Two decisive periods of time for fashion and two men who exceeded the demands at hand. Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs at Les Arts Decoratifs until September 16, proves that even after Fashion Week has ended in Paris, the craftsmanship and talent continue to thrive within the city. A retrospective of the two men’s work showcases not only how Vuitton came to start the world-renowned brand, but how he became a leader during the industrial revolution through numerous innovations. A creativity, that Marc Jacobs continues to expand upon today as the artistic director of the house during modern globalization.
The two-floor exhibit welcomes visitors with portraits of the two men, Vuitton in 1892 and Jacobs in 2011. Moving into the space, a spinning cylinder labeled “Zootrype” cranks sounds like a vintage music box while an image of a woman transforming her dress into a pair of wings whirls across multiple screens. It is this image of the transformation of women’s’ clothing, from binding to freeing, that symbolizes the two different time periods of the exhibit.
The first floor is dedicated to Louis Vuitton who was born in the Jura region of France in 1821. He quickly made Paris his home by taking an apprenticeship with a packager/trunk maker in 1837. Seventeen years later, Vuitton opened his first boutique and workshop on 4, rue Neuve des Capucines. It was during this time period that the height of fashion for all classes emerged. Napoleon III was a large advocate of the luxury industry and with the creation of department stores, women were now able to buy more clothing due to its lower cost. However, with an increasing wardrobe, shown in-depth by a depiction of the amount of clothing needed to be worn in the mid-19th century, from undergarments to evening wear, there was a need for women to be able to transport the many items they required both easily and safely.
On his publicity cards, Vuitton labeled himself as simply a packager in order to distinguish himself from the competition. The exhibition moves on to showcase 30 different trucks that were some of the first products of the Vuitton brand. Magnifying glasses enlarge certain areas of craftsmanship such as the sturdy clasps and wax canvas that was used to waterproof the trunks. In 1877, Vuitton filed the patent that would change everything-the striped and checkerboard pattern-that would not only further differentiate his brand at the time, but make his bags easily recognizable for more than a century to come. A standout during this point of the exhibition is a truck that held a light-weight cot that unfolded into three pieces.
In 1880, Vuitton’s son, George, took over the business. Faced with numerous imitators, Vuitton trunks were now labeled personally for the customer and the entire set could only be opened by two keys. Books of inventory from this period are on display and show just how meticulous and personal the identification process was. George Vuitton also further expanded the design of the trunks by incorporating flowers, stars and the initials of his father (LV) in honor of the craftsman who died before their debut in 1896. The first floor closes with video footage of the streets of Paris around the turn of the 20th century as well as a multimedia display that meshes the checkerboard pattern of Vuitton with the landmarks found in his home of Paris.
After learning about the founding of the brand, visitors climb the steps to the second floor where they are immediately greeted by a hot pink leopard look from Marc Jacobs. The upside down mannequin represents how Jacobs set out to “turn the brand on its head.” A native New Yorker, Jacobs rose to the top of Perry Ellis before catching the eye of Vuitton owner Bernard Arnault in 1997.
The change in tone from fashion history to globalization sets in right away, as visitors are met with a wall of television screens depicting Jacobs’ “Icons.” Video loops of everything from Elizabeth Taylor movies to Mick Jagger applying lipstick to episodes of Spongebob Square Pants play alongside throbbing electronic music.
A display of 53 different handbags produced throughout the tenure of Jacobs shows how the signature Vuitton pattern and shape is still there, but now there is added fur, bright colors and velvet. The handbag process is shown in further detail by depicting one hand bag at five different design stages, beginning with the basic shape and black leather of the bag to the final product and contemporary design.
The exhibition becomes more fierce after this with “Kage Moss,” a mannequin on all fours with the head of a bear, dressed in a tight black ensemble worn by Jacobs’ early muse Kate Moss in one of his runway shows. As visitors continue to view more dresses from Jacobs’ collections, his voice is heard over the speakers discussing everything from his early beginnings to the team it takes to put on a runway show to his own personal interests. No collection is ever the same for Jacobs, as the style swings each season to better define and meet the needs of the LV woman.
Time never stops in the world of fashion and the exhibit recognizes this with a clock that depicts each ticking hour with a set of legs wearing a different pair of shoes from Jacobs. Other standouts include “Peepshow,” which gives visitors various holes to look through that lead to videos of different runway shows, and Jacobs’ collaborations with three different artists ( Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince), further highlighting how the brand continues to evolve by working with people of different mediums to capture unique contemporary looks. The gorgeous eye candy and pulsating music toward the end of the exhibit makes one feel as if they are not only at a Fashion Week show, but walking the runway as well.
Though the exhibit does not forge the gap between the tenure of the two men, it does forge a connection between the duo. Vuitton understood industrialization and Jacobs, globalization. The connect is that both men provided contemporary solutions to the needs of their respective eras, making them partners throughout time. Between the history on the first floor to the exuberance on the second, the exhibition strikes the perfect balance, so that the visitor leaves strutting the pavement with a head full of knowledge, a body full of excitement, and a heart full of respect.