Retro-futurism? Louis Vuitton AW21 was an ode to ancient-futurism at the Louvre

Nicolas Ghesquière is no stranger to retro-futurism, but the French creative director of Louis Vuitton took it one step further — or back — for AW21.

by Osman Ahmed
11 March 2021, 9:00am

No one does retro-futurism better than Nicolas Ghesquière. The French creative director of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear has a quixotic vision that blends the past and future: it’s just as inspired by Japanese video games as Nouvelle Vague, ‘80s sci-fi as much as city-slicker tailoring; old-school haute couture as much as high-tech sportswear. It’s what makes him the master of the genre-blurring sartorial collage; his collections are always a brilliant mash-up of past, present and future. For AW21, however, he took it one step further — or should that be ‘back’ — and looked to classical antiquity, collaborating with Italian design company Fornasetti and staging his show in the Louvre’s Greco-Roman and Etruscan galleries.

Founded in 1940 by Piero Fornasetti, Fornasetti is the Milanese design house that incorporated  the classical world into modern design — its most famous  creation is its plates, which feature the face of Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri. It was postmodernism before the word existed, which makes it the perfect pairing for Nicolas, the designer who has juxtaposed references like no other. Nicolas excavated never-before-seen motifs and drawings from the firm’s 13,000-piece archive and set to task on turning them into accessories and cashmere coats, overlaying its antiquity-inspired prints onto high-tech thermal-camera imagery and laser-printing it onto luxe fabrics and glittering embroidery. “As a designer who has always loved fashion’s ability to evoke the past, present and future simultaneously, I wanted to add new layers to this creative palimpsest,” he said in the show notes.

What does that look like? This season, Nicolas played with the idea of frothy, smocked skirts and trophy parkas, creating bubbled silhouettes that were artfully spliced-together from myriad textures and his signature acrylic colours. Each outfit had plenty to look at, whether it was the cocoon-like silhouette of a satin bomber, digi-printed tunics and outdoorsy anoraks, or the slouchy, sculptural boots — some with buckled toe straps, others in the style of Roman Gladiator sandals. Daft Punk’s Around the World set the tone for the models sauntering through the galleries, perhaps as a nod to Louis Vuitton’s associations with travel, but also because, well, the French DJ duo just split up, and it’s a house banger! The show ended with a tunic-style lurex dress (très Tiberius) emblazoned with motifs of Roman busts, the model wearing it standing atop the Daru staircase, right underneath the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It brought to mind another famous fashion scene that took place in the exact same spot: a scarlet-clad Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face. It was a great note to finish the AW21 season on, one with a pertinent message: soon the past will be behind us and we’ll be dressing for a bold, new future.

Louis Vuitton
Paris Fashion Week
Nicolas Ghesquière