“I’ve been thinking about it for a while: South Korea’s atmosphere suits me,” Nicolas Ghesquière shared in a statement just ahead of Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall show, which unfolded in Seoul on Saturday evening. Eschewing the city’s palatial gardens and more obvious venues, Ghesquière set his stage on Jamsugyo, a humble pedestrian path that hangs beneath the Banpo Bridge, where commuters cross between the city’s north and south banks. A submersible structure, it disappears under the river during the summer monsoon. “It’s a feat of civil engineering that creates the illusion of disappearance-reappearance,” Ghesquière added. “For Seoulites, it’s a living monument. It’s an inspiring place to stage a show.”
Ghesquière has often noted his fondness for The Host, a 2006 horror film by Bong Joon-ho that stars his dear friend Doona Bae, in which the Han River is a principal player. As in that film, a sense of unease flitted down the promenade in the hour leading up to the show, as guests shivered in their seats, defenseless against the frigid wind blowing in from the river. There were no heat lamps and a shortage of blankets, as men and women in monogrammed leather began hoarding them in stacks. Very like Ghesquière to blend the trappings of luxury with the grit of the street.
The scenography was entrusted to Squid Game director Hwang Dong-Hyuk, who showered projections of amber light that flickered like moving water over the naked bridge. The thrum of distant drums and whale sounds—or monster sounds—further lent to a sense of disquiet, until Hoyeon Jung opened the show to a high-octane Korean garage rock song. There is always the urge to pander to the locals with an inauthentic nod to their traditional dress or other gimmicks. Ghesquière smartly resisted that temptation and continued to revisit the house codes he has spent the last decade refining. “Just like this very symbolic bridge, there’s a back and forth, intersecting passages, a mix of moments,” he said.
As with the bridge, there was an aerodynamic nature to the hooded tops and bodysuits that clung to the frame à la Irma Vep, and those elements of sport played well with the simple strong colors and silhouettes that harkened back to Ghesquière’s early days at the house. With all the fuss over quiet luxury of late, there was a share of it here in the pinstripe and quilted leather suits, the mod lambskin coats, and muted versions of the LV logo—a micro-monogram as a checkerboard print pant, a crepe wool bodysuit that plunges toward the navel worn with a horsebit belt. A hint of sparkle and flou remained, notably in the closing passage of elevated loungewear which included a striped twill Mandarin collar shirt embroidered with glimmering crystal beads and tied with a swinging belt of metal monogram flowers.
“Like a kind of diplomatic journey, a Louis Vuitton caravanserai that comes to South Korea to recount various chapters in its history,” as Ghesquière put it, the show read like a dialogue between Paris and Seoul, which has become a pivotal player in the global luxury market and where the big houses are currently waging a turf war. Much like Dior, who took its pre-fall collection to Mumbai last month, Vuitton is intent on upping the stakes in turning the pre-season into an extravagant destination that equals resort. As the fountains along the Banpo Bridge went off for the finale, sending jets of water arching into the Han River as Hoyeon Jung walked past a front row filled with K-pop stars, one felt that Louis Vuitton had made its claim quite succinctly.