Louis Vuitton is about luggage. That much is made clear in the Louis Vuitton exhibition about to open at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. But Louis Vuitton today is also about Marc Jacobs - the might of Marc meeting Louis' largess. It's a marriage made in heaven. And it certainly gives birth to some fantastic fashion moments.
Today was undoubtedly one of them. As we huddled on a recreation of a train platform (the Gare du Nord, perhaps, for the glassy-eyed British press eager to flee the French capital and jittery over reported fires and delays in the Chunnel) the clock struck ten. Then, in uncharacteristic fashion for this most punctual of fashion establishments, we waited a full three minutes before Vuitton's steam engine chugged in. Even Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton can't make European trains run on time.
What that train delivered was a true barrage of Vuitton baggage - and a mountain of fashion too. The models disembarked clad as elongated travellers from the past. The year was somewhere between 1896 and 1914 - the former being the year Georges Vuitton picked up on the European craze for Japonisme and invented the LV monogram, the latter the outbreak of the Great War. The women here were dressed for un Grand Voyage, clad in Jacobs' re-imagination of Paul Poiret and Jacques Doucet's greatest pre-war couture hits. Elongated like Erte sketches, slender trousers peeking from underneath A-line skirts and opera coats with oversized lapels, crusted with embroidery and topped with enormous cloche hats, these willowy femmes du monde appeared seven feet tall next to porters toting their individual mountains of Vuitton luggage. That's was exactly the point, of course. What was also curious was how divided a picture it made: slice out those attenuated fashion plate outfits, and the porters could easily be carrying their logo-heavy Vuitton load in or out of the Ritz (before its closure this summer, that is). For some, that was an uncomfortable show of servitude. But for the well-heeled clients of Louis Vuitton - both the original nineteenth-century types sand their modern counterparts - its all par for the luxury course.
That was the immediate visual take-away from this Louis Vuitton show: rich women richly dressed in extraordinary clothes, each trailed by an LV-laden lackey. The vision felt of another age, even if the clothes immediately resonated with next season's urge to dress up and embellish. It wasn't just pre-war - it was impossible not to flash back to John Galliano's own stream locomotive excursion on the Diorient Express back in 1998, an era when the hyped-up production values of this blockbuster Louis Vuitton show were the norm rather than the fabulous exception to every fashion rule of the recession. Galliano was king of Paris fashion then, the ringmaster of the fashion circus. It was also the point when Jacobs tentatively began to treed his own path at Vuitton - commemorated in that exhibition, opening today and juxtaposing Jacobs' fashion innovation with Vuitton's travel expertise. Ring any bells? This show represented something bigger than clothes: it was symbolic, after fifteen years, of Marc Jacobs officially assuming the crown. In short, if you didn't know Marc and Vuitton ruled Paris, you do now.