A collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Fornasetti is digging deep reinventing the classical heritage of the birthplace of Western society
Fornasetti and Louis Vuitton
For Louis Vuitton travel has been embedded in the brand DNA since the day it was founded in 1854. What is such a brand to do in the midst of international lockdowns, when foreign voyages seem more out of reach than ever? Creative director Nicolas Ghesquière dreamt up travels through time and space instead – fittingly for a Maison which, in 2020, sponsored Metropolitan Museum’s About Time exhibition. For the fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection he merged the spirit of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization with iconic designs of Fornasetti. The show was presented against the backdrop of the Michelangelo and Daru Galleries in the now-deserted Louvre – most fitting location as a space amalgamating multiple heritages under one roof. Louis Vuitton’s futuristic craftsmanship and imagination, and the Italian design studio’s mystical portrayal of the past, are creating a time-traveling conversation with the museum’s vast collection of sculptures. The collection is a collaborative effort with Piero Fornasetti’s estate, featuring designs selected in a meticulous way from an archive of 13,000. «Exploring the Fornasetti archives had the excitement of an archaeological dig, searching for and finding drawings from the past to give them a new life for Louis Vuitton. I am fascinated by the manner in which Fornasetti re-explored and reinvented the classical heritage of Ancient Rome and integrated that into new references in the history of image. I am drawn to the way Fornasetti re-explored and re-worked the heritage of classicism and ancient Rome», states Ghesquière in a press release.
Louis Vuitton Fall Winter 2021 collection
Ghesquière, too, put his own spin on the culture that gave way to the modern Western civilization. He created a time-hopping collage, jumbling together elements from different eras – Fornasetti’s iconography, reminiscent of the Sixties Pop Art; angular volumes and silhouettes straight from the Eighties; futuristic padded capes; cocooning shapes and comfortable features reflecting the realities of lockdown dressing. Set to the soundtrack of Daft Punk’s Around the World mere weeks after their breakup, the presentation was escapism, but one rooted in reality. A year ago his show was the finale of not just Paris Fashion Week, but of the old order of things, pre-pandemic. Ghesquière anticipated the post-lockdown needs of consumers used to wearing their loungewear, simultaneously offering décor for those dying to dress up.The way he blends together the ancient with the thoroughly modern deviates from the oft-overused draping. His references are less immediate: Grecian sandals transformed into metallic sci-fi boots; neoprene gladiator dresses faintly reminiscent of another grand era: Roaring Twenties; paludamentum capes half-transmuted into puffers. This hybridization of the ancient and the current, as well as the decorative and sculptural versus casual and softly padded, is what Ghesquière calls «the projection between dressing for others and dressing for yourself. This collection is a juxtaposition of those two feelings».
Nicholas Ghesquière and nostalgia
It is also retrofuturistic in nature. The past year’s vivid resurgence of the movement can be attributed as one of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. A period fraught with political and environmental issues, the late 2010’s were already ridden with comforting nostalgia, provoking reboots of every cultural artefact and reheating countless films and TV series, teen trends, even fashion houses. The onset of the global pandemic froze the world in its entirety and robbed it of a tangible future – or at least a reliable one. Forced to press pause on normal living for an indefinite amount of time and with nothing immediate to look forward to, society has turned to nostalgia for the future. Retrofuturism emerged from this mixture of longing for a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy and an escapist fantasy of tomorrow.
Retrofuturism in fashion
Retrofuturism peaked in the late Sixties, exhibited by everyone from André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne to Pierre Martian, an homage character from The Jetsons inspired by Pierre Cardin. But the movement began earlier, in the late nineteenth century, when a mobilized move towards mass manufacturing spurred on the age of industrialization and gave way to a new way of living. In Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Past Visions of the American Future, historians Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan explain that retrofuturism is «a history of an idea, or a system of ideas. The future, of course, does not exist except as an act of belief or imagination». Robert Lanham writes in Oxford Handbook to Science Fiction: If futurism is a science bent on anticipating what will come, retrofuturism is the remembering of that anticipation. Characterized by a blend of retro styles with futuristic technology, it explores the themes of tension between past and future and the alienating and empowering effects of technology. In the case of Louis Vuitton’s collection, such tension exists between the antiquity-inspired Fornasetti prints and the ultramodern method of overlaying them using high-tech thermal camera imagery.
Piero Fornasetti and Lina Cavalieri
Piero Fornasetti, born in Milan in 1913, was an artist whose eclectic interests made it difficult to ascribe to a specific movement. He started his atelier in 1940 and with time became internationally known for his trompe l’oeil ceramics and household items, including whimsical decorative objects such as umbrella stands and ash trays. Called a «master of visual trickery» by Rita Reif in an article from The New York Times in 1998, he coated the surfaces everything he produced «with incongruous images as women’s faces and playing cards, making it difficult to distinguish the pattern from the object», wrote Suzanne Stevens for The New York Times in 1991. One of his first projects were silk scarves that caught the eye of Gio Ponti, the Italian architect who went on to become Fornasetti’s loyal supporter as well as collaborator on interior decoration projects. Fornasetti’s plates, ashtrays and furniture are as much conversation pieces as objects to be used: theatrical but functional. His work is an example of creativity in harmony with and connected to the utility of the product and the process by which it is made tangible. As a skilled artisan, he was able to manufacture his designs in astonishing quantities, but remained secretive about his printing techniques. His son Barnaba revealed he had mastered lithography in the late thirties by doing prints for artists like Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana and Giacomo Manzu. Fornasetti «explored the dimensional properties of Renaissance architectural drawings and suns with human faces» when the reigning aesthetic was no-frills modernism. «My father didn’t invent anything new», says the younger Fornasetti in an interview with The New York Times. «He took a lot of the old, and he varied it». One thing he never ceased to return to, a leitmotif of his body of work, has always been the face of Lina Cavalieri, an opera singer who lived at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth century. For this collection, Cavalieri’s face got some well-deserved rest, replaced instead by Fornasetti’s drawings of ancient statues. Retrofuturism serves as an antidote to the anxieties of uncertain times; it is the embodiment of hope that makes the future feel bright and full of potential. The video presentation ends with the last model looking up at the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a Hellenistic sculpture dating to the 2nd century B.C. as if to herald that victory over the current global hardship is imminent: a sense of optimism, a shared fantasy of tomorrow.IMAGE GALLERY
Louis Vuitton x Fornasetti Collection
The Louis Vuitton collection for fall 2021/22 features designs of Piero Fornasetti, a prolific and eclectic artist and manufacturer, exploring the nature of societal nostalgia for the future and imagining the post-pandemic way of dressing that juxtaposes the decorative with the comfortable.