#SuzyCruise: Louis Vuitton Revives A Modernist Building At JFK Airport

Swooping like a bold and beautiful bird – a trifle wounded by age – the abandoned TWA building at New York’s Kennedy airport suddenly came back to life.

With its interior filled with a tangle of greenery to challenge the dull and oh-so-familiar departure boards, the empty building had a magic to it, as models for the Louis Vuitton fashion show walked around the enormous space.

It might have seemed the ultimate folly: a fabled French brand presenting its Cruise collection in New York – but never quite making it to Manhattan.

Yet the concept seemed to energise Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière, who sent out a powerful collection in which beauty was touched with irony. Think of a series of short and snappy dresses where the upper half had a wing of fabric around the shoulders; or a historic flower pattern was cut into a bodice as though it were pieced together from 18th-century curtains.

“I started thinking about Gotham and how a French guy can fantasise about the dark side – like when I first arrived in New York,” said Ghesquière, who in 1991 actually disembarked into the TWA building, which he described as “a masterpiece of architecture”.

“I was always fascinated by the golden nature of the cool buildings, all this incredible craftsmanship,” the designer explained. “And on my first trip I remember being amazed by the city and tried to go back to these emotions.”

Ghesquière said that he was happy, as a foreigner, to accept the cliché of Wall Street and other American elements of style. Yet the collection did not come across as an ode to Manhattan, meaning the clean-cut, sporty clothes that once personified American fashion.

Instead, this was Downtown with more than a hint of ghostly history – but with the drapes, velvets, florals and lace kept mostly to the upper part of the body, leaving the rest free. The tendency was to wrap fabric like satin or lace around the top half, while the lower part focused on short skirts or trousers.

The irony was in the fact that the details and decoration seemed particularly French and historic – yet shown in a metropolitan spirit. Ghesquière has used elements of this concept of history in his Paris shows. But this time, the attention to detail was exceptional. For example, a gathered silken jacket was worn over a blue leather miniskirt; or a mannish black dress with a white stripe would be cut with loose arms and open shoulders.

Striking too was the number of celebrities who turned up en masse, each congratulating the designer “backstage”, although that is a misleading description of the area for the actresses such as Emma Stone, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Garner, Alicia Vikander and Cate Blanchett. They actually met the designer on a wing of the modernist building, with the bronze sunset glowing though the soaring glass panels.

Less than a decade ago, Cruise collections were between-season clothes to fill up the stores. Now they are so important that a large number of the Arnault family, from Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard through to his son Antoine and daughter Delphine with their spouses, all sat in the front row. They later joined a giant party held in the MoMa PS1 art centre on Long Island.

Louis Vuitton’s Chief Executive, Michael Burke, was lyrical about the show space in the TWA flight centre, designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in 1962, which he considers one of the greatest Modernist landmarks in the world – not just in New York. It will now be refurbished and re-open as a hotel.

I asked Ghesquière about an oddity to his collection: a precise, old-fashioned weather report from different landmarks, still heard on British radio today as the Shipping Forecast. Why was this played as part of the soundtrack?

“Everyone is very concerned about the state of our planet and it is a very simple message, said Ghesquière. “What is going on with the weather?”