Nicolas Ghesquière’s debut for the French house was a vision of the new high society woman – and she’s hellbent on luxurious leather.
Photography Stefan Zschernitz
Styling Anders Sølvsten Thomsen
Cream wool ribbed top, gold V-shaped earring Louis Vuitton.
When the lights brightened on the minimal set on the Cour Carrée at the Louvre, it was the Nicolas Ghesquière woman who emerged on the runway for Louis Vuitton, yet a woman clearly embodying the values of heritage luxury. A neat A-line silhouette – a black patent-leather coat over a soft turtleneck minidress worn by Freja Beha Erichsen – set the tone for the collection. It brought leather elements of the 1960s and 1970s into contemporary vernacular, with high-waisted miniskirts, wide-set collars and biker zips its hallmarks. Ghesquière’s use of leather as a leitmotif in both clothing and accessories underpinned every look, from severe leather miniskirts to wide-collared mod jackets – historical references that looked to the brand’s heritage.
Leather as a luxury material, placed firmly in the tradition of travel and leisure – home ground for Louis Vuitton – seeks out the high-society customer. As theorist Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1899: “Elegant dress serves its purpose of elegance not only in that it is expensive, but also because it is the insignia of leisure.” Today’s standard of luxury sees heritage values becoming more and more important to brands, just as they are compelled to stay on fashion’s front foot. It’s a dynamic Ghesquière decisively conveyed this season.
Vastly important to the Louis Vuitton identity, leather is prominent in nearly every aspect of its travel and accessories range. It signifies authenticity – albeit one that is relentlessly challenged by counterfeiters – and also denotes craftsmanship and the very process of transforming raw material into rarefied product. Leather is a descriptor used to make a product sound desirable and distinct from the mass market. The success of Vuitton and its competitors as brands – brands for whom the lion’s share of revenue is generated by leather goods and accessories – lies in that capacity to create an image of leisure and recreation.
Brown moleskin zip-up dress, light blue and navy knit cardigan, tan leather wraparound belt, brown sunglasses Louis Vuitton.
Recognising this, Ghesquière deployed leather to achieve Veblen’s ideal, splicing historical elements with his own creative handwriting. Its dominance throughout clothes and accessories highlighted the fact that the material still has symbolic power to evoke a fantasy of luxury fashion. The designer also introduced his signature cutting, and edgier muses for the brand: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Liya Kebede and Freja Beha Erichsen, the new faces of Louis Vuitton in the A/W 2014 campaign. As Chloë Sevigny (another Ghesquière woman) remarked after the show, “I was curious how he was going to fit into the Louis Vuitton world, if he was going to have to bend at all. He didn’t. He kept really true to his voice and infused it all with Nicolas.”
Although their approaches couldn’t be more different, Ghesquière and former creative director Marc Jacobs have both presided over a new era of commerce. As a designer, Jacobs had a theatrical tendency: he was a branding sleuth who oversaw some highly iconic collaborations between fashion and art. Jacobs understood fully what author and fashion journalist Dana Thomas proposed as the “global luxury” of conglomerates such as LVMH, Kering and Richemont. But where Jacobs poked fun at the fashion industry and its boundaries, Ghesquière has a more formal, commercial approach to reinforcing the luxury ideals of Louis Vuitton.
What we are now seeing is designers who, under the watchful eyes of CEOs, must balance the heritage of their brands with creative vision. Ghesquière’s move to do so by using leather throughout his A/W 2014 collection for Vuitton reflects a new, more reverent era of commercial luxury. In the designer’s own words, which appeared on a typewritten note on the seats of the show: “Today is a new day”.
Black, tan and brown leather patch jacket, cream wool ribbed top, beige velvet trousers with black floral print, black patent leather boots Louis Vuitton.