Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière Predicts the Future of Fashion—As He Creates It (2022)

Even through time and space, Ghesquière exudes the magnetism of a Hollywood star, leaning in close to concentrate on a question, beaming over a particularly good memory, pulling thoughtfully at his vape pen. In the musical chairs of fashion, he has been as constant—with his long stint at Balenciaga to his six years and counting at Louis Vuitton—as he has been constantly innovative, churning out new takes on Vuitton’s signature leatherware (from purses printed with trompe l’oeil videocassettes to ones with inset LED screens), and creating high-impact collections with equally high-concept shows. His mind is a fine one to consider how luxury moves forward; his new cruise collection, with its crisp work-from-home vibes, is a convincing rebuttal to the idea of sweatpants forever.

His creative confidence comes in part from his strong position at the helm of a European house, where the business of a brand is as important as its more artistic endeavors. And it’s the business that’s most obviously adapting, for Ghesquière. “In terms of the design itself, it doesn’t change much,” he says. The shift at Louis Vuitton, instead, is coming “more in the organization of things—meaning we’re not going to do big, huge collections anymore. We are going to do smaller collections that are dropped with a different rhythm.”

The 2019 book Identified Flying Objects theorizes that UFOs, popularly believed to be piloted by extraterrestrials, are actually the work of ultra-evolved humans—our super future descendants—come back to look at us. The author calls them “extratempestrials.” It’s what I’m thinking about when Ghesquière brings up E.T., and also when I watch the fall/winter show for the sixth or seventh time, an experience made poignant with the understanding that it may have been the last of its kind. What would the past think of us, yes, but what will the future think, looking back at the excess? What is fashion without the show? Ghesquière is unfazed and, unsurprisingly, looking toward history for an answer: He imagines a return to “the good old trunk show,” which he visualizes as “a beautiful, small concept that travels the world with different people.” This moment will lead to a reevaluation of long-held issues the industry faces: sustainability, diversity and representation, ethical production. As he says, “I wish the conditions were less violent and less terrifying for the whole world, but the fact is we have a wake-up call.”

Identifying silver linings is a Ghesquière trademark: “Wonderment” is one of his best attributes, according to Chloë Grace Moretz, who has worked with him on recent campaigns ranging from a pretty, pared-down shoot for Vuitton’s B Blossom fine jewelry collection, to the pulpy pre-fall 2020 look book, which plunked actors and musicians onto the covers of mass-market paperbacks with names like Secret Sister and Arachno Mania. “I ran into him the night before my shoot,” Moretz says. “He had been shooting all day with different people. We were passing each other [at Claridge’s] and he had a smile as bright as a kid. He was so enlivened by what they were doing.”

That’s what he misses most, working with women like Moretz, or actor Doona Bae, or Congolese-Belgian performer Lous and the Yakuza, photographed here, who he saw on the French talk show Quotidien at the end of last year and immediately contacted to come in for a fitting. “She’s so singular,” he says of the singer, whose new album, Gore, is out this month. “You can quite instantly detect a great artist by the way she creates her own universe.” Ghesquière’s constant aim is to create powerful clothes for powerful women without merely borrowing from menswear or performing for the male gaze. “I was always disturbed by the fact that in the past, the way to empower women was always to attribute qualities to them that were coming from somewhere else,” he says. “ ‘Let’s dress her in a man’s suit; she’s empowered,’ ” he mimics. “I’m like, no. That’s why I love Princess Leia. It’s almost religious, the way she’s dressed.”

Clockwise from top left: Louis Vuitton’s womenswear spring/summer 2014 show in Paris; Louis Vuitton’s womenswear spring/summer 2016 show; looks from: Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2007 show in Paris, Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2018 ready-to-wear, and fall/winter 2014 ready-to-wear.

Clockwise from top: by PETROFF/DUFOUR/GETTY IMAGES, by GIANNI PUCCI/INDIGITALIMAGES.COM, From BALENCIAGA, CHRIS MOORE/CATWALKING/GETT Y IMAGE, KIM WESTON ARNOLD/INDIGITAL.

