updated 22 Jul 2014, 11:53
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Louis Vuitton goes a-cruisin'
by Gladys Chung

At Paris Fashion Week in March, the most anticipated show was that of Louis Vuitton.

It marked Nicolas Ghesquiere's debut collection for the French luxury house since Marc Jacobs bowed out as creative director last year to focus his attentions on his namesake label.

The latter had been credited for turning Louis Vuitton into a fashion heavyweight during his 16-year tenure, with the introduction of women's and men's ready-to-wear, and collaborations with artists such as Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami to make highly coveted monogrammed bags.

So it was natural that all eyes were on Ghesquiere (say jas-kee-air) - the fashion world wanted to see how the former Balenciaga designer was going to marry his experimental aesthetic with Louis Vuitton's style.

The reviews of his Fall 2014 collection - made up of pared-down, 1970s shapes - were very positive, and so were the ones of his follow-up cruise collection in Monaco last month, which featured similar shapes but amped up with bright fabric in contrasting textures (lace, perforated leather, sequin underlay, tweed, embroidery and chiffon).

Mr Michael Burke, the brand's chief executive, is not surprised.

In an exclusive interview with Life! in Monaco, he says there was always only one contender to step into Jacobs' very big shoes.

"The funny thing is, unlike most situations like this, we did not go through a long list. It was a very short list with only one name on it: Nicolas."

He says that Ghesquiere was an obvious choice for Mr Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of luxury conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) that owns the brand; his daughter Delphine, who is the label's executive vice-president, and himself.

He adds that Ghesquiere's designs had long caught their eye. (Although when the media was rife with speculations that Ghesquiere was to succeed Jacobs from early last year, Louis Vuitton denied it.)

At Balenciaga, Ghesquiere was credited with rejuvenating the 96-year-old house with his daring and experimental designs.

"I always respected his approach to fashion," says Mr Burke who has been with Louis Vuitton since 2012, and was the former chief executive of Fendi, Bulgari and Christian Dior USA.

"He's always had a view, like an architect, in the way he builds, sets the foundation and builds upon it. He has the courage to go against general wisdom, stick to ideas that are iconoclastic and not part of the mainstream.

"But he does not change for the sake of change, and only when there are substantial and fundamental shifts, even when it is not obvious in the beginning."

However, one significant and necessary change that has come with Ghesquiere joining Louis Vuitton is the introduction of the brand's cruise show.

Cruise, also known as resort or pre-spring, is a trans-season line of clothing that hits stores after the fall collection and before the spring one.

Traditionally, the designs were aimed at wealthy jetsetters who wanted to escape the winter months and vacation in style in warm destinations.

The pieces are more practical and suited for travelling, and are a mix of lighter and heavier fabrics to suit both warm and cool climates.

Previously, Louis Vuitton held shows only for its bigger spring/summer and fall/winter collections. Notably, Jacobs designed only the main collections and left the in-between seasons to his women's design director.

But from now on, Ghesquiere will be personally designing each collection. The show in Monaco, attended by 350 guests including Monegasque royalty Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene and actresses Jennifer Connelly, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi, was the brand's first cruise show.

Mr Burke says the growing importance of the cruise season cannot be ignored.

Cruise clothing is made for warmer climates. In the last 15 years, most of the market growth has come from places with warm climates, such as China, South-east Asia, the Middle East and Brazil, he notes.

"And progressively, cruise has grown to be the biggest collection in all houses that are relevant, so it merits its growth."

At Louis Vuitton, the cruise collection hits stores in January and remains there till June.

The brand declined to reveal how much cruise contributes to its overall ready-to-wear sales. But according to the International New York Times, in general, these pre-seasonal clothing lines make up about 70 per cent of a label's seasonal sales, because they are usually on shelves for a longer period. In comparison, the fall and spring collections are each stocked for about four months.

By creating much fanfare around Ghesquiere's cruise collection for the brand, Louis Vuitton's message is clear: It is turning the spotlight on its clothing category.

"Ready-to-wear has been very successful at Louis Vuitton. But it is not known as being very successful because everything else we do is also very successful," says Mr Burke.

"Maybe in the past, ready-to-wear was not given its due. But now with the arrival of Nicolas, it is the strongest voice we're using right now. It is a new chapter we want everyone to be aware of and take note of."

This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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