When is a shop not a shop? When it's the Louis Vuitton UK flagship - or, as they term it, 'Maison' - first opened on New Bond Street in 1900 and recently overhauled by celebrated architect Peter Marino. The title 'Maison' feels appropriate as the Vuitton store is envisaged as the home of a collector, albeit a collector whose twin obsessions are jaw-dropping contemporary art and equally staggering volumes of Vuitton. As we all know, these days the two go hand-in-hand under the creative direction of Marc Jacobs - thus, chez Vuitton, art from the likes of Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince is reinvented as covetable handbags, while LV product itself is elevated to the status of art. Nowhere is this more evident than in a retrospective selection of Vuitton garments plucked from the archive and curated into outfits by super-stylist Katie Grand (tantalisingly labelled collection privèe, to deter those anxious archive geeks). Think Vanessa Beecroft installation meets the V&A's Costume Court and you get the picture, and juxtapose that with several million pounds in modern art (the three-floored Maison racks up a Basquiat, a Hirst, two works by Gilbert and George and three Prince's for good measure). The fashion-as-art debate, and indeed that old art-as-commerce chestnut, suddenly has an interesting new slant. But intellectualism aside, it's impossible not to be oh-so-slightly flabbergasted by the Vuitton space, which is doubtless as much a tourist attraction as a retail centre. Marino himself has stated 'Some shops are just lethally serious but we want people to smile.' Bearing his adage out, it's impossible not to crack a grin at the Disney-esque attractions of automated dancing shoes in the window, and shelves of handbags that magically reconfigure before your very eyes. It's worth a trip to indulge your eyes - even if you only leave with a keyring.
The Louis Vuitton New Bond Street Maison opens to the public today.