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Nicolas Ghesquière’s sublime Cruise control, at Louis Vuitton

Alex Fury
photo 5 e1400367760541 225x300 Nicolas Ghesquières sublime Cruise control, at Louis Vuitton

Looks from Nicolas Ghesquière's Cruise 2015 collection for Louis Vuitton

An Abba lyric once name-checked the principality of Monaco: “So I must leave, I’ll have to go/To Las Vegas or Monaco.” The song was called Money, Money, Money, and Misses Fältskog and Lyngstad intended to net a fortune on the roulette tables. Louis Vuitton came to Monaco this season, the implication being they also wanted to make a bomb. That implication came from the fact that Vuitton were showing Cruise.

Those are the clothes I’ve been blathering on about for the past fortnight, if you hadn’t been paying attention: clothes that are shifting before our very eyes from poorly-defined rail filler to high-definition catwalk focus. Shall we do the maths about the combined costs of the Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton shows staged in almost breakneck succession in New York, Dubai and Monte Carlo? Incidentally, they’re all hubs for the wealthy women that buy these clothes – many turned out in force, and in full regalia, to sit in the audience. That was a bit like being at Knowsley Safari Park, observing the clientele in their natural habitat, their mating rituals, displays of power and plumage.

Anyhow, that Abba quotation implied a gamble. This Vuitton show wasn’t a gamble: it was a sure bet. Louis Vuitton is one of the most secure luxury goods houses in the world. It is estimated that over half of the entire population of Japan own a Louis Vuitton product; and while Vuitton mania reaches its utmost there, it’s by no means an isolated isle. The Louis Vuitton monogram has to be one of the sounded fashion investments of the past couple of decades.

In a sense, that gives Nicolas Ghesquière an enormous amount of freedom. He doesn’t have to turn around a moribund house, like the defibrillation performed by Karl Lagerfeld on Chanel back in 1983. He also doesn’t have to establish a fashion identity for a house that previously had only an accessories business, like Marc Jacobs did at Vuitton in the late nineties. He doesn’t even have to do a repeat performance of his own feat at Balenciaga, giving a respected but dusty house a new relevance for the twenty-first century.

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A blouse with portholes from Nicolas Ghesquière's Cruise 2015 Louis Vuitton show

Nevertheless, Ghesquière isn’t content. He isn’t content because he’s a great designer – he’s one of the greatest working in the world today. He’s certainly one of the rare designers who “Matter” – the ones whose work cannot be ignored. The clever thing he did for Louis Vuitton in Monaco was turn our perceptions of this Cruise season entirely on its head. Louis Vuitton may have taken us to Monaco, but it was Ghesquière who drew a heavy grey curtain around the entire perimeter of his show space, entirely blocking out the views of the principality. Sure, we had Princess Charlene in our midst (dressed in Vuitton, like those other well-heeled, better-handbagged clients). But besides that, we could have been in any fashion capital. It focussed our attention squarely on the clothes, not the set dressing – and certainly not the travel. Obliterating the travel from a Louis Vuitton show sounds heretical. That’s why Ghesquière’s brave. He questions the received notion of things.

Both the man himself, and his press notes, talked about a “Reality” to the clothes he showed. It’s a pre-collection – the presumption is that these are clothes to spend on, not to pore over. However, Ghesquière approached this show with the same rigour and intensity he approaches every collection. Indeed, after obliteration the Monégasque exterior, the interior space could have been Paris during fashion week. The clothes would certainly have stood up to scrutiny.

For all Ghesquière’s insistence on normality, these were twisted, ferociously intriguing clothes. Portholes of flesh were spooned out of semi-fitted polo-shirts, like Emmental cheese, while seaweed patterns that at first seemed like print were crafted into knits that looked like lace, or inlaid in stepped levels of silk into floppy, filmy skirts. Colour mixes were off. There were a few suits that veered almost nautical, and interesting plays on opacity and transparency that reminded you of fabric soaked to the skin, clinging, revealing yet concealing.

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Scuba-influenced shapes and plasticised finishes at Louis Vuitton Cruise 2015

There was a feel, to me, of the underwater. Appropriate to the point of cliche for Cruise. However, it wasn’t Cruise as we’ve seen it before, even when Ghesquière riffed on watery tricks he explored numerous times at Balenciaga, like neoprene-feel fabrics (he sort of started fashion’s obsession with that one, this time often translating to leather), snorkel-alike sunglasses, plasticised finishes and suctioned-in silhouettes with waterspouts detailing like bow-knotted toggle waists, go-faster stripes and scuba zips.

There were many, many levels to this show. However, true to Ghesquière’s one watch-word of “real,” it didn’t feel distanced. The close, closed set – the audience perched on low benches which, with those curtains pulled, had a homely feel – allowed you to see every detail up-close. Including the bags, which were great. But they were just part and parcel, rather than the whole package.

The important thing about this show is that, for all the water world stuff – including an animated catwalk created by the video artist Ange Leccia of submerged rocks – it wasn’t Cruise. It was a collection, a collection with as significant an impact as Ghesquière’s Vuitton debut. Do you suppose for one second he considered these clothes any less – meaning both the consideration necessary to make such complex pieces, and the value he places on them overall in the grand scheme of his work at Louis Vuitton. Of course not.

That’s a new and important way of looking at these collections that are garnering customers and attention. They can be fashion statements in themselves. They can move a designer’s aesthetic further forwards. They’re not just more clothes, if a designer thinks about them properly.

The moral of this story? Pre-collections are collections too. Bring your A-game. Ghesquière did.

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