It is not a secret that in the competitive business of Cruise shows, Louis Vuitton always made a mark not only for the fashion but also for its choice of locations. Celebrating the peak of architectural grandeur, some of the past Cruise venues hand-picked by artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière included Oscar Niemeyer’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, in Brazil, and IM Pei-designed Miho Museum, in Japan. And now, in the post pandemic world, when things in fashion are back to being bigger than before, we could not expect anything different. Destination: San Diego, California.
The set up at Louis Vuitton’s Cruise event was worthy of an American postcard. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, bathed by those orange and pink sunsets you can only get in California, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, designed by Louis I Kahn in 1965, is that type of location that really makes an impact. In travertine marble, there are two rows of parallel buildings, and in between plenty of space for models to walk under the flying seagulls, while the sun hides behind the ocean, turning everything into gold. It sounds quite idyllic–and it was.
As singer Lousita Cash opened the show wearing a hooded dress with imposing shoulders (nose piercing and a tribal-looking forehead tattoo included), the tone was set with an air of toughness and nomadism, transporting us to a scene of Mad Max. As the show notes explained, “The sun is the guest of honor in the Cruise 2023 collection. It plays an active part in the evolution of this wardrobe where changes in temperature set a stylistic tempo. The heat imposes nomadic aesthetics, between sand and cliffs, a fluid look.”
This nomad woman is a strong one, and seems ready for battle, dressed in looks that borrowed elements from a warfare world. There were gladiator skirts, tops in metallic fabrics that seemed to recreate the effect of armor, and desert boots adorned with chains. To close the show, three statement XL-shouldered coats styled with aviator headcovers were an instant success on Instagram.
Although there was a sense of strength, the collection also had flair and relaxed glamour, delivered by harem pants, looks draped with effortless elegance, and accessories such as burgundy boots with a metallic sparkle. Other pieces seduced and entertained, from the more commercial bags that returned to the runway including Cannes, Petit Malle, Coussin, and Dauphine, to show creations like sci-fi looking glasses, gilded wrist guards, or travel bags with a metallic shell, looking like barrels. Showcased for the first time ever, the new Trunk Valise also made its debut, part of look 15.
Being a constant inspiration for the brand in all its segments (Louis Vuitton just released City of Stars, a sexy new fragrance inspired by Los Angeles by night), California was also much present in the collection. Not only the local skater culture was clearly referenced—a metallic skateboard carried by one of the models will be a must-have for collectors, but the brutalist silhouette of the Salk Institute was also literally printed in flowy coats and dresses.
The show casting was also worthy of the applause, including real inspirational women such as the two leg amputee model Lauren Wasser, and Olympic champions Dalilah Muhammad and Eileen Gu. Recently, the brand made other applauded inclusivity efforts, appointing Bollywood star Deepika Padukone as its first-ever Indian Ambassador, who attentively watched the show sitting next to other House favorites such as Miranda Kerr, Léa Seydoux, and Emma Roberts.
Below, find out more about the collection and the show from artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière.
Where are we?
At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, a campus that brings together some of the pre-eminent minds in biomedicine. What you see on the outside is early-Sixties Brutalist architecture by Louis Kahn. Ever since I started showing Cruise collections for the House, I wanted the common thread to be an architectural journey. For this project, conceived in close collaboration with Jonas Salk, Louis Kahn imagined a place of serenity and reflection, taking inspiration from monasteries and artistic retreats. I had the honor of visiting the basement; it’s like a hideaway straight out of science fiction! All the researchers, the technicians in white lab coats, and the ultra-perfected laboratories, are like a world unto itself. Beyond the very impressive site, this place holds enormous meaning for the future of humankind. It’s a working institute, which is unprecedented for our Cruise show locations.
What resonance is there between this location and your collection?
I’ve long had images of this place, for reference. Of the nearby Geisel Library, by William Leonard Pereira, too–it’s extraordinary! Even though I know Los Angeles well, this part of the region–La Jolla–is new to me. We’re not far from the Mexican border, further up is Silicon Valley, and there’s the Coronado, the legendary hotel where Marilyn Monroe starred in Some Like it Hot. There lingers an aesthetic from the American golden age, mixed with the extreme southern West Coast. It all makes a really crazy collage. You must see the sunset from the Salk! It’s a moment suspended in time. The architecture, with the sea as a horizon, the surfers coming back up onto the beach and crossing paths with the researchers, the raw cliffs, it’s searing. It’s another image of California. It’s as if the sun had found its frame; it plays with the building’s perspective and its rays culminate in the linear fountainhead, the vanishing point where the water seems to turn to liquid gold. There’s real implication in this place. When I saw its strange harmony, everything clicked. I wanted the clothes to be like reflections, a point of contact between light and people. The guest of honor in this show is the sun.
How do you transpose that?
There are clothes for celebrating the sun as well as clothes for protecting yourself from it. Prosaically, we dress in function of the temperature and clothes are intrinsically tied to variations in heat. The first part of the show is based on the desert and how to protect oneself from the strength of the sun. I like very structured things, but here I also wanted fluid, flowing silhouettes. There’s lots of draping that can be removed using a snap hook system, billowing trousers, adjusted bloomers, hats, glasses, and reflective bands… Hieratic dresses open the show, in the spirit of an oracle. It’s a kind of utopic crossing… And then clothes reflecting the sun play on all the metal tones you can possibly imagine. As if they were part of a prism. Boleros are like kites or very shiny wings. There are also prints inspired by jet skis, the sea, technical elements from the nautical life that blend with the sand, and the rugged cliffs–it makes for beautiful images. The contrast between technology and the earth.
Please talk about the materials.
For several seasons now, we’ve been creating technical effects with natural materials. It’s a total illusion. There’s lots of linen. Silk cloqué that we work in various ways, from fluid cloqué to metallic jacquards. Prints inspired by Salk and photographed using a thermographic camera. In most of the show, it’s cotton, silk, and wool that we manage to render visually technical without using glue or thermo-molding. It’s a major evolution in the transformation of fabrics. Very shiny frayed tweeds, sequins, leathers, and metallic denim –all row materials mixed with shine. There is also metallic embroidery that will oxidize with time and change color.