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