Fashion exhibitions. I have a love-hate relationship with them. I’m not an industry pessimist who hates seeing works of art stored in large vitrines or hoisted from the ceilings of cavernous museum halls. In fact, I love being able to experience the clothes that the designers work tirelessly on. The “hate” part of that relationship stems from the fact that I live in Ireland, where there is a deficit of fashion exhibitions. London is the primary venue. I do attend London Fashion Week bi-annually, but the exhibitions usually commence after or finish before I’m there. Luckily, that all changed last weekend when I was invited to the Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, which to my delight was held before my departure. Never have I been so excited for an exhibition, and never has one exceeded all my expectations and then some.
180 The Strand is a familiar building to me. The previous five seasons I attended London Fashion Week, the official BFC venue was in Somerset House. Arriving at Temple tube station around the corner, I would pass by this blank canvas of a building, noticing it's bare concrete and exposed cables. Louis Vuitton selected this alternative location for their display, in central London, with room for work. The vacated premises were transformed by set designer Es Devlin, through the vision of artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière. Welcoming us inside the inner workings of Ghesquière’s mind, the collection explores the Fall 2015 collection from conception to creation to presentation. “It is a stream of consciousness, dreams and self-reflexive journeys." The idea of the historic Louis Vuitton past and the futuristic mind of Ghesquière were present once again.
The goal of the involving exhibition was to see “how many people can you fit into a fashion show?”. Sure, there are two, two and half thousand people at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, or in Monaco or Palm Springs, to see the collections. But that number is very inclusive. It contains the fashion industry. The general public only gets to experience images and videos, second-hand, of the shows. The accessibility of these Louis Vuitton exhibitions is important. It proves that fashion is a wide-reaching platform, further than it’s own industry. Louis Vuitton wants to present the public with this opportunity to experience their collections, worldwide.
Greeted at the front entrance by set designer Es Devlin, whose CV is startlingly wondrous (Olympic opening ceremonies, Kanye West concerts, U2, etc.), she informed us that we would be “seeing the exhibition in its raw state." Still applying the finishing touches for the next day’s gala presentation were high-vis wearing workers and programmers, sweeping floors, adding licks of paint to walls, drilling, programming lasers. It was all very much a work in progress. But we were told that’s how “they wanted us to see it." I’m assuming the “they” in that sentence is the label. Devlin also told us that we would be prompted to “use our imaginations” but that “[she] would guide us through as best as she could." At the front entrance, you are met with a holographic print of the overlapping LV logo. It wasn’t turned on when we were there, but the it transforms between the original logo and the one Ghesquière created, contrasting the past and present.
From that point you enter a cavernous room with a very high ceiling. A geodesic dome, like the ones you’ve seen at the Fall 2015 show, outside the Fondation Louis Vuitton, is planted against the wall and ceiling. This is the first visual representation of the collection in the exhibition. In this room, the voice of Adèle Exarchopoulos tells you how the collection came to be, through a poem by photographer Juergen Teller.
Following Devlin through to the next room in a bright white tunnel, we arrived in a circular room. A trunk smack in the centre is peeled apart, one half levitated lower than the other. We were instructed by Devlin to peer inside the trunk while also using your peripheral vision to absorb the floor-to-ceiling screens around us. “You might feel a little sea-sick,” Devlin added, after looking at the split LED lights inside the trunk and the screens around you. You feel as though the room is spinning. On the screens on the wall are model muses of the collection. They tell you how they became apart of this LV journey. In the trunk you are greeted by images of Ghesquière’s other muses, the making of the Petite Malle trunk bags and more.
After that sensorial experience, were led into the next room which contained saturated flashing light. Screens implanted in desks and wooden stools lined the narrow room, and mirrors adorned the walls. This screens display the hands of the artisans working on La Petite Malle and the Dora bags. Ghesquière was inspired by children’s computer and video games. The idea of first and third-person gamer modes gave way for this aspect to be created.
