Shows that include escalators, fountains, and casually taking over the Louvre – we remember some of the Parisian house’s highlights
Since Louis Vuitton was first founded – all the way back in 1854 – travel has been its main focus. While luggage still remains a big part of the company’s output, nowadays it has become better known for transporting us with its shows instead.
First to take the reins was Marc Jacobs – who joined the label in 1997 and left in 2013 – and who laid the groundwork to become one of fashion’s greatest showmen with his debut AW98 show. Since then, he has enlisted the likes of Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince as collaborators – most notably inviting Stephen Sprouse to graffiti all over the sacrosanct LV monogram.
Always standouts on the Paris Fashion Week schedule, Jacobs’ sets included water fountains, fake hotel corridors, real escalators and lifts, and once, a full-sized LV train. Following his 16-year career at the house, he was replaced by Nicolas Ghesquière, who has been at Vuitton since 2014.
In his time as women’s artistic director, he has taken the travel aspect to the future – with his effortlessly chic collections often feeling like they’re 100 years ahead of their time. Bringing transport more literally, his revival of Cruise shows have seen the house travel to Rio, Palm Springs, Monaco, and Kyoto. Ghesquière a showman too, often completely transforming Fondation Louis Vuitton to fit with his futuristic vision. More recently, he’s taken over the Louvre too.
To mark the release of Louis Vuitton Catwalk: The Complete Fashion Collections, published by Thames and Hudson and out today, we remember ten of Louis Vuitton’s most iconic womenswear collections.
SS01 - GRAFFITI BY STEPHEN SPROUSE
While fashion collaborations are now the norm, that wasn’t the case back in the early 00s – especially in the way that Marc Jacobs enlisted New York designer and artist Stephen Sprouse. Opening the show were four porters with arms full of monogrammed suitcases and bags with “Louis Vuitton” scrawled over the top in fluoro colours. “It was disrespectful and respectful at the same time, and I think that is why it worked,” Jacobs told the New York Times following the show. Taking the house’s signature monogram and reworking it in a youthful way created one of its most successful collections ever – good luck trying to find any pieces available today. Following Sprouse’s death in 2009, Jacobs revived the collaboration to create new pieces. Again, good luck finding any that are up for sale.
SS08 – AFTER DARK WITH RICHARD PRINCE
Marc Jacobs’ initial forays into grunge didn’t exactly go to plan – in 1992, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love famously burnt the Perry Ellis collection the designer sent to them – but that didn’t stop him from inflecting subsequent offerings with elements of the subculture. Drawing inspiration from Richard Prince’s Nurse paintings, which featured on the cover of Sonic Youth’s Sonic Nurse album, for SS08 Jacobs sent a troupe of nurses down the runway, with each wearing vinyl coats, hats emblazoned with letters that altogether made up ‘LOUIS VUITTON’ and a black lace mask. Behind said masks? Oh, no big deal: just OG supers Stephanie Seymour, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova, and Nadja Auermann.
AW11 – FETISH
The set, the soundtrack, the girls – the AW11 show had it all. Vuitton-wearing French maids served vodka shots while four porters manned lifts in the middle of the gigantic set. As the show started, models appeared one-by-one out of the lifts to circle the space, sashaying to Philip Glass’s soundtrack for Notes on a Scandal. Back before reviving Supers was a thing, Jacobs brought back the likes of Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, and (the cherry on top) Kate Moss, who closed the show. But that’s not even the best part. As the British model sauntered around the space leading the finale, she puffed on a cigarette, blowing smoke in the face of anyone who dare remind her it was No Smoking Day. Can you say… iconic?
SS12 – LE CARROUSEL
Marc Jacobs’ collections at the house of LV were often injected with more than a little fantasy: take SS09’s bunny-eared headpieces, if you’re looking for an example. For SS12, though, the designer went all out (to say the least). Erecting a huge, entirely white carousel at the centre of the Cour Carrée, the models made their way around it in a series of feminine, Broderie Anglaise confections in pale pastel hues. The pièce de résistance was Kate Moss’s return to the runway. The iconic model was the last woman standing on the runway, looking entirely heavenly in a coquettish white feathered mini.
