April 29, 2015

Mercedes-Benz Travel Season: Fashion, art, culture, all under the same roof – Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris

At the Louis Vuitton spring-summer 2015 runway show it was impossible for the fashion on the catwalk and the celebrities front row not to have to share the limelight and admiration with the building that hosted the show. It’s a risk Frank Gehry, the architect of the monument-museum Fondation Louis Vuitton is used mitigating. And one that Bernard Arnault, Chairman of LMVH, was eager to share the sweet burden of from as early as 2001, when he first approached the influential contemporary architect for the designing of an ’’haute couture building’’.

A visit to the haute couture fashion capital, at  the haute couture museum of Louis Vuitton, couldn’t be done other than through a “haute couture” travel supported by Tiriac Auto, behind the high-end fashion wheel of a Mercedes-Benz GLA. A travel into the world of beauty, where works of art (be they in the form of paintings, architecture or fashion) harmoniously intertwine under the very same roof.

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Frank Gehry is famous for his architecture, often times being said that it’s too complicated and ends up overwhelming the exhibits in the galleries and museums bearing his signature. And in Fondation Louis Vuitton’s case it has already been talked about. A visitor was saying that it will be years before people will be able to appreciate the art collection too. Still, what hasn’t been understood is that Gehry knows artists and that they’re open to play by nature and, most of all, that they are open to interacting with the space of the gallery. The days of sterile Bauhaus spaces are long gone.

The architect’s vision has proved itself once again, as these exact features are the ones to have appealed from the very beginning to the (artistic and business) eye of Bernard Arnault. The result is a truly extraordinary space!

The Fondation Louis Vuitton’s building offers home, in its 11 galleries, to the art collections of LVMH and that of Bernard Arnault – Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George or Jeff Koons -, especially created installations – Ellsworth Kelly, Olafur Eliasson or Sarah Morris-, an auditorium, a museum and at the same time art restaurant, all for the location of the foundation to enter city patrimony after 55 years.

It’s an investment that will bring “not economic returns but emotional ones”, says Jean-Paul Claverie, the LVMH project manager. And for these dividends, the Group, as well as the design and technology branches of Frank Gehry’s architecture firm have innovated over 9 years – 2006-2014 – enough for new standards in the field.

When faced with the building’s data – 15 000 tons of steel (twice as much as the Eiffel Tower), 13 500 m2 of the 12 glass sails finishing up the construction, 7 000 m2 of gallery area, an auditorium for up to 1 000 attendees, 2 years invested solely on the developing and perfecting of the technologies – you realise that you are in front of a remarkable initiative. Just like when you’re looking at the building – the draped glass of the roof, the basin that seems to have replaced its foundation… the way in which the ensemble melds into its Bois de la Boulogne surroundings. So did the personalities invited at the inauguration – François Hollande, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Marion Cotillard and Sophia Copolla, as well as Harvard University, which has already included the building into the case studies portfolio of its architecture course. Likewise, the American Institute of Architects, that awarded Gehry Technologies for the project, and the initiative to referencing to the Foundation’s environment impact parameters for new High Environmental Quality standards for cultural buildings.

Even the restaurant’s museum, Le Frank, is ready to take on the works of ’’art restaurants’’. Its chef, Jean-Louis Nomicos, who has coordinated Michelin stars restaurants, has conceived a menu mixing French dishes with international cuisine references in a gradation allowing the correlation of what is served at the table with the museum’s flux. Once with the different times of the day and the transformations that the natural light-bathed space undergoes from dawn to dusk. And, on the other hand, depending on the particularities and origin of each of the temporary exhibitions or concerts organised at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

With a cost of 143 million dollars, Fondation Louis Vuitton is the first major privately financed cultural institution in France. And, maybe, the first contemporary architectural landmark of a fashion house.

Certainly, one that deserves valuation as a, say, fashion item being paraded down the global fashion catwalk.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

As far as the practical coordinates of the visitation go, I got to Avenue Mahatma Gandhi driving my trusted travel companion around the fashion planet – Mercedes-Benz GLA from Ţiriac Auto. But the Foundation organises daily (except for Tuesday, when the museum is closed) a shuttle service – EUR 1 – from Place Charles de Gaulle, the Avenue de Friedland corner. The buses run every 15 minutes. The full price for a visit is of EUR 14. And on iTunes, the foundation app is available to help you prepare the visit.

So, Bon voyage!

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Photos: Louis Vuitton, architecturaldigest.com, businessweek.com, Fondation Louis Vuitton, itunes.apple.com