How can fashion brands compete in a global marketplace and capture the interest of potential new, loyal customers? The answer, from Louis Vuitton at least, seems to be to stage a lavish exhibition. London was recently host to the "Series 3" exhibition, following in the footsteps of Shanghai and Los Angeles, an elaborate installation devoted to the Louis Vuitton's Autumn/Winter 15 collection.
Like Les Journées Particulières I went to a couple of years ago (and also hosted by the LVMH group), there's a sense that that Series 3 exhibition gives everyone privileged access to a closed-off, exclusive world. And, while this exhibition was free, it was staged on such a grand scale that made it clear that no expense had been spared. Taking over a huge building on London's The Strand, Series 3 included everything from geo domes to rooms that appeared to be bathed in bright sunlight, even though we were visiting on a dark autumn evening.
Inescapably, the exhibition reinforced the idea of the designer as genius. One room was intended to represent inside Nicolas Ghesquière's mind, giving us lesser geniuses a glimpse into his inspirations and his muses.
More interesting was how those ideas were embodied in the collection. Footage of the collection was shown in a space that replicated the one in which the collection had been held. It captured the energy of the show for those of us who are never going to be FROW-ers.
Also emphasised throughout was the craftsmanship that went into each Louis Vuitton piece, and their use of some cutting edge (literally) 21st-century technology. Lasers that can scan the leather for imperfections and cut the pieces around it, therefore leading to less waste - very clever indeed. You could watch close up video footage of hands assembling the bags, as well as see the work being done live. As in Les Journées Particulières, they'd brought in some real life workers to answer our questions. It was every bit as interesting and - telling - no, the woman we spoke to couldn't afford to own a Louis Vuitton bag herself.
The shot above is an attempt to capture the daylight room - so bright that even the models were wearing sunglasses. This room attempted to bridge the gap between the history of Louis Vuitton and the brand today. That meant historic trunks and cases shown alongside accessories from the a/w collection. There was the trunk that inspired the new Petite Malle bag, down to the crosses that decorated it. Or it became apparent how the lining of another case inspired the hatched padded of some of the other bags.
That lead into a giant "walk-in wardrobe", filled with pieces from the collection and demonstrating that the brand today was about much more than accessories. Of course, it's always fun to be able to get a close-up look and feel of garments that you'll never buy, or even dare to try on, in your everyday life.
The final room resembled that of a teenagers, in that it was covered with tearsheets of images from the latest Louis Vuitton advertising campaign. For that they've picked ambassadors who bring a slightly edgier, contemporary look to the brand, such as Jennifer Connelly and Alicia Vikander. It was a room clearly intended for selfies (as was the whole exhibition), a simple way of communicating the Louis Vuitton message over social media.
With my museum head on, it's easy to pull apart these commercially-led exhibitions. It's impossible to miss the messages they are pushing about the brand: heritage, quality, craftsmanship, reinterpreted for today. They want the brand to be seen as something desirable, and cool. If you can't quite afford a bag yet, how about some sunglasses? How about a belt?
However, it's made me stop and consider a brand that I really only had a passing historic interest in before. Perhaps if I was looking to invest in a designer item, I'd consider them where I wouldn't have previously. It seems like an awfully elaborate way to make some sales but - given that this is the third installment - those big fromages at LVMH must consider it one that works.
Thanks to my fellow visitor Tia for letting me use her photos.