No prop too big, no detail too small: AnOther meets the creative mastermind behind Vuitton's extraordinary window installations
If store windows are meant to make one dream, then Faye McLeod, Visual Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, manages to do just that – five times a year, for Vuitton stores around the world. From a lifelike waxwork of Yayoi Kusama marooned amidst tendrils of polka dots, to gold-plated dinosaurs roaming the wilds and vitrines designed with acclaimed artists Daniel Buren and Frank Gehry, her's is a career that includes an enviable amount of creative collaboration. “I’ve always thought of windows as freeze frame theatre,” says McLeod who gauges the success of her installations by the so called ‘smudge test’ – when you get nose and hand prints all over the glass and have to wipe them several times a day: “For me the most important aspect is the theatre of the street: it's a front row seat.”
Born in Glasgow, McLeod distinctly remembers looking at department store Lewis’ animated Christmas windows “with my nose pressed to the glass.” She eventually went on to earn a degree in fashion design – but instead of following its conventional trajectory, swiftly moved into the domain of window creation (first at Topshop and Selfridges, before moving to Vuitton in 2009). Her first major production for the esteemed French house was for the opening of its New Bond Street Maison in 2010, for which she created a ‘Cabinet Curiosite’ filled with creatures crafted from small leather goods that were presented under glass jars, as though they were taxidermied animals. “That was a game changer,” she recalls. “From that moment on, we had the freedom to create.” Now, alongside her right-hand man Ansel Thompson, she heads up a team of 23 people working between New York and Paris, planning and designing the blockbuster productions as far as a year in advance. “For us, we start designing by considering different cultures and geographies,” explains McLeod. “The windows have to be well composed, have a wit, a delicacy and a presence for the viewer. With Louis Vuitton, it’s always about a journey as its heritage is grounded in objects for travel.”
Indeed, the sheer flights of fancy conjured up by McLeod and her team inspire wanderlust like no other: from a harlequin elephant on a seesaw to an ostrich with an elongated neck laden with bags – and with the vast resources of Vuitton to hand, McLeod’s obsessive attention to detail has seen her team getting feathers dyed specially in India or sourcing factories in China that specialize in making dinosaurs for theme parks. Additionally, her productions far exceed the ordinary conventions of ‘window display' by encompassing art installation, 3D experiences, theatrical sets and feats of mechanical engineering, often all at the same time. In McLeod’s hands, three-dimensional billboards of the brand become spaces that hold infinite possibilities and which can become an ultimate expression of creativity.
Shortly after the success of the New Bond Street opening, McLeod got a call from Vuitton’s then artistic director, Marc Jacobs, to collaborate on the runway sets for the show. “Marc had a brilliant sense of humour and a completely unique energy which was inspiring,” says McLeod who would go on to create the ‘Night Porter’ inspired set for A/W11, the all-white carousel for S/S12 and the much-lauded custom-built train that travelled along specially-built tracks for A/W12. Now, with Louis Vuitton's direction under the stewardship of Nicolas Ghesquière, a new sci-fi edge and sharpness has helped push the brand forward in a more modern direction. “He's brought a modernity and youthful elegance and his interest in technology has really inspired us to use other mediums,” says McLeod, citing the move towards using digital imagery as an example.
Working with the inspiring likes of Jacobs and Ghesquière has been “incredibly life changing. We feel incredibly privileged to have had these experiences,” she says humbly, still seeming a little awe-struck after looking back over a half decade’s worth of work that has been compiled in the new Assouline-published book Louis Vuitton Windows. For McLeod, it’s always the challenge and excitement of dreaming up the next window that continues to spur her on. “We always worry about not having the next good idea but maybe that's part of the process.” Asked to pick a highlight over the last few years she demurs, “It's hard to have a favourite as they are all so different... But maybe the next one? That’s always exciting.”
Louis Vuitton Windows, available now, is published by Assouline