The concept for the fall Louis Vuitton collection came to Nicolas Ghesquière after returning home from traveling last year, when the world was finally opening up again. “What is French style?” he said. “It’s an ambitious question, but being at Vuitton you have a certain responsibility because the name of the brand is so strong in the world.” His idea, he explained, was to ask the young designers in his studio for their takes on the subject. “Since they’re so international, I was curious to know what would they think.” Unsurprisingly, they all came back with “very different things.” They don’t call it French je ne sais quoi for nothing.
Today’s show was staged in a ballroom of the Musée d’Orsay, its Beaux-Arts decor providing a counterpoint to the ambitious Philippe Parreno and James Chinlund designed installation, which reproduced a cobbled Paris street, down to honking cars, barking dogs, and clicking heels, all courtesy of the sound designer Nicolas Becker.
During his tenure at Vuitton, Ghesquière has explored the surreal and the sci-fi. This was a collection that was in touch with the street, softer and more down-to-earth, but no less haute than usual. A close-up look at the clothes revealed mind-boggling details: The camel coat in look 14 may appear to be wool, but it’s actually leather, first embossed, then printed. The pinstripes on a pair of leather jeans, meanwhile, were painted by hand and then stitched with sequins, and thousands upon thousands of tiny metal coils, or canailles, were required to achieve the three-dimensional embroideries on the spider-webby dresses.
So, what did the design studio come back to him with? What is French style in the end? It’s the Tricolore, which the studio reproduced on a blue, white, and red quilted GO 14 shoulder bag, and leather gloves. It’s the Opéra Garnier, which (this is a guess) inspired the light-up Phantom of the Opera masks. And it’s the Cinq à Sept, which is a local colloquialism for an affair, that was alluded to here with a series of sumptuous dressing gowns, pajama tops, and plush faux fur shorts.
Of course, from his perch in the top echelons of fashion, Ghesquière has had his own impact on French style over the last couple of decades—not just French style, but global style. That the “French girl look” that the entire internet is searching for often boils down to a strong-shouldered jacket and skinny pants because he’s been finessing those essentials for all these years. The surreal and the sci-fi are no less “him,” but because these pieces are hooked to real life, they resonate more powerfully. Also very desirable: a finely embroidered slip dress worn with a chunky hand-knit scarf thrown over the shoulder and boots.
Asked if he came to a conclusion about French style, Ghesquière shook his head. “No. Every season we try to answer that question, but without saying it. This season the difference is we own it. But French style belongs to everyone.”