AW12 – ALL ABOARD THE LOUIS VUITTON EXPRESS
As far as mindblowing show sets go, this is definitely one of them. Not only did Jacobs transform the Cour Carrée into a train platform, a Louis Vuitton-emblazoned steam train (built from scratch) casually pulled into it. One-by-one models emerged from the carriage, wearing giant platform heels and giant hats (courtesy of Stephen Jones) that added at least six inches to each model meaning they towered over the porters who carried their luggage alongside. For the season’s campaign, the train was dismantled and reassembled for an even more realistic interior. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
SS14 – SHOWGIRLS
While it was rumoured for a while that Jacobs would be leaving the Parisian house, it was pretty obvious upon entering the venue that this was the designer’s swansong. The show to end all shows – his final collection was an ode “to the showgirl in all of us”. That, and his impressive 16-year legacy. The gigantic set featured some of his most iconic moments, SS12’s carousel, AW13’s hotel corridor, SS13’s escalator, and AW10’s water fountain. Sadly the train from AW12 was too big to fit into the venue, but the clock from the LV station made an appearance. Much like the set, the collection was a sombre affair, with Jacobs revisiting some of his most iconic looks in all-black. Stephen Jones collaborated for the last time, creating Victorian funeral hats, with giant ostrich plumes emerging from them. The standout moment though: Edie Campbell opening the show in nothing more than a bedazzled g-string, her body spray-painted with glittering Stephen Sprouse-style writing and her arms draped in bejewelled chains.
AW14 – A NEW DAY
The AW14 show marked the arrival of Louis Vuitton’s reigning creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, who took the throne after Marc Jacobs departed earlier that year. Taking place at Paris’s Cour Carrée, metal shutters opened at the beginning of the show, as beams of bright sunlight illuminated the runway: a fitting metaphor to signal the rise of a new dawn at the revered French maison. On each seat was a typed note detailing the designer’s feelings about his new position: “Today is a new day. A big day… Words cannot express exactly how I am feeling at this moment. Above all, immense joy.” No, you’re crying.
2017 CRUISE – RIO DE JANEIRO
Ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics (LBR, this was the bigger event) Nicolas Ghesquière took us all to Rio for his 2017 Cruise show. Staged in Oscar Niemeyer’s Neiterói Contemporary Art Museum, the sporty collection took inspiration from ideas around tropicality and urbanism – what better place than Brazil to bring them together? Stomping down the pastel-hued catwalk, the collection’s standout pieces included handbags with 80s-looking graphics and a bag that doubled up as a boombox. Yep. Perfect for Ipanema beach.
AW17 – NO FRONTIERS
Not only are attendees in for a heady dose of fashion when they take their seats at a Louis Vuitton show, Nicolas Ghesquière can usually be trusted to expose them to some serious culture, too: both IM Pei’s Miho Museum in Japan and Brazil’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum have previously played host to the designer’s presentations. For AW17, the LV show took place at the Louvre, in its central sculptural atrium for the first time ever. The collection itself was all about breaking down the boundaries between frontiers, and how art and culture can unite us all. To top it off? The soundtrack came courtesy of Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids”.
SS18 – TRANSCENDING TIME
SS18 saw LV’s current creative director Nicolas Ghesquière clash historic references with something altogether more futuristic in a show held at the Louvre: think Louis XVI-style brocade frock coats layered over sporty satin running shorts, and flowing chiffon dresses that wouldn’t look out of place on a Jane Austen heroine paired with intergalactic-esque silver sunglasses. A stand-out style, though, was an 80s-style band t-shirt with Stranger Things emblazoned across its chest, which tapped into both Ghesquière and the world’s burgeoning obsession with everything the Upside Down.
Louis Vuitton Catwalk: The Complete Fashion Collections is out now.