It has been fifteen years since Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs first teamed up, and though naysayers said it wouldn’t last—the house is too stuffy! Jacobs is too young, too twisted!—like the best marriages, the partnership has only made both members cooler and stronger. Now this pair—one venerable and Gallic; the other frisky and New York City–born—are being feted with the exhibit “Louis Vuitton–Marc Jacobs,” opening March 9 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
It’s true that at first blush the two—the austere Monsieur Vuitton (at least by the looks of the portrait that greets you at the show’s entrance) and the kilt-clad rebel—appear to have little in common. But in fact the company’s founder was a genius in tackling the nineteenth century’s obsession with movement and innovation—trunks made to fit in the back of the first automobiles; trunks that transform into camp cots—and Jacobs, too, personifies a dramatic restlessness, a desire to burst boundaries, to create accessories and fashions—as the company’s first and only ready-to-wear designer—that astonishes with its exuberance. Just as nobody could have predicted the impact it would have when Louis Vuitton’s son Georges slapped his monogram on the outside of a case in 1896, who could have imagined that Jacobs would take the classic Speedy and allow Takashi Murakami to paint it with googly eyes, or have Stephen Sprouse splatter it with streaks of graffiti?
Louis Vuitton and his world are examined to great effect on the first floor of the exhibit, where the vast array of valises required for a simple trip crowd one vitrine, and another showcase displays the almost insanely elaborate outfits these trunks were destined to hold—tea gowns and morning dresses; dinner dresses and ball frocks; endless layers of undergarments and enormous crinolines, relics of an era when a woman changed seven times a day.
But the strains of Debbie Harry wafting down from upstairs quickly pull you to the second floor, where you are confronted by a wall of screens (rendered, according to curator Pamela Golbin, to resemble a Tumblr page) that highlight Jacobs’s free-spirited influences—Bertolucci mixed with South Park; Liz in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof next to SpongeBob next to Rainer Fassbinder’s Querelle.
The exhibit is more a celebration than a retrospective, and is organized by enticing subject rather than chronology. Jacobs has given names to each tableau (Blue-y Vuitton, an azure-themed one; Kage Moss with a beast-model behind bars) and each holds a selection of the fashions he has created over the past decade and a half, grouped thematically. Shoes are shown off by mechanical legs that move with Busby Berkeley precision; five Richard Princemannequin-nurses sport caps that spell out L-O-U-I-S V-U-I-T-T-O-N while the insistent chorus of the Kingsmen’s 1963 “Louie, Louie” blares from hidden speakers.
But it is perhaps the case the museum calls the “chocolate box” that will engage visitors most intensely. Here are carryalls displayed as giant bonbons, from white mink pouches splashed with LVs to huge train cases in purple patent vernis, all manner of reworking and exploding the famous LV, in denim and metallics and even woven plastic, a world of seduction in a satchel that Louis Vuitton, even with all his prescience, could never have dreamed of.