Louis Vuitton: Art and Craft on the French Riviera

With a monolithic stone statue behind him, and a flame-haired Grace Coddington in a cat-patterned bodysuit beside him, Nicolas Ghesquière celebrated his new extended contract with Louis Vuitton.

Having signed on this month for at least another five years, the show expressed energy and commitment. And never has the mash-up of art, craft, futurism, and fantasy seemed more acute than in this Cruise collection shown on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France, where only unseasonal rain dampened spirits.

“What does eccentricity mean today?” mused Ghesquière, referring to the work of his friend Coddington, who has designed quirky handbags for Vuitton in what he described as “a cat and dog relationship” of their shared love of pets.

But this show – with its soft boots climbing high, its bold shoulders, and intricate, modernist decoration – was not only glancing back at Ghesquière’s fascination with the 1980s from his time at Balenciaga. There was a deeper link between fashion and art.

It started with the venue: the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which Ghesquière first visited a quarter of a century ago and which drew him to the modernist art of Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miró.

The models walked a maze of stonework, crunching along the white gravel paths, in outfits that were modern and slightly off-beat, with one element that stood out – perhaps a top with feathery layers, angular tailoring, or diaphanous fabric – and which were worn with a modern, sexy confidence.

“I had to consider what kind of woman could evolve in this environment. I loved the idea of someone eccentric who has her own style and mixes things in her own way,” Ghesquière said.

The “mix” is the key to his approach at Vuitton. Clients in the audience, some of whom arrived straight from their huge yachts moored in the harbour, could open their wardrobe, pull out a sharp but curvy white jacket trimmed with black leather, and leave the frill-necked white blouse and purple striped silk skirt for another day.

These mixes, mostly audacious, sent our eyes skidding from curvy trousers to ruffled dresses, each outfit having a key piece that might be one of many jackets, or an interesting addition – a pattern, a soft, silken tie-top, or even one of those handbags – that are the roots of Louis Vuitton’s fashion accessories branch.

Nobody except Miuccia Prada has managed to keep such a fine balance between fashion’s clothing and accessory lines.

Michael Burke, Chairman and CEO of Vuitton, who has overseen the subtle transition from Creative Director Marc Jacobs to Nicolas Ghesquière, waxed lyrical, describing the Fondation Maeght as “an extraordinary sanctuary where art and nature meet – epic and awe inspiring”, promising that “the venue and the collection will transport you to a fantasy world”.

Yet the show and its setting were not quite like that. The statues and the clothes were grounded in reality, making even crazily painted thigh-high boots, like paintings on canvas, look desirable.

Will we see Brigitte Macron wear the boots? (In the past she has dressed in 18th-century-style Vuitton jackets.) Probably not. But they will surely be snatched up by celebrities, including front-row guests Emma Stone, Jennifer Connelly, Léa Seydoux, Doona Bae and Ruth Negga.

New King of Cool, Virgil Abloh, appointed Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear in March this year, may have put some competitive spirit into Ghesquière’s collection, but it felt true to himself.

“It’s my point of view,” the designer said as the threatening rain spilled out of the Cannes night sky, “but the volume and shapes of the statues here were definitely influencing my silhouettes. You always have to fight with gravity when you design clothes. You want the clothes to be suspended in space or to move with the woman wearing them, and I think that’s interesting – the relationship with movement, like works of art.”