THE ART OF CRUISE
The dramatic fortified village of Saint-Paul de Vence, in the idyllic south of France, played host to Louis Vuitton’s cruise ’19 collection show.
The south of France played host to Louis Vuitton’s cruise ’19 collection show.
There are places where the air is just, well, different. You know that feeling? It accompanies the plunge into warmer days, and that well-deserved change of latitude. Equatorial escape. Oxygen. Most of the time, the unwinding begins by simply leaving the city, but there are certain places that embody the notion almost perennially. Like the south of France, for example.
Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s womenswear designer, has fluttered across the planet in his decadent quest for the annual cruise destination show. It’s a phenomenon that has seen megabrands such as Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and Dior impose a third runway affair on their annual calendars, one that sees clients and editors flown to exotic spots such as Malibu, Florence, Kyoto and Rio de Janeiro.
It’s no fashion week, mind you: just one show, a dinner, a party, and a smattering of cultural activities (and pampering) for the lucky few invited to experience it in person. But don’t worry, with the plethora of digital outlets trained upon any major fashion show these days (even drone cameras, hovering above), there is no excuse to miss the action, and Ghesquière’s latest effort ensured an AAA backstage pass to all of those viewing at home, too.
In 2014, Ghesquière’s first #LVCRUISE show took place in a custombuilt pavilion in front of the Prince’s Palace in Monte Carlo, Monaco. It was a colourful riposte to his Paris debut: a pastel frenzy of aquatic wiggles, leather, lace and motocross checks.
Fast-forward four years and a return to the Côte d’Azur for the cruise ’19 show came with newfound authority, not only in the form of a renewed contract but as it was one of Ghesquière’s most exciting collections for Louis Vuitton to date. Ghesquière’s clothes were framed in a multisensory experience that called upon a plethora of cultural touch points past and present, starting with his choice of location, the hallowed Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght perched high in the hills of Saint-Paul de Vence, to the west of Nice.
As the latest in Ghesquière’s choice of modernist marvels, the building housing the foundation’s private art collection, designed by Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert in 1964, features interconnecting chambers with arching catchment roofs that, at certain angles, echo the horns of a bull. Throughout its sprawling garden, truly unique works abound, from large-scale Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder sculptures to Georges Braque’s mosaic gazing pool, and Alberto Giacometti statues that stand in solemn vigil over a central courtyard.
The pièce de résistance, however, remains Joan Miró’s labyrinth, a winding rock garden populated with ceramic features, added from the 60s up until the early 70s, that form a sweeping Surrealist study of objects and symbols from the cosmic egg and pronged fork to lunar and solar birds. It is there that Ghesquière chose to trace his catwalk, chancing the spring rains that some sources say were kept away by a Brazilian shaman.
By divine intervention or not, Ghesquière’s dusk affair went off without a hitch, as guests filed into the grassy hilltop gardens, past Giacometti’s walking men and Miró’s multi-coloured gushing fountains. A concert by Woodkid prefaced the evening’s main soundtrack, with the French musician employing incredible midcentury percussion instruments by the Baschet brothers before the show began and his pre-recorded electronic mix syncopated the angelic gospel stylings of the Nagoya Children’s Choir with actress Jennifer Connelly reading from Grace Coddington’s memoirs.
Sound like a mouthful? It was. But it was only the beginning of this collaged, post-modern production, one that gave us hints as to Coddington’s intervention in the form of cat-shaped illustrated stickers that came along with the season’s Epi leather envelope-clad invitation. They were her drawings, already iconic to certain fans (but entirely new to others), and they became a series of witty handbag designs come showtime – sprung to life in the form of zipped cat clutches, mirrored bag charms and sketched Petite Malle boxes.
What, you might ask, do Coddington’s cats have to do with Louis Vuitton? Everything, in a way, if you think about the modernist spirit of the Fondation Maeght, and the collaborative way artists once lived and worked in close proximity, swapping works and ideas, making furniture, clothes and other decorative arts with and for each other’s enjoyment. Just as the Maeghts chose Miró’s friend to build their foundation, so Ghesquière called upon his friend Coddington to add a dash of humour to complement his daring ready-to-wear.
And so, to the clothes: a dazzling crescendo of eclectic, multi-coloured deconstruction that, at first glance, couldn’t have strayed further from the retro-bourgeois collection he showed in the Louvre for autumn/winter ’18/’19 mere months before. At closer inspection, though, the evolution was evident, as familiar raglan forms, tiered shoulders and peplumed waists re-emerged in explosive new concoctions that entirely reprogrammed the sporty, dainty nature of last season into this no-holds-barred celebration of arty Japonisme versus 80s power tailoring and opulent draping.
To wit, the first look revealed a white crepe blouse and beige shorts, the shirt raised with shoulder pads and split down the sleeves, the shorts wrapped with a linen overskirt and tied with a monogram karate belt over thigh-high black leather sneakers. Its proportions set the tone for a top-heavy silhouette which, bar a stunning pair of white pleated gowns, focused on wide shoulders and big sleeves with myriad necklines that tied or plunged into soft draping. Scooped and squared tailoring saw roomy buffalo jackets hand-painted in 80s art brut brushstrokes or strewn with cowboy strass, while floating scarf dresses came patchworked, dipped in chequerboard sequins and covered in bristling fabric feathers.
Coupled by stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé with the season’s slinky goldsoled sneaker boots, New Wave berets and a plethora of new bag styles (that buckled, folded and swung like buckets), these extraordinary clothes held their own among their potent surroundings, and though mimicking them at times through colour and line, ultimately represented Ghesquière’s idea of how adventurous women might want to dress in our time, not Miró’s or the Maeghts’s.
It’s why, amid a plethora of vintage copies on runways today, his clothes retain their innately contemporary feel as, be there tinges of Westwood or Gaultier, Claude Montana or otherwise, the dense material research, technical accomplishment and witty styling of these garments elevates them above and beyond their references time and time again. In this hypersensitive age of Instagram call-outs and microlevel copying blame games, fashion criticism has become a murky digital battle played far from the pages of magazines, but with the privilege of reflection (something that today only print media allows), it’s safe to say these may be some of the most radical, real-world clothes we’ll see, and wear, in the year to come.
Ghesquière’s dusk affair went off without a hitch as guests filed into the grassy hilltop gardens