Nicolas Ghesquière is nothing if not intentional. A lover of architecture and evocative design, the artistic director of womenswear at Louis Vuitton has always chosen his global stages carefully for the French maison’s Cruise collections over the years. The Parisian masterpiece Axe Majeur, the TWA Flight Center at NYC’s JFK airport, Rio De Janeiro’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, the Miho Museum in Japan — all epic structures and sources of inspiration for innovation and creativity. Such was also the case for Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 show, held at San Diego’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, designed by architect Louis Kahn.
Founded by Jonas Salk, who is credited for developing the polio vaccine, the Institute (and its epic stone construction) was created as a haven for cutting-edge scientific research. Perhaps it’s this forward-thinking mission that resonated with Ghesquière, who’s brought his own innovation and novelty to the heritage brand since stepping into his role in 2013.
“Here, in this place of biomedical research, questions on humanity life at the forefront of the world’s most illustrious scholars’ minds,” read the official show notes for the Cruise 2023 collection. “Architect Louis Kahn puts the sun, the creator of natural life, at the heart of the Salk Institute, a brutalist building from 1965 designed as a serene concrete monastery for enlightened souls.”
Ghesquière served up his own enlightenment in the late afternoon, just as the sun was setting on the quiet San Diego ocean backdrop. “At a specific time of the day, during a blazing sunset, the sun is perfectly framed by the building within the precise axis of the central fountain,” explains the show notes. “The combination of the sun rays and shimmering water bathes everything in a golden hue, transforming all it touches into gold.”
Transformative it was indeed. The pre-dusk presentation commenced with a sartorial roar as models processed down the wide stone walkways in voluminous jacquard gowns. The Medieval-inspired designs featured exaggerated takes on traditional (and historic) silhouettes like peplum waists and Elizabethan-like collars.
In typical Ghesquière fashion, this melding of old and new continued as the presentation progressed, as did an emphasis on structure, texture, and the unexpected. Boxy, encrusted tanks and midriff-baring metallic criss-cross tops that resembled modern suits of armor were paired with metallic thigh-high riding boots or sneakers. Oversized linen scarves where worn like strategically wrapped cocoons, layered over sparkling micro-mini skirts and topped off with sci-fi wrap sunglasses. It was a glistening world of King Arthur’s court meets an apocalyptic future, of ancient mysticism and space travel, all intensified with the California sun, which the brand describes as, “the guest of honor in the Cruise 2023 collection.”
“The heat imposes nomadic aesthetics, between sand and cliffs, a fluid look,” reads the show notes. “The unique light of the West Coast creates prisms on clothes full of reflections. Linen, jacquard, silk, leather, tweed… give the illusion of a metallic palette, reverberating and shimmering under the sun. The vibrations and reflections of the silhouettes shine in dialogue within the sunset.”
In the midst of said “shimmering” metallics, leather details, and chrome finishes, were splashes of color. A tropical palette of cerulean blue, lime green, sherbet yellow, tomato red, and tangerine broke up the disco party, by way of co-ord skirt suiting, structured mini dresses, and funky parachute pants.
At the center of the moving mosaic was a consistent theme of free-spirited abandon, which also seems to be a sentiment shared across all of Ghesquière’s collections. Fashion, after all, is meant to be a carefree, fluid experience, an intuitive uniting of old and new.