A masterly scenographic exhibition design greets visitors at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, a stone's throw from the Louvre. Two spectacular figures tell the story of a brand that has marked our era. Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs is the title of the exhibition that starts with the first Louis Vuitton trunk and ends with Kate Moss smoking with ease, even on the runway — a vice shared by Jacobs. The French brand thus pays homage to its founder Louis Vuitton — it was 1854 when Vuitton opened his business at 4 rue Neuvedes-Capucines, in the heart of the ville lumière — and to Marc Jacobs, the first and only creative director — since 7 January 1997 — of a company whose history spans over 143 years, and who has faced the task of introducing a prêt-a-porter collection for men and women, and a line of accessories including shoes and handbags.
Two black and white portraits open the exhibition; Vuitton's has the patina of time, and Jacobs' by acclaimed photographer John Rankin Waddell. The show was designed by Samantha Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, with rich hexagonal wood paneling and large screens that alternate significant images of our era — and not just glamour. A floor has been dedicated to each figure. The first tells the story of an era of crinoline and cloth dresses when there was no LV logo, and moves through the production of the first gray trunks covered with waterproof waxed cotton (Gris Trianon), followed by several others with decorations in canvas and the patent of the fabric that would distinguish LV trunks and protect them from the growing counterfeiting practice. In 1877, the striped canvas became available in more colors. In 1888, the most sophisticated Damier canvas included the name L. Vuitton Marque Déposée, while in 1896, following in his father's footsteps, Georges Vuitton created the LV monogram.
The creativity of the fashion house also influenced design at the time. A trunk that turns into a bed — we are at the end of the 1800s — is enough to enrapture lovers of the subject. There are objects in the show produced from 1854 to 1892, from gray Trianon canvas to the monogram, along with the 19th century fashion collections and accessories that are the property of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. These narrate the evolution of fashion and the history of travel; accompanied and enriched by the inventions of Louis, who — first among Paris manufacturers — specialized in trunks and boxes for fashion.
Fashion guru Pamela Golbin, curator of fashion, contemporary fabrics and 20th century at the Paris museum accompanies us through the second floor to be swept away by Jacobs' contemporary universe, juxtaposing Marilyn Monroe with last season's runways, impressive floor-to-ceiling moodboards of videos and photos, and peep shows to be discovered in the small fissures on the sophisticated wood-paneled walls.
The watershed designs are inevitable. It is a well-known fact that the risk of fashion exhibitions lies in mannequins wrapped in clothing. In this case, with the play of light and the creativity with which they were designed, the mannequins are not soulless forms but effectively transmit the energy and inspiration with which the clothes were designed. Finally, a tribute to the designer's collaborations with some of the most important contemporary artists consolidates the presence of art in the fashion world: Stephen Sprouse (2001, 2006, 2009), Takashi Murakami (2003) and Richard Prince (2008) and the discovery of a giant "box of chocolates" containing 53 purses that Jacobs has created over the years. Needless to say, after seeing them, viewers cannot help but desire them all — but they are no longer available.
Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs is not intended as a retrospective or even an exhibition celebrating the brand. The French museum's project consists of inviting viewers to analyze the fashion industry in two key periods of its history, the first during nineteenth century industrialization and the second during our present globalized era. Even in today's climate of global integration, there are those who distinguish themselves by the power of a unique history and the extraordinary talent of those who continue to write it — as extraordinary as the exhibition in which it is possible to discover the roots of the future.
Through 16 September 2012
Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
107, rue de Rivoli, Paris