Jeanne Koré Salvato

recently spent a day in Paris at two stores near the Champs Elysées, the fancy boulevard in Paris. This blog is something of a cross between visuals and investigative reporting, a cross you will not find often (probably for good reason!).

First, What is haute couture? This word translates literally as “high sewing.”  Granny Wiki enlightens us:  It is “the creation of exclusive custom-fitted high-end fashion design that is constructed by hand from start-to-finish. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Paris became the centre of a growing industry that focused on making outfits from high-quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable of sewers—often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.

Reader: Why is high-end above a live link?

Me:  A synonym for “high end,” is luxury.  And this link gives the Latin root of the word luxury which is, “immoderate swelling.”

Reader:  Good investigative reporting. 

Me: We do have an ambivalence about luxury, an ambivalence contained in the word.

We think of this term as something like high style and we’re right about that.  But in case you ever want to qualify for a design house, here’s what you have to do:

  • design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings;
  • have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time;
  • have at least 20 full-time technical people, in at least one workshop (atelier); and
  • present a collection of at least 50 original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments.”

A couple of the best-known brands include Louis Vuitton and Chanel. 

Louis Vuitton

The origin story of this company is inspiring.  In 1854, gentleman named  . . . Louis Vuitton observed that rounded trunks for travel could not be stacked one upon the other.  So he came up with a so called “Trianon” canvas flat trunk, which was lightweight and stackable.  From a military observer of the  Franco Prussian War (I’ll leave that to you, dear Reader) to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, this company made itself a world-luxury brand, with branches extending into Asia as far as  Singapore and Taipei. Revenue in 2020:  14 billion euros.

Famous Trunk

Here is a glimpse of the spring/summer collection 2023

Roughly 19,000 square feet (1800 mètres carrés), this is one big building.  It’s the largest Louis Vuitton store in the world. You can buy their signature monogrammed handbags as well as a host of other merch.

Look at the outside!

Louis Vuitton corroborated with Yoyoi Kusama to give some pizazz to the store on the Champs Elysées. Born in 1929, she is a contemporary Japanese artist who is especially known for her use of dots and color.  Enjoy these fun visuals, inside and out.

And inside.

Unfortunately, according to a French journalist in her book A French Saga, the Louis Vuitton family supported the Nazis in the German collaboration with the French government called The Vichy Government, enhancing the company’s wealth by selling to the Germans.  An investigation into the wealth of many modern companies reveals that kind of collaboration.  IBM, for example, manufactured punch cards used in the concentration camps to keep records of the inmates, enhancing the wealth of IBM.

When discussing this history with my students, I asked them what could be done.  “Miss, that is business.  It was long ago,” one student replied.  “How about an apology?  Scholarships?  Some kind of fund?” I parried. They nodded.  A spokesperson for Louis Vuitton says this, “We don’t deny the facts, but regrettably the author has exaggerated the Vichy episode.” 

Reader:  This is depressing.
Me: Immoderate swelling.
Reader:  Have they improved?
Me: They need to address their past, but even though they are closing a bunch of stores in Russia, they are still paying salary and benefits to the employees from those stores. And then there’s the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

This is a marvel of a building designed by Canadian- American architect Frank Gehry in the Bois de Boulogne, a large woods just on the outskirts of Paris that used to be the king’s hunting grounds.  It’s an enormous and extravagant contribution to arts and culture that has already become an iconic building. This reflects tremendous generosity on the part of the Vuitton family and to behold the building, really more than the collections inside, is a marvel.

You might remember Gehry as the architect in Bilbao, Spain of the Guggenheim Museum there.  People just say, “Have you been to the Bilbao?”

All this talk about fashion reminds me that we have not yet speculated on what Godot looks like.  We know that the vagabonds have seen him. Early in the play they say they are waiting to hear what Godot has to say.  “Then we’ll take it or leave it,” says Vladimir.  They couldn’t remember too clearly what they’d asked him for.  “A kind of prayer,” says Estragon.  “A vague supplication.”  Apparently, according to Vladimir, Godot said that he’d see, he’d have to think it over. Vladimir and Estragon trade off the names of the various types of people Godot would need to consult before he gets back to the two of them: “his family, his friends, his agents, his correspondents, his books and his bank account, before he makes his decision.” And given this profile of people in his orbit, people he needs to consult, what could he look like?   For more on these matters, let’s consult Chanel next week.

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