Neptune, with rippling muscles, was stabbing a dying horse. A nymph was stretched out on a plinth, every part of her beautiful body exposed - except for a drape of cloth around the loins. Below that sculpture, a wild boar was being heroically slain in a scene from classical Greek mythology.
The setting for the Louis Vuitton show in the Louvre’s home of classic statuary in the Cour Marly was, in that overused fashion phrase, truly awesome. The audience felt a sense of privilege to be there, among these historical creations of such beauty and eternal elegance. The classic revival of the 17th and 18th centuries produced exceptionally fine work. And we fashion folk were alone in the often overcrowded museum, at night, in the sculpture court, with spotlights trained on the white marble.
“For me, it is truly a dream come true,” said Louis Vuitton Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière, speaking after the last model had walked a series of marble stairwells in front of an audience that included Michelle Williams, Isabelle Huppert, and the timeless Catherine Deneuve.
So what do you do as a fashion creative when faced with art that has marked history? The designer’s decision seemed to be: business as usual. There were no draped dresses such as those of Madame Grès, so memorably displayed in the Paris sculpture museum, the Musée Bourdelle (“Couture at Work”, 2011). Nor were there riffs on the creamy greys of stone or the off-whites of marble that captured the timelessness of beauty – although there were silken dresses. They were new for Vuitton, especially one in sky blue, cut in strips on the bias so that it slithered across the body.
But otherwise, there was Ghesquière’s random mix of a black leather coat with satin, a familiar studded leather jacket with blue silk trousers standing in for jeans, and fluffy snowballs of fur down the front of a jacket. In fact, fur played a larger part than usual in the Vuitton repertoire, although it was more often pieced together like a puzzle or even in blue shearling dyed a denim-blue.
Ghesquière’s casual stance with high quality fabrics and exceptional craftsmanship is the essence of his work for Vuitton. Whereas the brand’s signature bags were classic, often worn slipped across the wrist, the clothes were more experimental, as when squares of what looked like glitter leather appeared in patches on a white top. The only link between accessories and clothes seemed to be the extraordinary handwork.
Did the designer miss a moment in not aligning his work more closely with the exceptional surroundings? In the movie world, they say never to work with dogs or children. Timeless art comes into the same category with fashion, which is essentially transient. So the designer was surely wise to leave the art alone - even if those sculptures did rather steal the Vuitton show.