Brazil is in chaos. The country is a little more than two months away from playing host to the 2016 Olympics in the midst of a growing Zika crisis, while on the political front the Brazilian people face a corruption probe, the scandalous suspension of President Dilma Rousseff, a current coup-imposed government, and a backsliding economy. The latter underscores the tremendous odds Brazil faces in restoring some semblance of order. With a GDP that fell a shocking 3.8 percent in 2015, as well as rising inflation and unemployment rates and no clear leadership, it’s no wonder citizens are protesting in the streets.
Yet, you would never get a sense of the country’s mounting problems from the serene, ocean-front Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, where Louis Vuitton staged its Cruise 2017 collection to some 500 guests. From a distance, the space-age building resembles a flying saucer from which a winding red walkway extends, and the whole clinical, white mirage seems to hover atop a cliff overlooking Guanamara Bay.
In essence, the Louis Vuitton Cruise 2017 show represents a carefully considered combination of architecture, art, cultural heritage, brand heritage, and business strategy.
Louis Vuitton’s sports-themed collection looked to the future in more ways than one – it was aesthetically fashion forward and a representation of the brand’s embrace of the Brazilian market. The upheaval in the country is particularly salient to the brand’s choice to host a show in Rio de Janeiro. Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s Chief Executive, was quick to point out that the Cruise 2017 event was directly meant to signal the brand’s investment in the country, which was underscored by the fact that the event spanned several days and took a 300-person team to pull off. Brazil is the world’s fourth largest democracy, sixth largest economy, fifth biggest Fashion Week, and Louis Vuitton’s tenth biggest market – hence the brand’s refocused investment in the country. However, most would see the investment as a risky move given Brazil’s tenuous hold on order.
Louis Vuitton’s execs are clearly steering the ship when it comes to the brand’s expansion into Brazil, but its Creative Director, Nicolas Ghesquière, had aesthetics on his mind. While the sportif Cruise 2017 collection certainly seemed to pay homage to the upcoming Rio Olympics, Ghesquière’s true intention was to entice the many elite Brazilian clients in attendance by incorporating looks that centered on local pastimes like bingo and soccer – a move that was accomplished by the inclusion of prints created by Brazilian artists Hélio Oiticica and Aldemir Martins. Ghesquière was less concerned with capitalizing on Brazil’s position as an important market for the brand and more concerned with paying homage to the beauty and culture of the country. In so doing, his collection holds appeal far broader than Brazilian borders – it becomes a vehicle for exposing Louis Vuitton’s global client base to a rich, vibrant country that it may not otherwise know much about. In essence, the Louis Vuitton Cruise 2017 show represents a carefully considered combination of architecture, art, cultural heritage, brand heritage, and business strategy.
In a place where the modern and manmade meets the natural majesty of the sea, this collection seems to fall somewhere between sportswear and futuristic fashion.
Despite country-wide financial setbacks, Rio de Janeiro is still a city that is obsessed with status. For that reason, Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2017 collection placed laser focus on accessories, with sequined skinny scarves, hyper-modern hybrid shoes, “boombox” bags with functioning Bluetooth technology, and vividly printed trunk bags acting as the ultimate collector’s items for the fashionably minded. With mountains, tropical forests, and oceans within Brazil’s borders, the adventure seeker has plenty of activities to explore, which Ghesquière referenced with clothes that were “meant to move”. These included zippered tops made with scuba material and shrunken dresses that recalled the look of unzipped wetsuits. The colorful, swirling palette gave the impression of collage work, but many of the looks were single pieces that were finished with porthole cutouts, geometric prints, and a hodgepodge of colorful trim and button accents. They looked more complicated than they really were.
In addition to this vibrant selection of wind-whipped jersey dresses and athletic minis were solid leather jackets and grommeted leather cape-tops, as well as patterned sweaters that revived the house’s Damier check, striped miniskirts festooned with sequins, lightweight parkas, and slender, cropped monochrome suits. In a place where the modern and manmade meets the natural majesty of the sea, this collection seems to fall somewhere between sportswear and futuristic fashion.
In an industry that prefers to play it safe when it comes to both business and creativity by providing predictability en masse every season, it’s refreshing to see a major luxury brand take a risk and embrace a challenging market – not only by unleashing an otherworldly collection, but by doing so in the middle of a country’s darkest hour. Business of Fashion called the brand’s move “critical to Louis Vuitton’s long-term strategy”, but when looking to the future in uncertain times, caution is advisable.