nicolas ghesquière presents an electric trip through parisian style
Inside a model Pompidou Centre, Louis Vuitton's autumn/winter 19 collection celebrated the style tribes of the French capital.
If you were ever in doubt of the titanic might of Louis Vuitton, consider the fact that the brand just brought one iconic Parisian landmark to another, simply to set the scene for its new collection. Traditionally, it’s been Chanel that has operated on this scale -- bringing the Eiffel Tower to the Grand Palais, for instance, or a Mediterranean villa, even a snowy Alpine skiing town. Of course, there was already an Eiffel Tower not far from the Grand Palais — but the point was that this was a Chanel Eiffel Tower. Louis Vuitton brought the Pompidou to the Louvre for the sake of juxtaposition. Separated by just a few arrondissements, the former is a symbol of high-tech modern architecture and the latter a bastion of French tradition and history.
That's a suitable analogy for Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. “It was about the beauty of controversy,” he said after the show. He was talking about the Pompidou, which was designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers and was politically and culturally polarising when it opened in 1977. Over time, it became a symbol of modern Parisian urbanism. “Sometimes what we do in fashion is to discover shapes or new things that are controversial… It takes time to understand things, the eye gets used to it and we evolve.”
So his collection was filled with jarring eclecticisms, just like the quick-cut 80s soundtrack by Woodkid, which flitted from Egyptian Lover to Anne Clark to Suzanne Vega to MARRS to the Art of Noise. The clothes, too, had a slight 80s bent, accented by little leather watch caps and streamlined brothel-creepers. There were some pretty extreme silhouettes on display: triangular lapels that curved upwards, flounces that were stiff and sculptural (rather than romantic and floppy), asymmetrical shawls worn with A-line skirts, leather jackets with Montana-wide shoulders. That’s not to say they were unwearable, especially when spliced with chintzy Liberty-like florals quilted onto denim, biker jackets and trousers with zip-contouring.
“There isn’t a look that you can see throughout the show,” explained Ghesquière, who added that the idea came from memories of sitting and people-watching at two of his favourite spots near the Pompidou -- the Café Beaubourg and the now-defunct Café Costes, which was designed by Philippe Starck. “It is every community that has different signs of recognition: fashion people, street dancers, goths, ex-punks, museum people -- they can be quite eccentric.”
Ghesquière has always been interested in tribes, even during his early years at Balenciaga. But a lot has changed since then, and in many ways, the internet (and especially Instagram) has homogenised the way we dress and physically piece together our identities. Whereas once, subcultures were worn on one’s sleeve as a cipher of who you are and what you’re about, today they are performed online. That means that images of clothes don’t even have to correlate to an actual person wearing them -- just think of the rise of Lil Miquela; or how you may never have seen the person behind your favourite meme account.
It’s partly why normcore and basic items like jeans and sneakers have proliferated across luxury fashion, but also why the totems of subcultures, whether it’s punk or goth or posh, have been lost in what cultural theorist Ted Polhemus calls the “Supermarket of Style” where every world and every era you dreamed of is on offer like tins of soup on a supermarket shelf. No longer are we required to make meaningful long-term commitments to semiotic tribes, we now live in a more fluid and fragmented world where people can cut-and-paste stylistic identity at will. Plus, we’re living in a time when social media means that things are immediately lambasted and picked apart by anonymous trolls.
So is Ghesquière ready to be misunderstood and picked apart, like Renzo Piana and Richard Rogers before him? “Absolutely.”