About halfway through the Spring/Summer 2023 Louis Vuitton womenswear show, a model emerged toting a child’s dollhouse reconfigured into a handbag. It was, of course, a witty and eye-catching accessory, of the kind Vuitton is well known for, but it also served to underline the tack Nicolas Ghesquière took for this particular outing. The cue was, actually, his collaboration with the artist Philippe Parreno – a sucker for a partnership with other artists, cinematographers and musicians in his work and who once stated “art is conversational. There is no art without conversation.” For Vuitton and Ghesquière, Parreno created a “monster flower”, a gargantuan alien bloom pulsing at the centre of the Vuitton set in the Cour Carrée of the Musée du Louvre, from which the models emerged as if exiting a spacecraft. The impression was exaggerated by the clothes they wore – Ghesquière at the height of experimentation, innovation and futurism.
Exaggeration, indeed, was the mood – influenced by Parreno’s massive flower and by their artistic conversation around the collaboration, Ghesquière blew up details on clothes to seem as if viewed through a magnifying glass, especially zippers, their pulls becoming palm-sized, and press-studs inflated to the size of teacups. That dollhouse seemed an indicator of this toying with proportion, between micro and macro, surreal tricks that extended to blown-up bows and belts and deliberately toy-like proportions. Of course, at Louis Vuitton, there was much game with accessories: locks and buckles became stand-alone bags, while Vuitton’s smallest of small leather goods – key holders and luggage tags, and micro-purses with chain-clasps designed to be suspended from belt loops – were massively overblown. There’s a play there not only with proportion but perception, taking Vuitton’s most accessible products – entry level, they call them – and making them the centrepieces of the show. They were also, of course, items we’re all familiar with, which meant that their painstaking re-working to maxi size was especially disconcerting. The everyday, made alien – like someone had spliced Vuitton’s DNA, and created a mutation.
Yet it wasn’t everything amped up to colossal scale. Ghesquière’s clothes were fitted close to the body, defining the silhouette with low-rise trousers, sleeveless tops, mini dresses. Many cleaved closer to the body than usual, even, making those XXL details seem even more incongruous. Rather than the models made doll-like, or the clothes seeming outscale, the effect was as if our view of the world as a whole had been warped, snippets of reality pulled out of context. There were a few trompe l’oeil printed suits, cross-hatched with belts, but the whole collection felt like it was about tricking the eye and scrambling the mind, virtual reality made actual reality. Ghesquière has professed an obsession with video games before – their influence could be seen here, writ large. No pun.
This collection also undoubtedly reflected the influence of the Internet on generations of fashion designers – or even the iPhone, come to think of it. Pinch-to-zoom means no detail is too small to grab our attention, even in a fashion show where, until recently, you could miss the small stuff designers sweat over while being overwhelmed by the bigger, bolder picture. Vuitton is a great example of that – Ghesquière has built elaborate sets and exported his wares to Japan and California in search of exceptional panoramas to backdrop them. But, sometimes, you may lose the finicky, obsessive-compulsive detail a designer like Ghesquière packs into ever buckle and stitch. This collection was a riposte to any attention spans that may be wavering at the end of fashion month. You couldn’t miss a thing here. The zooming had been done for us.
That’s all interesting because it's what makes Ghesquière a modern designer. Not just that he creates clothes that look modern – he does, even when he’s looking back consciously at history, as he has for the past few seasons. In actual fact, his clothes are usually ahead of their time, predicting what other designers will become obsessed with seasons after him – which is no coincidence. But even more compelling is that Ghesquière is a modern designer in the way he designs, in the way he looks at the world. His eye is attuned to new ways of thinking and seeing – and that’s what this show was engineered to echo.