fashion’s pop chameleon. “We have the strength of our roots and, yet, we never hesitate in front of new ideas, like reinventing the Monogram bag in denim and creating a new identity,” says Yves Carcelle, president and CEO of Louis Vuitton. “When you carry Vuitton, you carry more than 150 years of craftsmanship, amazing quality and the memory of the last Marc Jacobs show. There is real emotion in that, and to me that is luxury.”
If Vuitton has street cred, it is thanks to the arrival of Marc Jacobs in 1997. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Jacobs has a personal style that is comfortable and off-the-cuff—if it weren’t cool, it would be nerdy. That his streetwise signature fashion and his ladylike looks for Vuitton have made him the unrivaled king of cool on both sides of the Atlantic is something that, with typical eloquence and self-effacement, the designer attributes to naturalness and honesty. “I really think it comes from a variety of people,” he told FLARE. “It is about keeping an open mind to new and different things and keeping an integrity and an openness to clothes.”
Fast-forward to last fall, when the house partied rock-star style with a fashion show and reception in the newly restored turn-of-the-century museum Petit Palais. The building was splashed in a projection of the Monogram logo. At the party afterward, the main attraction was a performance by burlesque star Dita Von Teese, whose signature number starts with a bubblebath in an oversized champagne glass. A few blocks up the Champs-Elys ées, the brand was inaugurating its new Paris flagship, a promenade called the Maison Champs-Elysées. It’s another landmark building, one with a soaring atrium, “metallic skin” walls and contemporary artwork by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson (a pitch-dark elevator) and a cultural space upstairs, the Espace Louis Vuitton, which opened with a temporary photo exhibiton of the work of artist Vanessa Beecroft.
At the Fall ’06 show, Jacobs sent out a sampling of rich layers and prim suits that would please any traditionalist, but also a disco-silver Monogram Miroir Keepall in embossed vinyl, a DJ bag with a gold headphone strap and oversized hoods in nylon and mink that were no runway stunt—they will actually hit shelves. Here was the designer who, in the early ’90s, invented grunge (which cost him his job at Perry Ellis at the time), riffing himself for France’s oldest luxury leather-goods maker. Could a French designer be this gutsy?
To read more about how Marc Jacobs is revitalizing Louis Vuitton, pick up Flare’s September issue – in stores now!