Louis Vuitton's new London flagship redefines the codes of luxury retailing
Maison Vuitton, Louis Vuitton’s brand new store on London’s Bond street is home to not only some of the most covetable fashion the industry has to offer but also, echoing the spirit of it’ founding fathers, some of the greatest Art outside a conventional collection.
Designed by architect (and long-standing collaborator) Peter Marino the store is both a showcase and also a second emotional home for the French brand, it’s affectionate title of ‘Maison Vuitton’ reflective of Marino’s assertion that the space should feel like being welcomed into the home of the brand “part of the home is to relax, part of the home is formal, and maybe part of the home is where you take your clothes off”.
It’s positioning in London is also less an additional notch on their global operations board and more a strategic move in the pursuit of attaining a version of cultural supremacy, a move that bears witness to an almost gravitational pull toward a creative community to which the brand has an emphatic synergy.
Considered by Yves Carcelle, chairman & CEO of LV to be “one of the most important fashion and cultural cities in the world which brings together heritage and innovation” London is an important creative stronghold for the French brand, whose existence is indelibly intertwined with contemporary Art world, and a unique platform from which to exert a more experimental influence.
Marc Jacobs, whose tenure as Creative Director for more than a decade has been key to the brands contemporary connection and commitment to Art & Artists’ (most visibly the American Art icons Stephen Sprouse and Richard Prince whose collaborative touch reached across the creative spectrum from shows to garment prints to re-designs of the classic bag) has often spoken of the power of taking Art outside the formal walls of the gallery or museum space.
“I like people, even if accidentally, becoming exposed to Art. It’s a very contemporary attitude. Exposure to creativity and ideas are vital to peoples growth while contributing something beautiful to the world”.
Based on the idea of ‘the collector’ the creative language the store which contains permanent ‘Art spaces’ as well as a bookshop, does indeed denote a voyage of creative discovery echoed by the fact that on entering the space, unusually for a super brand, the customer is greeted with ‘exceptional product’ (rather the than bulk commercial sellers) indicative of the exceptional nature of what lies beyond.
The lower ground floor is dedicated to menswear, the ground floor a pantheon of accessories (a logical homage to the luggage on which the brand was founded) and includes a diners-style bag bar, with electronically moving compartments that display bags behind bags - from which customers can pick a bag and have it customised if desired – and a space-age style glossy cylindrical space devoted to eyewear.
Moving into the Vuitton heavens, via a huge glass staircase, takes you to the hallowed ground of womenswear including an army of Vuitton mannequins curated by creative collaborator, super stylist (and Editor of Love Magazine) Katie Grand.
Original Artworks by Gilbert & George, Takashi Murakami, Michael Landy, Richard Prince, Damien Hirst and Jean Lariviere are interspersed across the main floors while additional Artworks by Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hans Hurtung and Bertrand Lavier (essentially the private collection to the public one belonging to the store) reside in the stores ‘Apartment’ an invite-only, area on the second floor, accessed by a private lift.
Directed by curator Herve Mikalef, the store marks a subtle behavioural shift into the realms of museum and art for what Louis Vuitton has presented within the walls of Maison Vuitton is not only an exceptional shopping experience but also a re-calibration of the codes of luxury, at the very highest possible level.
In much the same way as heritage tourism is fast superseding the traditional holiday requirements of escapism via entertainment the upper echelons of luxury retailing are fast realising that to be inspired, and indeed touched, on a more profound level may be key to delivering a truly satisfying shopping experience and the currency that Louis Vuitton have chosen to adopt is experience itself.
Beyond the realms of exquisite service and despite the roots of their business being fundamentally grounded in the material world, Vuittons key point of difference comes in the translation of their own rich cultural heritage.
As long-standing patrons of the Arts, the very clear modus operandi involves cultivating a language, indeed a cultural philosophy within the brand, whereby richness of experience is the epitome of success.
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by the party for the store opening, one of the most extravagant experiences even the international fashion crowd, no strangers to visual excess, had ever witnessed.
Party-goers were led through a dimly lit-entrance walkway and presented with five doorways to choose from in an experience akin to being inside a David Lynch film, and were there directed to one of five separate but interlinking rooms – each one a world unto itself, a surreal parallel universe attuned to the premise of discovering and ultimately ‘the collector’.
The advent of the London store also signals a further widening of the cultural remit with the inception “Louis Vuitton Young Arts project”, a partnership between Louis Vuitton and five leading cultural institutions (Hayward gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, South London Gallery, Whitechapel gallery and Tate Britain) aimed at engaging young people in a new dialogue the Arts, potentially forging exciting new careers.
Susan Whiteley - Managing Director of Louis Vuitton for the UK, Ireland & Scandinavia comments. "This is a project which intrinsically captures the true creative spirit and cultural values of the brand. Louis Vuitton have worked for many years to establish a credible relationship within the UK arts scene, building long-standing relationships with major institutions and in addition, we have built and developed a respected series of Art Talks showcasing the talents of Richard Prince, Dinos and Jake Chapman, Sam Taylor Wood, Anthony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor and most recently Chris Ofili. The opening of the New Bond Street Maison allows us the opportunity to extend this commitment to culture and creativity through a new and immersive engagement with the artists of tomorrow."
The intimation that underscores all is that to experience the world of Louis Vuitton is to enjoy an experience aligned with a higher cultural grasp. Splitting the purchase from the procedure equates with a more intellectually stimulating sojourn than your average retail run. And therein lies the true seduction. According to some at Vuitton, the purchase, should you make one, is the simply the perfect momento.