There is a definitive eloquence to the final exhibit of the Louis Vuitton Series 3 show. The high tech extravaganza – which opens within the shell of Frederick Gibberd’s Brutalist 180 Strand building in London today – offers a sense-pummelling tour around every aspect of the Autumn Winter 2015 collection, from creative inspiration, through manufacture to advertising campaign. The final display, however, is a missing wall – an aperture through which visitors can peer at the stacks of technical equipment keeping things going behind the glossy facade – a gesture symbolic of the exhibition’s access-all-areas message.
Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière and set designer Es Devlin conceived Series as a counterbalance to the flat, information-depleted imagery of fashion shows that circulate so freely on Instagram.
‘Until I designed a fashion show I had no idea that those 12 minutes could be so emotional,’ explains Devlin, whose other credits include major opera productions at the Met and Covent Garden, as well as Simon McBurney’s technically dazzling The Master and Margarita (2013).
‘How can you share that? How can you translate that into architecture – how can you translate feeling into space?’
Ghesquière first approached Devlin in 2014 to design the show for his third collection, held at Frank Gehry’s yet-to-be-unveiled Fondation Louis Vuitton building. Working closely with Ghesquière from the start of each collection, she has designed each show since, and translated those sets and the stories behind the collections into the touring Series exhibitions.
Series 3 provides the public with a privileged view and a strong sense of place. In one room, the hands of artisans at the house’s special order workshop in Asnières are projected in real time onto a set of worktops as they produce a bag and shoe.
A jagged geometric space surrounded by infinity mirrors evokes the set for the show, which is transmitted from a series of life-sized screens – one for each model – scattered around the structure. Elsewhere a projected CAD rendering shows the geodesic domes that housed the show nested alongside Gehry’s Fondation building.
Why a stand-alone exhibition, though? Louis Vuitton has stores worldwide – why not use those?
‘When you walk into a shop there’s an expectation that you might buy something, and I think the expectation here is not that at all,’ says Devlin. ‘The most important thing about it is that the kids come – especially in London with so many colleges – this is the next generation, we want them to come and be excited by it.’
According to Anusha Couttigane, Senior Fashion Consultant at retail analysts Conlumino, Series 3 ‘forms part of a wider trend of luxury ateliers (such as Dior, McQueen, Saint Laurent and Chanel) showcasing their brands in exhibitions.’
Rather than sounding the death knell for bricks and mortar retailing, Couttigane sees such exhibitions as a way for houses to reinforce their brand identity while engaging consumers on multiple levels.
‘By electing to curate the exhibition in an independent space, Louis Vuitton achieves several things. First of all, it becomes far more about the art of design and the brand’s potential to inspire than the selling appeal. Secondly, it helps to engage with people who might otherwise never step foot in a Louis Vuitton store. It also gives the organisers more curatorial flexibility – store designs have certain restrictions to them, whereas this provides more of a blank canvas.’
The wider fashion-buying public is increasingly aware of fashion week shows that were once only accessible to buyers and the press, but the flip side of this is that there’s often confusion as to which collection is which and what garments might be available when. Series 3 is, above all, a brief pulling against this: a moment of looking backward, and of considering the present collection, rather than moving relentlessly forward.
Louis Vuitton Series 3 runs until 18 October 2015 at 180 Strand, WC2