In 2010, I visited a beautiful Louis Vuitton exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet, in 2012, I enjoyed a Marc Jacobs/ Louis Vuitton display at the Arts Décoratifs and this year, it was time for a gigantic Louis Vuitton presentation at the Grand Palais.
That seems like quite a lot of exhibitions dedicated to the same house, no? Although, the Carnavalet display concentrated mainly on the brand’s relationships with travel and exploration and that the Arts Décoratifs show’s aim was to confront Marc Jacobs’ work to that of the historical house, the Grand Palais’s exposition seemed like a redundant discourse.
I must nonetheless admit that the Grand Palais’ monumental show was breathtaking with its creative and playful scenography that invited visitors on a train, in the desert, upon the sea but also within refined workshop atmospheres. Organized in 9 theme: The 1906 Trunk, Wood, Classic Trunks, Travel, Writing, The Art Trunk, Playful Trunks, Fashion and Music, the display emphasized the journey of the legendary house from the early 1900s to the present time, putting side by side, contemporary creations and patrimonial trunks. Curated by the Musée Galleria’s talented director, Olivier Saillard, it is clearly incredibly presented: my favorite take on the show surely being the choice to present the trunks with the garments, accessories and various objects (from the Galleria’s archives) they were originally destined to carry – a fantastic didactic manner that enabled visitors to observe with great attention and curiosity trunks that, if left empty could have just looked like a bunch of heavy boxes (well in a very caricatural way, of course!).
It is the director, Robert Carsen, used to working for the theatre and opera, that has imagined the spectacular scenography: from its very Agatha Christiesque train wagon, to its Lawrence of Arabia-like desert, its plane bursting through a blue sky wall, the road travelling across the forest, full of promising adventures or the cinematic room dedicated to fashion….Many astonishing and dreamy sceneries.
What I also highly appreciated is how personal stories and a wider patrimonial history embracing culture, society and technology, were brought together. While we observe the development of automobile, train and air travel alongside fruitful art collaborations, we also inspect Douglas Fairbanks’s elegant suitcase made for his beauty products or the art dealer, René Gimpel’s exquisite trunk dedicated to the paintings he would present in London and New York as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s fabulous suitcase ensemble. There are also anonymous figures that arouse our curiosity: who was William Tomboy who possessed an 1895 hat trunk or the opera singer, Marthe Chenal and her delicate beauty set?
And yet, behind this decadent debauchery of money: difficult not to think that the patrimonial purpose also obscures a doubtful marketing ambition.
Of course, it is always interesting to learn more about contemporary luxury houses’s history but we can question the suitableness of such an exhibition, knowing that two other displays had already been dedicated to Louis Vuitton in the past 5 years. We can’t help but ironically analyse the self-glorification, the study of a past that intentionally leaves inside dark moments such as the role the brand played during World War II. But aside the historical controversy, why is it so disturbing to encounter handbags and garments from the latest fashion shows, subtly placed aside patrimonial collections? Surely because they are a clear reminder of what Louis Vuitton’s main goal is: to sell.
So, although, Volez, Voguez, Voyagez is a comprehensive and stunning show that intelligently combines entertainment and instruction, it leaves a bitter taste because it is sponsored by the brand itself and because the free exhibition takes place off the Champs Elysées, not far from the Louis Vuitton flagship store, turning the circuit into a sort of retail tour.