“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is a tongue twister to say if you’re not French, but it does neatly sum up the premise of Louis Vuitton’s latest exhibition that has just opened up at the Grand Palais in Paris. Borrowed from a 1965 advertising poster, the three V’s meaning “Sail, Fly, Travel” – also of course chime in with that all-important V. And it’s that famed surname, which this exhibition, curated by Olivier Saillard, is centred upon. Unlike the very progressive and conceptual open-to-interpretation Series 3 exhibition held in London a few months ago, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is very much more of a concrete exhibition to grasp, interact with and take in. It’s in a space that has hosted many an exhibition before – in fact the decision to use the Grand Palais was based on its construction in 1900 and its holding of the Universal Exhibitions in Paris, where George Vuitton was in charge of the entire section dedicated to “Travel & Leather Goods.” It has logical sections relating to the various product categories that Louis Vuitton has prided itself on since 1854, like automobile, train and air travel, its relationship with women’s and men’s clothes and literature and art. It has an audio guide. The average tourist wandering around off from the Champs Elysee will queue up for this free exhibition and be fascinated regardless of their knowledge of Louis Vuitton.
And yet, because of the curating prowess of Saillard, what could have been an endless parade of trunks, is still a fascinating exhibition for the initiated. I’ve personally seen/read about quite a few of the exhibiting artefacts, either at Louis Vuitton’s Asnieres-sur-Seine atelier or the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition staged at the Les Arts Decoratifs in 2012. Somehow, Saillard manages to place many of these familiar objects into a renewed context – one where you’re seeing not just the relevance of them as historical artefacts, but also their modernity that manifests itself in newer designs by the house’s current creative directors – Nicolas Ghesquière and Kim Jones.
When seen in tandem with the very fantastic accompanying book published by Rizzoli, the full picture reveals itself even more. Alongside factual essays about each section of the exhibition, there are excerpts of fiction purporting to travel as well as beautiful in-detail x-ray photographs of key objects by Katerina Jebb. In addition to historical context, here lies the more elusive emotive aspect of travel that Saillard is trying to depict. The excitement of gaining speed aboard new modes of transportation as seen in the sections about aviation, trains and automobiles, especially as women increasingly began to take charge of the steering wheel. The feeling of discovery of a new destination as seen in journeys like the 1922-1931 Croisière Jauna and the Croisière Noir, orchestrated by Citroën, crossing the Sahara from Algeria to Madagasca and from Beirut to Beijing. The decadence of carrying dedicated suitcases made just for say, hairbrushes or shoes or volumes of books and a typewriter, that seems wholly unnecessary in today’s age of compact all-in-one devices and kindles, and yet strangely alluring. The proportions and materials of how we travel today may have changed, but the emotional journey hasn’t. And for the privileged, some things haven’t shifted at all.
What remains relevant are the rich resources of drawings, receipts, printed paraphernalia as well as the trunks themselves that Saillard has combed through to present a comprehensive dossier where time and time again, you stop and inspect, say a logo, a piece of typography or a certain finishing on a case and see it popping up somewhere in a design element today. And they do. Series 3 may have been about Ghesquière’s vision hurtling towards the future but ‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ is about emphasising the maison’s past that still massively underlines what the house stands for today.
‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ is on at the Grand Palais, Avenue du Général Eisenhower until 21st February. Free admission.
A portrait of a young Louis Vuitton by artist Yan Pei Ming alongside the 1906 trunk, where all of Louis Vuitton’s recognisable components first came together in one box – perfect proportions, beech wood reinforcements, brass corners and rivets, patent lock and that Monogram canvas exterior
Voyages further afield into previously unchartered lands with more resilient steamer trunks for explorers, inspiring pieces like the animal printed leather luggage for Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited
Trunk bed in Damier canvas with late 19th century aluminium steamer trunks with newer Boîte Promenade from Nicolas Ghesquière’s A/W 15-6 and cruise 16 collections as well as Speedy bags in mirrored vinyl
Ready to take off in a cropped bomber jacket and sturdy tropical printed boots from the splendid cruise collection and a City Steamer bag, loosely based on the canvas steamer bags used to stow away dirty laundry onboard a ship…