Louis Vuitton & Marc Jacobs at Arts Decoratifs

What does an innovative French luggage maker from the 1800’s have in common with a cutting edge American garment designer operating today? The current exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs takes a look at the renowned luggage firm of Louis Vuitton, the fashion environment and products created by its founder in the 1800’s as they contrast those of its current artistic director, Marc Jacobs.

Spread over two levels, the exhibition devotes a floor to each man’s work within brilliantly designed settings created by Samantha Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett. Entering the exhibition is like being
transported back in time within a bourgeois setting of painted grey woodworked paneling. The visitor is instantly confronted with a typical women’s wardrobe of the 19th century as a way of illustrating the need for the type of luggage created by Vuitton.

The exhibition begins at the very start of Louis Vuitton’s career as an apprentice packer and trunk maker with the Parisian firm, Marachel. The visitor is then taken on a journey of made-to-order trunks that not
only stored tea services, mini bars and toiletries, but also morphed into chest of drawers, beds and lounge chairs.  The most famous of which include a trunk designed for explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. Closed it measured 27x16x17” but when opened it revealed a hair mattress, two blankets, four sets of sheets. It was used during his long years of exploration in Africa. By the end of the 19th century, the Orient Express running between Paris and Vienna began and more of the elite than ever began to travel, thus fanning the flames of passion for luxury trunks and bags.

The dawn of the automobile age had an effect on the famous luggage house. In Vuitton’s 1906 catelog, several “automobile” trunks were featured. Shortly thereafter, Vuitton designed the precursor to today’s motor home, completely outfitted with numerous travel accessories from a chest of drawer to a case for a trousseau. Also on view are original bills of sales, the registry of customers and a stamp used to create the checkered patterns. In able to better appreciate the artistry of the trunks on display, several maxi-magnifying glasses are strategically placed to show the detailed workmanship. After you have fully savored all of the luggage in view, take a final glance at the turn of the last century. A giant screen transports you back to the start of the 20th century with a video clip showing the hustle and bustle of the Paris streets.

The top floor propels the visitor to the present day chez Vuitton as it exists under the artistic direction of Marc Jacobs. In a decade marked by an omnipresent global industrialization, the 1980’s saw the arrival of a young American fashion designer named Marc Jacobs. A student of Parsons School of Design in New York, Jacobs was named creative director to Perry Ellis in 1988 at the age of 25. Together with experience from working with Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, he was soon looked up on as a major force in fashion. However, in 1992, Jacobs broke with traditional ties and mounted his own label based on the rebellious “Grunge” movement. Buyers dropped him. The press criticized him. But in Europe, he was seen as the visionary with a daring sense of style and all the right moves.

In January 1997, Bernard Arnaut, CEO of LVMH named Marc Jacobs creative director to Louis Vuitton with the express duty of introducing a line of (men’s and women’s) clothing and fashion accessories for a company known only its luggage. Jacobs envisioned the creation of a new, more contemporary world that would co-exist comfortably next to the classic Vuitton fare. At the heart of this new “style” each piece would be interchangeable.  Interestingly enough, the further away from the company’s original look Jacobs went, the more he complimented the classicism of Vuitton’s  style. On the one hand the ad campaigns photographed by renowned Annie Leibovitz, faithful to the historical theme of LVMH’s travel backdrop, were perfectly adapted to Marc Jacobs’ collections, exuding glamour in a modern context.

The visitor is bombarded by walls of images, videos and film clips put together in a giant “inspiration board” called “Marc’s world.” You are being prepared for the products and settings to follow. The traditional Vuitton bag is revisited and redesigned for today’s lifestyles and aesthetics. A wall of handbags designed by Jacobs, ranging in form, texture and taste, has something for everyone: the brown soft-sided LV bag sports a graffiti print or bright red cherries painted on its sides; an evening bag is emblazoned with golden LVs; others are in checkered printed fur. Totally irreverent, a plastic coated plaid “Tati” bag is stamped with the Louis Vuitton label.

And of course, there is a line of fashions designed by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton. A selection of his “best ” looks from the past 15 years are placed in superbly designed settings, which are surprising,
inviting and almost as interesting as garments themselves. Organized by theme, each environment transports the visitor into the highly creative spirit of not only the garments on display, but also the collaborative effort surrounding their presentation. A parade of clothed mannequins with mirrored heads and Mohawks are placed in a juxtaposition of ceiling to floor mirrors, giving the illusion of everything floating in infinity. In another space, the mannequins wear the heads of the animals which served as inspiration for the garment. As you near the end of the exhibition, a peep show is at your disposal. Take a look in the keyholes of the last wall for a glimpse of the Louis Vuitton fashion shows.

All in all, this is a thoroughly interesting exhibition. It provides not only a glimpse into one of the world’s top luxury companies, but also provides an up close and personal look at its history, past and present and the two men most responsible for its worldwide notoriety.

Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs, La Musee des Arts Decoratifs. 107, rue de Rivoli. 75001. Tel : Metro: Palais Royal, Pyramides, Tuileries. http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr  To September 16, 2012. Open Tuesday-Sun, 11am-6pm (Thursdays until 9pm). Admission: 9,50 Euros.