Over nearly 10 years, Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton grand tour has taken him to a John Lautner house in Palm Springs, Oscar Niemeyer’s Niteroi Museum in Rio, and Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in San Diego, among other architectural wonders of the 20th century. His resort show tonight was to happen in a different kind of place: the terraced gardens of Isola Bella, a tiny private island in Lake Maggiore that has belonged to Italy’s Borromeo clan for 500 years. “There are beautiful places to go in Italy,” Ghesquière said, “but the lakes are so mysterious.”
Ferrying the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Oprah Winfrey, and Cate Blanchett, plus 1,000 or so other guests to the spectacular venue was quite the feat, but not even the powerhouse that is Louis Vuitton can change the weather. The rain was coming down in sheets, and plans for a sunset show and after-party en plein air had to be scrapped, though an earlier show was staged to create these images.
It would’ve been magical to see these clothes walk through the gardens, with their tropical fruit trees growing in the shadow of the Alps. The lake produces its own climate and Ghesquière was much inspired by the watery surroundings. “We started with the idea that the girls were coming from the water, like mermaids of the lake, and they’re transforming to something else,” he said. The explanation tied together a collection of many distinct proposals. Ghesquière tends to think freer and looser when he’s untethered from Paris, but this sci-fi fantasy had the dreaminess of a fairytale.
It started with scuba gear featuring fin-like collars and water droplet embellishments. A pair of diving jackets were elaborately printed in a way that conjured both Hokusai waves and the creatures that might be living underneath them. He mixed neoprene tank suits with lavish courtly robes, and paired mermaid-scale sequin skirts with naval jackets. The baroque headgear was custom-made for the show by an atelier in Rome that works for the opera and movies. This was the French house’s first-ever show in Italy (a timely choice given its new CEO Pietro Beccari is Italian) and Ghesquière wanted to pay tribute to the country’s patrimony of craft.
Then the mermaids found their sea legs. Just over three weeks ago, the designer and his Louis Vuitton teams were in Seoul for a pre-fall show that put the accent on street-ready, sporty-glam silhouettes that seemed tailor made for that flourishing city. Here, his everyday pieces included brushed cashmere sweaters in soft pastels that he described as Italian colors, “button-downs” and “jeans” in embroidered lace and sumptuous brocades, and classically cut coats that topped sequined floral dresses inspired by the island’s plantings.
“By the end the mermaid becomes a flower, but maybe not a flower that exists,” Ghesquière said. That notion produced a group of long dresses in more of those pastel shades that qualified as real news for the designer, who has typically shied away from gowns on the runway at LV. They were delicate and bold simultaneously, a mix of silk, georgette, organza, and lace from their softly draped bodices and pouf sleeves to their sculptural, swingy hems. Who needs mysterious lakes when you have the power of imagination? Who wants quiet luxury when you can have a couture-level cape with water droplet beading or a quilted damask jacket featuring wyvern, unicorn, and other legendary creatures? A captivating, transportive show.