Louis Vuitton has been dragged into controversy over the suggestion by an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that a red, white and blue advertising campaign and use of the V of Vuitton as a motif are pro-Russian.
Russian oligarchs may love the label’s eye-catching accessories, but when Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter the fashion house “focused on Russian nouveau riches, decided to publicly joke with symbols of aggression”, he was unlikely to be accurate.
Red, white and blue are the colours of the Russian flag. They are also, and more famously, the colours of the French tricolor. And while V is a symbol meaning “strength in truth” when painted on a Russian tank, it has been an essential part of the Louis Vuitton brand since its founder banged his first nail in a luxury travelling trunk in 1854.
The LV initials became house codes at the beginning of the 20th century. When Louis Vuitton pulled out of Russia in March 2022 in response to the invasion of Ukraine it was one of the first luxury brands to do so.
This international Twitter storm has been rumbling in the background, but Parisians had other things on their minds. The city was bracing itself for an epic day of strikes and demonstrations the following day. That meant no metros, buses or taxis to be had and a raft of cancelled trains and flights.
The disruption began on Monday evening and guests at the Louis Vuitton show at the Musée d’Orsay got a taste of what was to come. There were pre-show snarl-ups on the Quai Anatole-France, much tooting of horns, near misses between street-style photographers and the official black Fashion Week limos, and rafts of gendarmes directing the traffic.
It wasn’t much quieter inside the museum’s Belle-Epoque restaurant on the first floor where the show was held. Instead of art lovers ordering confit lamb, there were huge numbers of celebrities including new menswear designer Pharrell Williams, Emma Stone, Zendaya, Alicia Vikander, Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor. This is a superbrand – if you’re invited, you go. Many in the audience were decked in pyjamas and jackets spotted with multi-coloured dots from the recent Yayoi Kusama collection.
The restaurant’s Benjamin Constant frescoes and gilded chandeliers were overshadowed by a huge black industrial runway, black and white girders and a sound-track that alternated between motorbike engines revving up and the footsteps of clumpy boots. These were likely to be the only means of transport while the strikes lasted and Nicolas Ghesquière, the women’s creative director, sent a lot of sturdy platform-soled sandals and ruched city ankle boots down the runway that you could get around on just fine.
It was a very urban, essentially Gallic, collection. In fact, Ghesquière’s starting point was “What is French style?” and he decided it was a “blend of sophistication and nonchalance that continues to fascinate the entire world”. There were stand-out belted cashmere coats with city-friendly square shoulders, desirable slouchy trousers teamed with scarves of Dr Who dimensions, and plenty of quirky glamour in strappy beaded evening dresses for those Emily in Paris moments.
There were also lots of archetypally Parisian touches in the leather and accessories. There was perforated reprinted leather made to look like caviar, one little handbag that recreated the city’s blue-and-green street signs, and another that looked like the Maison’s Place Vendome flagship store in miniature.
Unsavoury Russian high rollers may indeed like what they see. They won’t be the only ones.