Collapsing Space And Time At The Louis Vuitton Cruise Show

Extremely wow: a model draped in burlap and a fringe skirt assemblage of arrowhead-shaped jumbo paillettes. An evil boot version of the Archlight sneaker in black leather with big jangling chains around the ankle. An enormous cowl neck dress with a peplum dropwaist in a crazy metallic fabric from prehistory or 500 years from now, and an even bigger medieval-ass dress with a huge cape back for a Joan of Arc ready to defend us from an army of computer hackers. All streaming out in front of the setting sun at Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, whose long train of angled cubes ends with a ceaseless view of the Pacific Ocean, one of the only optimistic landscapes I’ve seen in months. It reminded me that fashion, at least in Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s world, isn’t really about newness, but about moving relentlessly into the future. Experimenting and inventing and hoping to improve. Extreeeeemely wowwwwww.

What brought us to San Diego in the first place? Wasn’t the traveling circus of fashion supposed to be kiboshed? In fact, despite all the early pandemic crystal ball reading about the end of the late spring extravaganza of Cruise shows in far flung locations, they are back with a vengeance. Several editors and influencers had just been in Monaco with Chanel, and many were headed back to New York to quickly repack their bags and head to Puglia, in Italy, for a few days with Gucci. (Including this writer—tune in next week!) But it doesn’t feel excessive (at least for now, in part because it just feels good to travel again). Instead of doing less, it seems to me, every brand is being more intentional. Everything feels more thoughtful, more considered. Intellectually, anyways, it feels like there is less waste.

Besides, given all the months and money that go into a collection and a fashion show, it makes sense to dedicate a handful of days to a single brand. You become immersed in its universe. You are inhaling the Vuitton ambiance. Even the Salk was deep in conversation with Ghesquière’s vibrations. It was practically Louis Vui-kahn.

A smattering of Los Angeles-based artists were among the Vuitton-clad crowd. One told me he had always wanted to visit the Salk Institute, but it’s tough to get in. “You have to have practically cured something, right?” I joked. “What do you think Nicolas cured?”

“Balenciaga,” he said.

The arrivals before the show are a fashion show unto itself—a Roman forum for Ghesquière’s philosophy of desire. A number of attendees were already dressed in the skater duds of the fall collection, like the big rugby shirt dresses printed with David Sims photographs and the floral shirts and beefy ties. Others were simply decked out in their beloved purchases, like Deadheads rushing the stage. Everything the blazing, gorgeous sun touched seemed to be dappled with the Vuitton monogram: fur coats, chubby gilets, green and orange mohair cardigans, knit shorts, a perforated leather jacket, a pair of pantyhose. A woman handed her monogram-print double-faced cashmere coat to a friend, revealing underneath a tight black cocktail dress with Vuitton-print cutouts at her rib cage. On top of that, every automobile that shuttled us around town had a sunset Vuitton decal on it; every communique arrived on engraved Vuitton stationary; even the men checking us in at lunch had little LV pins on their all-black waiter uniforms. It was safe to say we were all drinking the (monogrammed) Kool-Aid.

The textures and surfaces spangled under the sun like someone had sliced into an enormous crystal.

Dotted among the reverent were classic California characters: expensive but unremarkable white sneaker bf, crotched dress gf; middle-aged dudes in baggy beige suits who look like Robert Altman antiheroes; men in leather Vuitton track jackets over Supreme products I’ve only seen mentioned on menswear forums; that guy with a low man bun and a baggy suit who squints into the sun existentially and talks about optimizing stuff. A short artist with a tall date was attempting to mansplain the architecture, but all he could come up with was, “This is so cool.”

A number of Ghesquière’s celebrity avatars were waving their feet in the tall caramel boots from the Fall collection; Chloe Grace Moretz, in a floral blouse and gray tie from the Fall 2022 collection, swayed side to side and began chanting Ghesquière’s first name like a cheer—“Ni-co-lah! Ni-co-lah!”—adding motion drill arms.

Even the sunset and the beginning of the show aligned with celestial logic. Then came the clothes. (We ride at sunset!) Ghesquière was in his bag. He’s peeled back on the enormous sets that animated his shows for most of his tenure at Vuitton, and instead seems to be pursuing his affection for architecture, which of course suits his sculptural ideas just fine, and allows you to focus on how truly out there his clothes really are.

Ghesquière is, as always, obsessed with the future, obsessed with Sci-fi. All that remains, but his shapes have become more enormous, and his materials more experimental. One gets the sense he spends much of his time in the atelier figuring out how to make and source the strangest possible fabrics. The textures and glittery surfaces spangled under the sun like someone had just sliced into an enormous crystal. The opening gowns—please someone wear these to an awards show, please!—looked like finery from an illuminated manuscript or a Middle ages altarpiece. Just a few looks later was a swagged-out woman in burlap and clanking fringe like an extra from Dune, and then in a few blinks, an 80s dystopian slicker in baggy silver pants and a gorgeous gold jacket covered in stones or amoeba.

Ghesquière loves these time-traveling mishmashes, but there was a spectacular new tension between the organic and the synthetic here. Was it something made by the earth over millions of years, through countless chemical changes? Or something produced by a machine in seconds a century from now? The Salk Institute is a research facility, and with its mission, plus the setting, it would have been obvious to make a message of pure, almost naive hope. But the mood here was one instead of tenacity. (Actually, Ghesquière does best with a little doom and gloom.) Be bold, be a fighter, keep going.

Later, Michele Lamy (who seemed to love the show, by the way) changed into a miniskirt and appeared at an after-party at the San Diego Museum of Art. Grimes stood behind a DJ booth that appeared to have some kind of fan underneath it gently caressing her multicolored hair like she was underwater. She played remixes of songs like Enya’s “Orinoco Flow.”

Behind me, a posse of people complained that no one was dancing. (Not true!) “I hate fashion!” one of them pouted histrionically, while not dancing.

Next to them, I overheard a few clients hashing over the collection. “I just want to go out and be her,” I heard one say. “Now.” They, on the other hand, did not seem to hate fashion.

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