High time

On the heels of Louis Vuit­ton’s ret­ro­spec­tive Time Cap­sule ex­hi­bi­tion, chair­man and CEO Michael Burke tells Jus­tine Lee what’s next

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

On the heels of Louis Vuit­ton’s ret­ro­spec­tive Time Cap­sule ex­hi­bi­tion, chair­man and CEO Michael Burke tells us what’s next

f you’re not an op­ti­mist you should get out of the kitchen,” pro­claims Michael Burke, the chair­man and CEO of Louis Vuit­ton, as we sit down to dis­cuss the fash­ion house’s Time Cap­sule ex­hi­bi­tion. For the past three decades, Burke has made a ca­reer of in­ject­ing new com­mer­cial life into some of the world’s long­est-stand­ing lux­ury houses, and Louis Vuit­ton is no ex­cep­tion. Un­der his five-year—and count­ing—lead­er­ship, the French lux­ury be­he­moth has launched a series of dar­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions, store re­vamps, pop-up ini­tia­tives and most re­cently the talk-of-thetown trav­el­ling Time Cap­sule ex­hi­bi­tion—all of which places a strong fo­cus on Asia. Some might see this as over­am­bi­tious, given the dwin­dling Asian lux­ury mar­ket. But Burke is as con­fi­dent as ever in the po­ten­tial of Asian shop­pers, he tells me as we meet at the brand’s An­dré Fude­signed L’ap­parte­ment Hong Kong. What spurred the Time Cap­sule ex­hi­bi­tion? There are 165 years of his­tory be­hind Louis Vuit­ton, and we wanted to jux­ta­pose this moder­nity with our past—to show that ev­ery­thing we do has an ori­gin. We took it down to the es­sen­tials. It was an amaz­ing ex­er­cise in edit­ing!

Why was Hong Kong cho­sen as the first stop on the show’s trav­el­ling tour? Like a jig­saw, all the el­e­ments fell into place with Hong Kong, from the cul­ture and con­text to the tim­ing. The team fought for the project and pulled it off very quickly. Risk-tak­ing is some­thing in­her­ent in Hong Kong— the city wouldn’t ex­ist if it weren’t made up of peo­ple who like risks.

Louis Vuit­ton has been a cham­pion of col­lab­o­ra­tions for many years. What makes for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship? Serendip­ity. In other words, it can’t be planned; it has to click. From Kanye, Jeff Koons and Supreme, to the art deco pe­riod or Twiggy in the ’60s—we were a key player at the crux of all these cul­tural in­flu­ences. There is an el­e­ment of be­ing at the right place at the right time. Part of it is also be­ing a brand that is very open and gen­er­ous in our par­tic­i­pa­tion; it’s not by chance only that Vuit­ton is in the midst of col­lab­o­ra­tions, it’s by ge­netic makeup.

With the pop-up res­i­dence L’ap­parte­ment Hong Kong and bou­tique re­vamps, why has this city re­mained a top fo­cus for the brand de­spite a dip in the lux­ury mar­ket?

There’s an op­por­tu­nity, and we al­ways take ad­van­tage of that. Back in the mid­dle of Sars, we landed in the city to plan for a ma­jor event at Pek­ing Road. Two years ago, we took the Can­ton Road store down to the bones and spent a tremen­dous amount of time, en­ergy and money re-do­ing it, be­cause we knew to­mor­row the sun was go­ing to come up. You have to have a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude in life, and we rep­re­sented that.

How does Louis Vuit­ton main­tain its core brand iden­tity yet stay fresh and rel­e­vant? It’s about putting the cur­sor on the right mo­ment. There are times when the mar­ket tends to be a lit­tle bit more ex­u­ber­ant, which is what we’re in right now, and so the cur­sor moves a lit­tle bit more that way. The key is that it moves, but not that much. We’re not a fash­ion com­pany, we’re a lux­ury com­pany. Some­times peo­ple con­fuse lux­ury with im­mo­bil­ity. Too much fash­ion or too much im­mo­bil­ity is a mis­take.

Do you think cus­tomers have be­come more fickle over the years? No, no. They are more de­mand­ing, more ed­u­cated, but not fickle. Clients want to fall in love with the brand. Peo­ple are look­ing for re­la­tion­ships.

What does lux­ury mean to you? Lux­ury is in­di­vid­ual, more and more so. We were born from the be­spoke. You would never buy a trunk off the shelf back in the 19th Cen­tury; you bought a trunk for your needs. We went a step fur­ther with ini­tials on the trunk and stripes reg­is­tered at Louis Vuit­ton, which is how we know to­day the prove­nance of ev­ery sin­gle trunk. This per­son­al­i­sa­tion ties back to what true lux­ury is about— you as an in­di­vid­ual.

Lead­ing Man Louis Vuit­ton chair­man and CEO Michael Burke

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