A Petite Malle clutch in burgundy crocodile set off against black and silver.
In a season that has seen the emergence of a bourgeois, buttoned-up sensibility as the preeminent trend, Nicolas Ghesquière electrified Paris when he veered left-field and showed a high-energy collection referencing the diverse fashion tribes that converge at the Centre Pompidou. Faces were framed by sculptural ruffles, handkerchief necklines or squared shoulders. Acid florals bloomed amidst a profusion of wildly clashing patterns. Silhouettes sprouting full, generous sleeves ended in tightly cinched waists; at the bottom, they were paired with roomy high-waisted trousers or flippy-hemmed skirts. With their graphic cuts and colours, the clothes telegraphed an of-the-moment sense of cool that is sure to be catnip for the street-style set.
The accessories, on the other hand, were designed with an eye towards timelessness— though timelessness is a concept Ghesquière tackles via different approaches. On the footwear front, mannish lace-up derbies and flat, pointy ankle boots lent an attitude of ease to the ’80s-centric looks. The bags, however, invoked Louis Vuitton’s rich 165-year history in the art and craft of leatherwork. Nowhere is this savoir-faire more fully realised than in the Maison’s work with exotic skins—with materials and techniques so demanding, a single bag takes 350 steps to complete.
From top: The parts that make up a crocodile Capucines bag. Crocodile skins for a Twist bag. A Petite Boîte Chapeau bag
The handles of a crocodile Capucines bag alone takes four hours to assemble by hand. But even before the work of crafting a bag can begin, months of labour would have already gone into the process. It takes up to eight weeks to tan a skin, and a further six to colour, nourish and buff. Working with exotics might be one of the most classical métiers, but Louis Vuitton has proven that the output needn’t be static nor staid.
From the laser-cut monogram-flower heels of his early seasons to next season’s LED-screen bags, technical innovation lies at the heart of Ghesquière’s gentle modernisation of Vuitton. His recent experiments with exotics yielded a new signature technique called “the Fusion”, in which lines of colours are brushed into subtle but striking effect. Perfecting the dye alone can take the artisans up to 15 trials. It is exactly this kind of push and pull between meticulous craft and a singular design voice that ensures age-old know-how reverberates with contemporary resonance, ultimately heralding in iconic objects of desire. ■
Clockwise from top: A City Steamer bag. A fall/winter 2019 runway look paired with a Neo Square bag. A Twist bag in crocodile. Crocodile skins hand-buffed to glistening effect. The making of a Petile Malle clutch. Crocodile skin with stripes coloured in using the Fusion technique.