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Louis The Great

As a major new book and exhibition traces the history of Louis Vuitton, we speak to curator Pamela Golbin and stylist Katie Grand in this interview taken from Dazed's April issue, alongside an exclusive archive shoot by Kacper Kasprzyk

Tracking Louis Vuitton throughout its grand and illustrious past, right up to its reimagining by Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs, in association with an exhibition held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, offers a formidable insight into this world leader in luxury. Written and curated by Louvre fashion and textile chief Pamela Golbin and edited by stylist superstar Katie Grand, who has worked on the team for ten years, Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs goes beneath the surface of the French house we know today.

Divided into two parts, the beautifully and aptly packaged publication begins at the beginning with the man himself, and shows the craftsmanship, prestige and dedication that makes up the heritage of Vuitton. The innovations brought into the luggage industry by the label at the turn of the 20th century – such as the use of watertight lightweight fabrics and signature damiers to reduce illicit copies – are highlighted, as is the high-profile clientele procured during Mr Vuitton’s lifetime.

But it’s with the beginning of Marc Jacobs’s reign in 1997 that Golbin’s book really comes into its own, offering a valuable and intimate view of a voyage of discovery for an American designer at the head of a French house. Golbin shows how Jacobs has subtly and respectfully made LV his own, while retaining its character. “He really did begin at LV with a white clean slate,” she says. “Metaphorically so because that first collection was almost entirely white, but also as there had never been any ready-to-wear at Vuitton. He could start from zero and I think he took the right route, growing in crescendo and developing a proper stylistic vocabulary.”

Slowly but surely, Jacobs has developed that vocabulary into something recognised the world over, and it’s perhaps what Golbin describes as the “ongoing continuum that often leads him to the opposite of his previous collection” that has moved him into pre-fall 2012. In contrast to his last show’s tough, dark, almost fetishistic offering, he’s gone back to his roots with softer colours and shapes and a natural, light feel. “I know this was the first time in many years that he looked at his first collection for LV, which was soft and very white, grey and black, and more about fabric than construct,” says Golbin. “You can certainly see that in this current collection.”

Now in his 15th year at the house, the American designer has taken the time to create something that is inherently a little bit of both himself and Louis Vuitton. Golbin explains: “Bringing that energy of high and low end, which has always been part of his aesthetic, to the fashion aspect of the house, but without trying to monopolise what was always part of the Vuitton history, is what has made it such an incredibly important luxury brand.” We sat down with Golbin for a further chat about her relationship with the brand...

Dazed Digital: When did you first become aware of Marc Jacobs?
Pamela Golbin: I happened to live in NYC in the late 80s and we crossed paths, he was Perry Ellis at the same time. I don't even know if he remembers, but we actually met on the street while he was walking his dog, we lived near each other at the time. He had an incredible Dalmatian.

DD: What were your first reactions to his work?
Pamela Golbin: As a fellow Franco-American I kept my eye on his career. The French weren't very easy on him when he arrived, so it was very intriguing for me as a fashion curator to follow his path. At that time, minimal was very much the aesthetic and Helmut Lang was very important. To have an Anglo-Saxon invasion to paris was interesting.

DD: Did you see Marc's vision for LV immediately?
Pamela Golbin: Not at all. Most American designers like to do things very quickly, that's just the mentality, whereas the French take their time. Marc had a very French logic when he arrived. He really did start with a white clean slate, metaphorically because that first show was almost entirely white, but also because he had an incredible opportunity, in that hadn't previously been any ready to wear at Louis Vuitton.

DD: Where do you think he pulled his initial inspiration for his intentions at Vuitton?
Pamela Golbin:  Marc is very intuitive, there is nothing strategic about it, he says that himself. He joined in early 1997 but didn't present his first catwalk presentation until late '98, so he had a year to really get a vision. In that time he created a very clear understanding of what he could encompass with women’s, men's and luggage, advertising, perfume. It has taken him fifteen years to get there, but he has succeeded. He had a very simple start and working in crescendo, developed a proper stylistic vocabulary.

DD: Marc Jacobs is someone that pulls together both high and low, luxury and street, references in his designs. Why do you think that is something that has worked so well in a luxury house like Vuitton?
Pamela Golbin: I think it's all about energy, his New York energy combined with the skills and  craftsmanship that French artisans are known for. Together it is a very dynamic aesthetic. Instead of deciding from the onset he was going to appropriate the LV universe that had existed for 143 years, he created a parallel universe that was complementary but was truly fashion based. It allowed him to express himself freely but without alienating the clients that were already there.

DD: In the book the history and heritage Louis Vuitton and Louis Vuitton with Marc Jacobs are presented separately. Is that why?
Pamela Golbin: Today Louis Vuitton is seen as a brand and many people don't even realise there was a Mr. Vuitton. In doing research, I discovered that Louis really brought himself to the brand in the way that Marc later did. I think we felt that space should be allocated to both aspects of the world of Louis Vuitton. 


Katie Grand recalls highlights from ten years of styling for Louis Vuitton, referring to each of the collections shot by Dazed in the April issue...

“I call this collection ‘Sprouse the Second’. A lot of leopard had been shown at the men’s shows that season and Marc and I liked the idea of using it in some way. He suggested using the Sprouse leopard, which was first commissioned in 2000. Then we started looking at images of Stephen Sprouse and the ideas for the hats came from there. I remember calling Stephen Jones at 3am asking if he could come over to help, and Stephen being Stephen, he said, ‘Of course, see you in half an hour.’ We’ve worked with him most seasons since.”

“Lots of the embroideries were extremely complex in this collection. After hours and hours of handwork, we were dipping the embroideries in bleach. Unfortunately there were a few last-minute hiccups where the embroidery completely disintegrated as the bleach was too strong!”

“I remember the original design team heading off to Scotland to go and look at various castles for inspiration and getting absolutely terrified about ghosts. Peter Copping, then head of studio, swore he woke up with someone sat on his chest.”

“They started working with Richard Prince early on in the season. He would send his canvasses to the studio and we were literally putting them on the photocopier to work out the placements for the bags. The whole studio was full of his paintings in various sizes and colours – I remember just laughing about how they were all propped up on the floor! The idea of the nurses came about really late, probably about a week before the show, and Marc suggested opening with Stephanie Seymour as she was a collector of Prince. I was so excited to meet her. This was the season that the fittings went on for hours and hours as all of the ‘nurses’ were so famous and so chatty.”

“This was the season we looked at lots of French couture clients past and present. We wanted a very decadent and opulent look – almost Louis XIV – mixed with Deee-Lite. So the shoes were brocade and had an old-French-meets-Lady-Miss-Kier look. Lucy, one of the designers, tied a bit of pink silk around her ponytail which I loved as it looked like rabbit ears (and I’d just been bought a rabbit). And thus, in my mind, it became the ‘Bunny’ season.”

“This season is fondly known as ‘Fairytale’. Julie Verhoeven worked on the bags and the collection had a very painterly feel – there was lots of appliqué, denim and suede. 
There’s a pair of boots with the same technique featured in the exhibition.”

Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs is out now, published by Rizzoli. This shoot and interview appears in the April issue of Dazed & Confused

Photography Kacper Kasprzyk
Robbie Spencer
Hair Vi Sapyyapy at Calliste
Make-Up Megumi Itano at Calliste
Model Querelle at Nathalie Models
Photo Assistants Virgile Biechy, Christopher Berlet
Styling Assistants Blake Abbie, Elizabeth Fraser-Bell
Digital Operator
Harry Cell
Casting Noah Shelley for AM Casting