Louis Vuitton keen to highlight the art of bespoke
Luxury brand has opened an exhibition space, La Galerie, near its Paris bespoke workshops, with opening exhibition highlighting the Vuitton house and its custom pieces
"It is a great day for Asnières, which holds a very special place in my heart," says Patrick Louis Vuitton in the garden of his family home in Asnières-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris.
The great-great-grandson of Louis Vuitton has good reason to celebrate. The luxury brand has opened an exhibition space, La Galerie, that highlights not only the house but also its custom pieces, which are produced by a special department led by Vuitton himself.
After opening the gargantuan Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum in Paris last year, the LVMH group moved on to opening La Galerie, around the corner from the workshops where the made-to-order trunks and bags are still produced.
The space was inaugurated on July 5 with an exhibition set up by Judith Clark, a curator and professor of fashion and museology at London College of Fashion.
Clark's aim was to reveal the intimate aspects of Louis Vuitton's history, while focusing on its ties with the ateliers in Asnières. She created an exhibition over two floors. Elements, including documents and collection pieces from the Louis Vuitton archive, are grouped according to themes.
Old client records, sales registers, posters and original photographs are kept alongside trunks, suitcases, bags and ready-to-wear collections - some of them the personal possessions of royals and maharajas, Hollywood stars and French actresses, as well as anonymous bespoke clients who wanted bags and trunks "that are always complicated to make and created to carry the most beautiful of things", as Vuitton puts it.
Is the exhibit a retrospective? Not really - Clark's take on the Louis Vuitton universe is rather a "best-of" exhibition that's also rooted in the present - and Vuitton seems pleased by this perspective. Bespoke artisanal pieces are a burgeoning part of the luxury business.
"Lots of people think that bespoke has declined since ready-to-wear took over," he says, "but they couldn't be more wrong. I'm amazed to see how many aspiring craftsmen are interested in learning our trade, and how many clients continue to order their made-to-measure trunks and bags."
As China's luxury sales continue to stagnate following the government's efforts to curb corruption and extravagant spending, LV has also found itself saturated in the ready-to-wear market in the country's biggest cities. Cookie-cutter luxury goods are losing their appeal for connoisseurs. Many brands are finding artisanal and bespoke products that cater to the uber rich might help to save the future of high fashion, both in China and abroad.
According to Vuitton, bespoke is not only a safe bet but a sensible way to highlight a house's history and exclusive know-how. "Back in the day, we hand-painted our LV monogram on trunks to show how exclusive they were and to protect them from counterfeiting. Ironically, this monogram is now the most counterfeited in the fashion industry, but this also shows that exclusivity matters to luxury customers. Bespoke is the quintessence of luxury, it's a true and personal experience, you can hardly get any better," he says.