Nicolas Ghesquière had me, sometime back in the early millennium when I had stumbled on an editorial in either the Face or i-D (can’t remember which), which featured his S/S 2002 collection where a melange of patchwork moulded the body in a discordant but amazing mish-mash. It prompted an internet dig on all things Ghesquière at Balenciaga that lasted a day or two – A-Level coursework duly put on hold. I’d venture to say most consummate fashion lovers will have had their A-HAAAAAAA-Ghesquière moments. And as was the case for most people, my ardent one-way relationship with Ghesquière/Balenciaga was experienced at a distant dreamer’s arm’s length – through lapping up editorials, campaigns and features, through 3am eBay, Yoox and outlet sale buys and a few rare instances of Balenciaga showroom appointments as of course, I was never invited to the teensy tiny runway shows. Before the days of instant show images and social media, immediately after the show, I’d ask colleagues and friends, who had attended, “HowWasItHowWasItHowWasIt?” because second hand reports were the next best thing. I hardly need to explain how his work consistently etched a big strident mark upon season after season, and how his overall tenure at Balenciaga filtered down into the language of high-end, mid-level and high street fashion that we know today. The most referenced. The most revered. He matters. End of.
In this new era of Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, he had me again. He had me at “Today is a new day. A big day.” in his typewritten note, left in an envelope, in exacting fashion at every guest’s plush carpeted/cushioned seat. I may have missed out (well physically speaking) on the first epoch of Ghesquière’s prodigious career but the second one at Louis Vuitton is one that I’ll (hopefully…) get to experience and a key operative verb – savour. The debut was one of nuanced experience that wasn’t meant to hit you senseless with SHAPE!COLOUR!PRINT! Everything about it was designed to get under your skin in a deliberately coy but evocative manner. The echoed beat of the Copycat track by Skream feat. Kelis, which intoned its significant lyrics – Oh come here, copycat! You’re my puppet, you know I love it! The mechanical shutters opening ever so slowly to let in an abundance of sunlight (lucky lucky as it had been grey and drizzly most of the week in Paris) as the show began. The careful change of artificial light as the background screen faded from copper-hued pink to a pale powder blue. The New Day had begun.
And then we get to the clothes. The heap of expectation on Ghesquière beforehand had built up to a palpable crescendo – this was the show that would wack us with a BIG idea. For some, that expectation may have fallen slightly short (judging by the murmurs post show) because the collection was stuffed full of subtleties,which could only be discovered by touch, by feel and through a knowledge of savoir-faire – that oft used phrase ingrained into the house itself. They might have missed the point, which was that here, the big idea was Ghesquière throwing out a challenge. As if to say “Here – just you try and copy this. Just you try and imitate the way I have asked premier accessories making artisans at Louis Vuitton to look at how to make clothes, and to really look at fabrications in a different way.” We were deliberately thrust very close to the clothes in an extremely narrow carpeted runway but we still had question marks over so many of the textiles we saw. That makes for difficult fodder to copy. There was no discernible theme, obvious inspiration path or no loud-as-you-like motif or print for the Ghesquière-copyists to feast upon one or two seasons down the line. That’s not to stop designers and the high street from picking up on the 1970s/80s skiwear vibes, the sharp and streamlined V/A shapes and the retro-tinged colour palette. That’s almost an inevitability. But Ghesquière, akin to Kelis’ purring “You could do it, you could do it!” is almost playfully toying with the industry – he’s putting his foot down, with a collection that sets to incite desirability, not with a loud logo or slogan, a Look-at-Me print or Made-in-China banality – but with quality that purrs at you, whispers rather than shouts and as was the case when I went over to Paris last week to touch up the clothes at the press day, leaves you with a singular thought – “I want to wear this stuff.”
Previous Louis Vuitton collections by Marc Jacobs, with their digestible literal themes and fancy sets, had an instant takeaway image that swayed the Louis Vuitton customer to buy bags, just by association. Here, Ghesquière looks to be playing the long game to bring the ready-to-wear to greater prominence, perhaps even greater profit, as currently it constitutes only 5% of Louis Vuitton’s total sales. The link-up between the clothes and the bags were emphasised over and over again as your eyes honed in on the wide collared leather coats, quilted suede A-line skirts with leather-trimmed pockets and bag-derived features like knotted belts (like straps) and metal hardware in the form of singular statement earrings, grommets and eye-catching zippers.
That’s a simple interpretation of the collection though to just say Ghesquière took the anatomy of a Louis Vuitton handbag and applied it to clothing. The persuasive oddities that you have come to expect from a Ghesquière collection were correct and present – they just didn’t ram it down you throat. I loved the 1970s skiwear nods, seen in this zippered knitted onesie and on the patterned ski zip-up tops that were in fact printed with the pattern as opposed to knitted in. I loved the weird surburbia nostalgia reminiscent of clothes in films like the Ice Storm such as the bus seat-esque geometric wool dresses, the repetition of a perfectly constructed white ribbed poloneck contrasted with the sick edge of a black patent bodysuit. Just the very presence of zippers on almost every ensemble had me conjuring up my own references like polyester-attired P.E. teachers in Grange Hill mashed up with Farah Fawcett in her outdoors/sporty looks. Despite Ghesquière’s own insistence that there wasn’t necessarily a theme, you can still read into the layers, in whatever way you want.
There’s no getting away from that signature Ghesquière tendency to fiddle around with textures either. That’s a trope carried over from his days at Balenciaga and is much welcome when our eyes are still hunting for the new. Rounded-edged squared sequins gradiated on a skirt? Boucle tweed made out of curly wurly yarn and matted down so that’s almost like a smooth surface? Metallic thread and teensy tiny sequins embroidered into a subtle chevron pattern? Better yet, these experimentations are placed on garments that aren’t fiddly or difficult. I know I normally doth protest against words like “ease” and “effortless”, – but combine those properties with Ghesquière’s ideas and you get an altogether more exciting interpretation of those cliched terms.
Put it down to the fact that we were inches away from the models or that the set was ultra stripped down and luminously lit, but this was the Louis Vuitton show, where I really remembered each and every bag. There were the monogram leather clutches rolled up like a newspaper (at the show I thought the models were holding scraps of leather as a symbolic gesture). There were the mini hard case Petite Malle trunks in a multitude of colours, inspired by an original Louis Vuitton vintage trunk, inscribed with three white crosses (they told me it was the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet but someone on Instagram said that wasn’t the case). I loved that they came with a partially zipped open leather coverall. The red thread on the quilted lining of another old Vuitton trunk was also carried through to the new exterior finishes on the classic Alma bag. The iconic Speedy was also given a new twist with one handle lopped off (we had a go at swinging it around in the showroom – rest assured, it’s completely functional). This clever vintage Vuitton link-up is not dissimilar to what Kim Jones has done with his own treatment of the archives and will no doubt be music to Louis Vuitton’s ears, what with their key brand messaging of timeless and well-travelled design.
For Ghesquière, it was something more emotional than mere brand messaging. His note said it all. As did his beam of a smile as he took his bow at the end of the show. For him, it’s the opportunity to put right what he wasn’t allowed to fully achieve at Balenciaga, to have the trust of an employer, who have full faith in him and with resources at his disposal that can fulfil his ambitions. With this debut collection, as strong as it was, it was as many people have called it – a palate cleanser – the slate has been wiped clean and we’re now ready to embark on this new journey with Ghesquière. All aboard?