Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton: Art, Fashion, Architecture with essays by Jill Gasparina, Taro Igarashi, and Olivier Saillard
Rizzoli, 2009
Hardcover, 404 pages

The relationships between fashion and the realms of art and architecture are complex, interrelated, and contested. Contemporary architecture can paradoxically attribute much of its appeal and derision from fashion's search for the ever-new and the glitzy building designs produced in the desire to attract the attention of travelers, shoppers, and more clients. In turn fashion companies use architecture as another element in promoting their brands, none better than Louis Vuitton, the French fashion house known for its travel ware, accessories, and logo. An extension of the company's goods and graphic design are the buildings that house and display the same. Examples can be found in Tokyo, Seoul, New York, and the pages of this large-format encyclopedia of sorts that explores how Louis Vuitton incorporates art and architecture into its world.

A recent stroll past Bloomingdales in Midtown Manhattan last week (captured at left) brought the overlap of fashion and architecture to the fore. Carefully choreographed storefront displays of shoes are bordered by a custom LV monogram pattern set behind glass; a slowly-changing kaleidoscope of colors animate the latter. Here architecture is not only the framework for the fashion, it is what gets the most attention, beckoning those across the street as well as those passing by. To me, the shoes get lost in the intersection of monogram pattern and parallel red lines repeating ad infinitum in the mirrored border, but the facade and display set the mood and thereby reduce the need for the shoes to do the work.

This temporary storefront can be seen as a miniature version of the Louis Vuitton flagship store a few blocks west, on Fifth Avenue, by Jun Aoki. That store "dresses" an existing Art Deco building with insulated glass covered with a complex frit pattern that subtly changes as one moves. The overall effect is a veil with translucent openings putting the wares (barely) on display. Aoki's design fits into critic Taro Igarashi's assertion of "Architectures of Superflat" in his essay that starts this book. While discussing architecture in Japan specifically, LV's adoption of a trend that can be called Japanese is used internationally in many of the fashion company's stores. The style of sorts, like the storefront miniature, uses abstraction, repetition, and the metaphor of a layer of clothes over the body to creates a mood, an aura, and an image that says everything and nothing at the same time. The numerous veils that drape the many LV stores are distinctive but anonymous without their distinctive logo. But in combination they convey something about the brand and their wares that neither of these can accomplish without architecture. This book is a document of an astute company's ability to use architecture to spread its brand, while at the same time advancing architecture in its effects and aspirations.