“I’m very pleased to welcome you to Palm Springs, perfect symbol of the American Dream…” writes Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, on the notecard left in our hotel rooms upon arriving into Palm Springs for the occasion of their cruise show. Sure California was where people sought out gold-paved fortunes but the real dream isn’t in material accumulated wealth but in the natural environment of this epic landscape. It’s evident in the huge fan palm oasis in the neighbouring canyons and in the tectonic shifted rocks tinged with red, luminated by the vertical sunlight. It’s in that mysterious contrast between a dry arid desert and lush green vegetation. No wonder then that Nicolas Ghesquière’s latest cruise collection for Louis Vuitton also proved to be fertile and rich in ideas. Even though the collection had begun to take shape well before the venue and location had been chosen, there’s no denying that it was drenched with the spirit of Palm Springs and California.
There was no need to sell Palm Springs and the magic of the Californian desert to me. I experienced it for the first time on my own last year and it utterly bewitched me. Coming back here again with Louis Vuitton only asserted that magic. On a hike in the Palm Canyons, I got to breathe it all in again and revel in my spiritual happy place. But architectural wonder and design is also what Louis Vuitton wanted to emphasise as we poked around in Dinah Shaw’s mid-century home, browsed around insanely good second hand furniture stores and took in abstract expressionism at the Palm Springs Art Museum.
All the better to prep our mindset for when we descended up the hillside to Bob and Delores Hope’s wholly surreal home for the show. Built in 1973 and designed to look like a volcano by architect John Lautner, it looks miniscule from down below but as you approach it, its magnificent curved roof looms large and the “volcanic” hole inside even larger. Like I said in my previous post, the choosing of this venue seemed to align with Ghesquière’s displaced sense of time in his designs. Clients and local glitterati wafted around the lawn and then every so often, a gang of characters straight out of Liquid Sky would appear lacquered with Ziggy Stardust make-up and the bright crayon hues of Louis Vuitton pre-fall. They didn’t interact with you. They were in a world of their own. And likewise, we drifted into this brutalist concrete and glass spaceship like detached beings. Where were we?
Then you saw that Palm Springs and Coachella Valley were spread out before you, preceded by seats of mirror, plexiglass and wood. And that omnipresent light brought you back to reality. This was Ghesquière’s American Dream realised with the help of the yes-men at Louis Vuitton. Few houses could conjure this whole vision up to this scale.
Lest you think that we were just there to be lulled by sunshine and palms, you’d be wrong. Ghesquière set the tone last year with a cruise outing in Monaco that could hold its own as a strong collection, pre or not. And in bid to one-up himself, Ghesquière presented what I think is his most freeing and experimental collection yet. Backstage after the show, Ghesquière said he was inspired by the contrast between the brutalist and ahead-of-its-time vision of Lautner and the Hopes’ slightly chintzy interiors and that bygone era of Hollywood. That made for an intriguing aesthetic clash. Add to that the Cali style tropes which we’re more than familiar with – the biker babe, the hippy dippy artist, the Navajo-y Coachella short-shorts cliche – and you have yourself a melting pot that Ghesquière draws from in unexpected ways. That’s really been the basis of his oeuvre at Louis Vuitton. Take the familiar be it 60s mods 0r 70s bohemiana. Engineer hyper-crafted fabrications and remix it all until it becomes something else. So a 1960s quilted bed jacket is dyed in psychedelic hues. A prarie Gunne Sax-esque dress is slashed at the hips and integrated with leather cross over belts. Boxy bikers are thrown in for good measure with space-age silver finishes. Broderie angalise cut-outs are punched out of paper thin leather, emphasising the house’s leather know-how. Ghesquière freed his mind as well as his hemlines, allowing them to fall to the floor, obscuring the hike-friendly white lace-up trainers and army boots. Ghesquière didn’t say so explicitly but some of the ensembles vibed off of what the female characters would wear in Game of Thrones; a prime example of fantasy-led displaced time and place. These are the clothes that Ghesquière’s imaginary commune of women in the middle of the desert would wear, unbound by convention.
It was also about a particular attitude as much as it was about the clothes. The casting in particular pitted Pre-Raphaelite redheads with more unusual casting choices like the Sinead O’Connor-esque Tamy Glauser or the candy-haired Fernada Ly. They were all anointed with white dots above or below the brows as though they belonged to some desert-based sisterhood. If the zany painted club kids that we saw before the show were not of this world, then these women were more rooted to planet Earth, painting with the colours of the wind as it were.
At the afterparty held in the cavernous gardens of the Parker in Palm Springs, it was a contrasting irreverent foil to the epic discombobulating majesty of the show. The silly fun factor was upped with guests piling into bumper cars and grinding to Spice Girl’s Wannabe (the ace play list was courtesy of Grimes and Michel Gaubert – well played indeed!). The thing that struck me though was the way the clients and models had mixed up their current cruise and SS15 Louis Vuitton clothes. Away from an otherworldly set and a stirring soundtrack, they have a life that demonstrates exactly what Ghesquiere has been trying to do ever since he began at Louis Vuitton. Time and time again, he talks of a core “wardrobe” for Louis Vuitton – which sounds like a throwaway statement, but somehow, on the dancefloor of a slightly cheesy fun fair disco and in a bygone games arcade, the realness of those clothes was exacerbated. Likewise, we might have witnessed that cruise collection high up above in a UFO house but those clothes will live a good life somewhere on the ground.