I said that Louis Vuitton would kickstart and conclude this fashion month, which has fiiiiiiiinally come to a close as I'm now back at home, unpacked, de-stressed and ready to wake up everyday and not wonder whether I'm late for Stella, Junya or indeed Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton was determined to cause the most ruckus on the final day of fashion week, building a working steam train, which chugged into the show at precisely 10:03am, containing 47 decadently attired passengers, and then opening its Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs at the Les Arts Decoratifs museum in Paris with much fanfare. It's hard not to see this as anything other than Louis Vuitton making an emphatic stamp on what the house is all about. They are in the business of travel goods and have the heritage to back that up. Why else was little ol' me allowed into Louis Vuitton's Asnieres workshop last month if not to communicate to the world, "We do trunks and bags and we do them well."
Therefore the exhibition is a firm affirmation of Louis Vuitton's innovations as a luxury "packager" of goods and then it looks at how Jacobs subsequently took on Vuitton's legacy to broaden the house's horizons beyond packing and carrying goods. I don't want to cover old ground as I've already gone through Louis Vuitton and his successors' various inventions and patents for the house in the Asnieres post – and actually the exhibition doesn't delve too deep into the various developments of the house's patterned canvases – the striped canvass, the Damier check and the Japanese-inspired "LV" monogram. Instead it's the connection between the wardrobing demands of late Victorian/early 20th century ladies, the rise of haute couture and the need for Vuitton to come up with ever-progressive luggage solutions, that is the main focus of this part of the exhibition. Specifically, Vuitton's letterhead bearing the motto "Specialty in the Packing of Fashions" is definitely the point to take away when you see miniatures of teensy weeny garments and accessories laid out as well as the bustled and voluminous dresses that were the de rigeur requirements as sanctioned by the likes of Charles-Frederick Worth, who was actually a close friend of Louis Vuitton. Worth is attributed with increasing the number of items in the then-bourgeois wardrobe – gowns and undergarments for every hour of the day along with numerous hats and accessories – and so Vuitton took up the challenge of packing these fashions for the barons, counts, marquis and princesses that ordered Louis Vuitton trunks in their dozens. For me, having seen several exhibitions on Louis Vuitton's history as a luggage maker and having seen the Asnieres workshop, it felt like I was treading on familiar ground. A refreshed perspective of this period of Louis Vuitton's past, came courtesy of Christian Borstlap's hand drawn animation, commissioned by Nowness, which sums up the innovative nature of Louis Vuitton's work without feeling like a stale history lesson. It was especially great to see it enlarged across a huge screen.
The more dynamic part of the exhibition undoubtedly belongs to the second floor where Marc Jacobs begins to take us through his world by presenting us with an impressive Tumblr-esque wall of imagery and video clips – a wide ranging plethora of references that have injected into his collections, old and new. This is the sort of dreamer's light box that you wish you had switched on all the time in a room just so you could get clarity of all the things that run through your head. It of course doesn't tell us anything we didn't know already about Jacobs' way of working given that through his own label and through his work for Vuitton, we've been taken to so many different worlds, themes and dream lands. Louis Vuitton's shows have punctuated every fashion month I've ever done with an emphatic full stop and have often defined seasons with its themes and here, it's interesting to look back at those moments and remember why they stick out in memory.
In addition to being tasked with introducing womens and mens ready to wear when Jacobs joined Louis Vuitton in 1997, he was also suppoed to create a line of "fashion" accessories. Whilst Louis Vuitton's classic monogram and damier pieces are instantly recognisable, a lot of these bags displayed here in sweet wrappers also have their own iconic place. Bluntly speaking, they too haven't been immune to the knock-off culture that has pervaded Louis Vuitton. The display of notes where Jacobs annotates sketches of bags with written adjustments shows a level of involvement in the house's money churner that goes beyond simply creating head-turning ready-to-wear shows.
Given that I've never been fully versed in designer bag lexicon, I'm on far steadier footing when dealing with Marc Jacobs' creation of ready to wear for Louis Vuitton. It's clear that from the edit of pieces, that it's the latter part of Jacobs' tenure for LV that is the bigger focus here. You can see that progressively through the seasons, Jacobs becomes less attached to the LV logo and the emphasis on travel and becomes more daring with his thematic explorations – everything from Afro/Harajuku girls, Africa, street-inspired Victoriana, Night Porter kink and now seemingly, Downton Abbey period costumes. In fact, Jacobs is very much ok with the separation that appears between Louis Vuitton's more traditional offerings and his own seasonal schizophrenia: "A great name, a famous unique house will exist after me. Vuitton is not a fashion company. We make 'fashionable things', which changes according to the mood of the times. But the heart of the brand remains unchanged and unchangeable, which is just as well."
Without Jacobs' presence, how else would we remember oddballs such as tubular metal heels with tassels dangling off of them, plastic flower covered dresses, panda-covered silk dresses or any other oddball item that is for the most part, strictly reserved for editorials as the ready-to-wear and fashion accessories still remain a teensy weensy part of Louis Vuitton's business.
Jacobs' orchestration of artist collaborations has been another way to introduce iconic insignia alongside Louis Vuitton's monogram and damier check. Stephen Sprouse's graffiti logo and Takashi Murakami's reimagining of the monogram will surely stand the test of time, decades from now and will have their marked places in the LV history books.
Jacobs' collaboration with Richard Prince was another memorable show moment. It wasn't mentioned in the exhibition but I'm rather excited over what Yayoi Kasuma will be coming up with for the house. Louis Vuitton have of course sponsored Kasuma's exhibition at the Tate Modern but have teased the collaboration out by not releasing the product (covering clothing and accessories) until the summer. Through the Louis Vuitton Young Arts project, they also offer the chance to young art enthusiasts to win a trip to Tokyo by uploading their own interpretation of Kasuma's brief.
A Barbie-sized figure of Marc Jacobs bids us farewell at the end of the exhibition which is now open to the public until the 16th September. I love how Jacobs' figurine gets to wear Prada's S/S 11 brogue creepers. He's no slave to Louis Vuitton, that's for sure.