Ghesquière was slated to cohost the Met gala this year, which was themed “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” his inspiration for the fall collection. The gala was canceled but the museum show is still underway, granting him one of his life’s greatest accomplishments: a phone call from cohost Meryl Streep. (“I was like, ‘I made it finally!’ ” he says with a grin, his fists stretched high above him.) He’d also been working with Emma Stone on a very personal, very secret project. “We have had many special moments, especially this year,” writes Stone via email. “It’s so nice to not only respect and admire him as a designer and artist, but as a human being. He’s rare and wonderful.”

This spring Ghesquière designed a cruise collection on schedule, with a look book brimming with shirtdresses, architectural angles, and rococo collars. The photos were shot at Vuitton headquarters, but the show, which has taken place in previous iterations from Kyoto to the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, was canceled. “The rhythm of my life since I was 18, really—except the year off between Balenciaga and Vuitton—my metronome was fashion shows,” says Ghesquière. “I grew up with the ticktock in my head. It’s in my body. It’s in my organism.” Earnest without a hint of self-seriousness, he adds, “I’m a big weirdo.”

The modern fashion show is a paean to exquisite beauty and breathtaking excess. In 2012, Louis Vuitton’s former creative director Marc Jacobs paid homage to the juggernaut of luxury travel by creating a life-size steam engine that chugged into the Louvre’s Cour Carrée; for his final show in 2013, Jacobs paid homage to himself with a kaleidoscope of self-referential symbols: a train station clock, elevators, an explosion of black-feathered cabaret showgirls. Since Ghesquière took the reins, the experience has become increasingly temporal. His slate-clearing first show with the brand began in a dark room, snapping open the shutters to allow sunlight to pour in: “Today is a new day,” read the note placed on every seat.

In the years since, Ghesquière has brought his guests into the belly of the newly opened Fondation Louis Vuitton, which Ghesquière described as looking “like a spaceship,” and where spring/summer 2015 models walked through spotlights like UFO high beams. Last year, in a feat of trickster innovation that epitomized his love of mixing the old with the new, Ghesquière jammed a stylized reproduction of the Centre Pompidou—Paris’s 1970s bastion of modern arts and culture—into the courtyard of the Louvre. His frequent collaborations with Pat McGrath Labs, which McGrath calls in an email “an ever-evolving creative conversation,” add yet another dimension to the shows, their combined love of research and references producing favorites like “FW19 with its electrifying eyes and bold lips,” McGrath writes, “and SS16’s conversation between technology and nature that expressed itself in a new take on the eye and lash.”

This past spring should have been no different—but it was. By the time Milan Fashion Week ended and showgoers departed for Paris, there were less than 15 reported cases of COVID-19 in France—three days later there were around 130. “Every day we were about to cancel,” Ghesquière says now. “The journalists were starting to be asked to come back home.” The lack of visitors from China, where reported cases had by then topped 70,000, had already dented attendance; now, “every day, every hour, information was [coming in] saying, this is someone that can’t be there, this person is leaving.” Even Vuitton’s American communications team was directed to stay Stateside.

For the last five years, Ghesquière has made a consistent effort to prioritize his personal life. “I think some of my friends gave up at some point,” he says, “from me not being there.” Still, “He’s a loyal friend,” Connelly says. “He’s smart, he’s sensitive, he’s funny, he’s honest. He’s like his work, he’s so many things.” Of designers, he’s friendly with most of his contemporaries, though has never seen himself “in the group of the cool guys in fashion.” Azzedine Alaïa was a close confidant, as are Miuccia Prada and his two former assistants, Natacha Ramsay-Levi, now at Chloé, and Julien Dossena, at Paco Rabanne. When I ask whether he also means prioritizing a romantic relationship, he allows that he’s working to “attribute more time to my sentimental life. I will just leave it there.” But, “Strangely, a few of my best friends—and there are not many—are my ex-boyfriends,” he says. “I feel a little bit like I’m in a movie, a drama-comedy where everyone gets along and there is story sharing that you really don’t want them to share.”

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