The next room will excite fashion lovers the most. At a show, you’re confined to a block, row, seat. Looks emerged, one by one; your only time to see them is as they pass. During this experiential exhibition you are presented with a chance to challenge the construct of a fashion show. Screens are erected around the room, all 48 looks are projected onto them. The model will always be there, walking towards you. You are encouraged to move around, explore. It’s all about movement as you may be able to tell.
The next room was pitch black when we arrived. An exercise in imagination appeared. Lasers would project onto a screen, showing you how leather is cut at the atelier.
The science of savoir-faire was up next. An artisan from Asnières has been invited to be a part of this exhibition. She will work, daily, making the handbags like she does in northwest Paris. This room at the Series 2 exhibition was one of the most popular as people became “mesmerised,” by the work that the artisan carried out. Her apparatus was all laid out in an orderly and compartmentalised manner. Her hands will be filmed by cameras and the footage will be projected onto the surrounding screens. You are invited to pause, sit and watch the artisans at work.
The next room is the accessories gallery. After climbing a set of stairs you are met with a dazzling burst of white light which starkly contrasts with the previous, dimly lit rooms. The gallery contains the 3-D cast and moulded avatar of model Marte Mei van Haaster who wears key accessories of the collection. For Series 1 and 2, in Tokyo and Shanghai, and Los Angeles and Tokyo, respectively, this room was the most Instagrammed. One attendee said “these people don’t f**k around, they want good Instagrams,” another, “this is great selfie lighting.” The indisputable Instagram appeal was outshone by the sheer brilliance of the 3-D modelling of the Dutch model. Her form dotted around the room, you can’t help but be fascinated.
The Walk In Wardrobe is the second to last room in the exhibition. Designed to be like “a store,” the garments here “speak to a woman who wishes to own it. It tells her a story, one she’ll enjoy listening to, tales of who she would like to become.” That is the magic of fashion. It allows you to be somebody else, or to portray your true character. Women who will want these clothes will look amazing. Victoria Beckham’s white and black mini dress she wore on the cover of Vogue Australia in August was there. Jennifer Connolly’s dress from the Juergen Teller-lensed photo from the campaign. Seeing these notable items in person was wonderful. The thoughtful ideas behind this make it all the more interesting. "The wardrobe: a gateway to a thousand possibilities."
There is a chance for a brief intermission between the Walk-In Wardrobe and the last room. The seating is from the cruise show, and it overlooks the murky Thames. However, on a sunny day the riverside view is quite something. “You’ll see things [in this exhibition] that you will have seen in the others,” Devlin replied, when asked about the expansivity of the exhibition. For budget reasons they repurpose old items. It didn’t take away from the appeal. It added to it.
The final room's inspiration came from the first time Devlin met with Ghesquière. They were discussing mood boards. They concluded that mood boards originated from teenage liberty. Pinning posters and magazine snippets to your walls; making your own stamp on your territory. Pasted on the walls are Ghesquière’s muses: Fernanda Ly, Marte Mei van Haaster, Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connolly. Posters of each of these women are placed on wooden palettes for visitors to take, to continue this idea of making a personal, self-relfective mood board on your own wall.
Leaving the exhibition you go down a stairwell and are met with an look inside the backstage at a fashion show. The visitor is given a glimpse inside the “underbelly” of a fashion show, the not so glamourous side of things. “Louis Vuitton thought it would be refreshing for you to see,” Devlin shared. You pass through the room with the geodesic dome (which looks very disorientating in the picture) and through the revolving doors, you sadly leave the exhibition.
Here comes the gushy part of the tale of this exhibition. This was a spectacular display. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I would like to thank Louis Vuitton for putting on and inviting me to such an unforgettable and truly mesmerising experience. Also, Es Devlin’s magnificent guided tour amplified my love for the whole thing. Guided tours are available to the public and I would recommend them. Open from Monday just past to the 18 October, you would be foolish not experience this exhibition. You’ll be leaving it astonished, reducing yourself to one word: “wow."
All photos are my own