Two men and their baggage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


Thanks to the phenomenal success of Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty retrospective last year, fashion houses are lining up to host exhibitions that tell their stories. And while we have to wait until May for the Met's next instalment (dedicated to Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli no less), Louis Vuitton has taken the spotlight with Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs at Les Arts Decoratifs which opened in Paris last Friday.

The exhibition pays tribute to the talents of Jacobs and his journey at Louis Vuitton since he was appointed creative director in 1997, but it also tells another story - that of the house's founder, Vuitton, a trunk maker and packer who started his career in 1854.

While 150 years separates the men, they share a similar spirit, says curator Pamela Goblin.

'I didn't want to do a history of the house of Vuitton; it was not exciting at all. What excites me is to look at the people behind the brand,' she says.

Goblin says it's important to understand both men within the context of the periods in which they worked. 'Louis' time period was instrumental in the history of fashion because it was the moment when the luxury industry was really born. At the time he was working, a whole new fashion system was put into place, and Louis was very much part of this. When it comes to Marc, it's about the globalisation of fashion. It's not just about objects being proposed to the consumer, but how they are shown in a language that is more universal.'

She adds that although the two weren't exactly visionary, they are men of their time, with an intuitive and pragmatic point of view. 'They both strive for perfection and adapt to the needs to their clients.'

Spread over two floors of the museum, which is housed in a wing of the Louvre, the journey begins on the first floor with Vuitton's story. Opening with a zoetrope featuring images of 19th century dresses and trunks, visitors are led through an incredible showcase of his history, through a collection of rare trunks.

During Vuitton's career he was able to distinguish himself by specialising in fashion packing and collaborating with the likes of Charles Frederick Worth, the father of haute couture. While Jacobs dresses women in modern clothes and handbags, Vuitton met their travel needs with creations including a doll trunk complete with a trousseau (circa 1865); the innovative Explorer's bed trunk, for the Universal Exhibition (circa 1891); and his first trunk made from a grey waterproof canvas called gris Trianon. The monogram, designed by Vuitton's son, George, and the Damier came along much later.

When you head upstairs, you enter 'Marc's World' - a puzzle of pop culture references, animated videos and images. These range from scenes from his favourite films, including The First Wives Club and Marie Antoinette, to design inspirations - such as Prada and Rei Kawakubo, and style icons such as the late Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and David Bowie.

'It's a hi-tech inspiration board similar to a Tumblr page. It gives you a portrait of who he is,' says Goblin. 'Marc was instrumental in choosing what went in, not only here, but throughout the exhibition.'

Scattered throughout the rest of the floor are different vitrines featuring his creations categorised thematically with cheeky titles such as 'From Hair to Eternity,' 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes,' and 'Blue-y Vuitton.' There are also exhibits dedicated to his collaborations with artists including Takashi Murakami, Stephen Spouse and Richard Prince, the last of which includes a series of robotic nurses.

More than 300 pieces are exhibited including bags, shoes and ready-to-wear. Naturally bags, the bread and butter of the house, take centre stage with a life-sized 'Chocolate Box' featuring 53 handbags, including a white monogram style from Jacobs' first runway show in 1998. A glass cabinet shows the development of the house's iconic Speedy bag.

'Bags are the definition of the house of Vuitton. It's a desire translated into a little object; these bags are unique 21st century trunks,' says Goblin. 'We chose all the pieces together. It's by no means a retrospective. It is a celebration of what Marc has done at Vuitton since he arrived in 1997.'

Mannequins come to life, embodied best by a figure on all fours, trapped in a cage wearing Kate Moss' fetish-inspired outfit from last year's autumn-winter runway show, her head replaced by a growling panther's. In 'Just for Kicks' a series of legs rotating on a wheel, opening and closing like those of a chorus line, show off Jacobs' favourite shoe creations.

There's video footage directed by creative consultant and long-time collaborator Katie Grand and an animated short developed by Christian Bortslap. A section titled 'Peep Show' invites visitors to peer through a series of small holes to watch past runway footage.

In true Jacobs style, the exhibition closes with a bit of fun, as a doll-sized replica of the designer wearing a Comme des Gar?ons kilt, Prada shoes and of course a Vuitton bag bids farewell to visitors.

'Like any exhibition, I hope it's a magical journey,' says Goblin. 'There's nothing more exciting than seeing visitors take something away from it. It's a very personal experience. Fashion should always be pleasurable.'

Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs runs until September 16, Goblin has edited an accompanying exhibition catalogue, featuring an interview with Jacobs, available exclusively at the label's boutiques and