Let’s get real: the last two years have been harsh, brutal, unforgettable. They’re undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the history of mankind – one that, with rare insight, we can all recognise as fundamentally significant even as we experience them and try to go about our daily lives. Considering we’ve just lived through a piece of history – something we’ll be talking to our grandchildren about, something books will be written on – it’s understandable that our current cultural moment, epitomised and mirrored by fashion like nothing else, is fixated with the past. We didn’t theme the latest issue of AnOther Magazine ‘Hindsight’ for nothing, etymologically tied as that term is to retrospect (Germanic origin, rather than Latin). Yet, more than merely looking back, hindsight draws on history to move forward into the future – it learns lessons. That was the idea of Nicolas Ghesquière’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection for Louis Vuitton – a future vision, composed of the smithereens of the past.
Smithereens imply destruction: and don’t we always have to smash our icons to create something new? With music thumping and antique chandeliers tinkling overhead, Ghesquière collaged together ideas from history to create looks that projected bravely forwards – the juxtapositions, contrasts and contradictions inherent in that was compelling. He himself, cleverly, lassoed it to Vuitton’s own history: “For me, it would be a trunk in which clothes succeeded one another and were transformed up to today,” he said in the notes that accompanied this show. “In this trunk, we brought together a dress from the 1920s, jeans from the 1990s, and a blouse with polka-dots from the 1980s, for example. Time goes by, and clothes evolve.”
Ghesquière’s reference-points, however, were the most rigid and immovable styles – military uniforms, and dresses for grand soirée, which still have their roots in the formal attire of the court of Louis XIV. “A grand ball,” was one of the inspirations, Ghesquière said. “And the phantasmagoria it implies. The ceremonial aspect, the intrigue, the sidelong glances, the whispering, the sensual infatuation.” Hence, we clustered in a passageway named after Louis XIV’s adviser, Cardinal Richelieu, one which – house legend has it – Monsieur Louis Vuitton himself would travel to pack the trunks of the Empress Eugenie. The Louvre was, of course, originally a royal palace – today, the passage was transformed into a hall of mirrors to rival Versailles – where the grandest balls France has ever seen were held. The mirrors flanking the walls now served to reflect back Ghesquière’s own reflections of the past. Mirrors also tied with the idea of the vampire – Ghesquière has been busy designing Alicia Vikander’s costumes for director Olivier Assayas’ forthcoming HBO series Irma Vamp, itself inspired by a silent film series, Les Vampires, from 1915. “I like the figure of a vampire who travels through the ages adapting to dress codes of the era he lives in while maintaining a certain air of the past.”
So the outfits of Ghesquière’s vamps were each composed of multitudes of quotes from different eras, like a living, breathing conversation with history – hindsight, rather than mere retrospection, that vampiric air of the past reconsidered. Corsets became coats, evening gowns were worn over jeans, and in the opening sequence of extraordinary panniered dresses, original 19th-century beads were embroidered in 2022 to create 1920s shapes. Those panniered, drop-waisted ballgowns were originally named ‘Robes de Style’, evocative updates of 18th-century dress proposed as antidotes to the ceaseless modernity of that decade’s tubular flapper dresses. Their co-mingling of historicism and modernity was fascinating and impossible to unravel: the past suddenly present, maybe even becoming the future.
Louis Vuitton is always about travel: transporting yourself from one place to the next, clothes in tow. Here, it was the clothes themselves that transported their wearers and observers alike, to a strange place within and outside of time. It’s one we’ll doubtless remember, even without hindsight.