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July 23 2014

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LVMH Takes Us Behind the Curtain

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Kenzo at Les Journées Particulières

There are open-house visits, and then there are open-house visits hosted by LVMH. Les Journées Particulières translates literally as “Particular Days.” But in French it suggests a broader notion that encompasses heritage and rarity, making it a fitting title for Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy’s all-access weekend, during which it welcomed the public to peek into the workings of its brands.

Conceived by Antoine Arnault, the first Les Journées Particulières, in 2011, drew an impressive 100,000 visitors across all of its twenty-five locations. After skipping last year, the free event returned on Saturday with an expanded presence: forty-four venues throughout Europe, from the Glenmorangie distillery in the Scottish Highlands to the Fendi leather-goods factory near Florence. Of those, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior in Paris span more than 150 years of fashion savoir faire, innovation, and iconic style.

The Kenzo walk-through began in the courtyard of a building that dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. The brand’s spirit announced itself upon entering into a corridor covered in the upcoming Fall ’13 motif: a pattern of eyes wide open. Wink, wink. We see you! Next up: a tableau vivant featuring five members of the studio team, including a specialist who forms the toile and the “mécanicien” who ensures that the pattern and fabric match perfectly. A futuristic hologram video of the Fall women’s collection, with a custom M.I.A. track, confirmed that Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are thinking as much about the digital universe as the one that is hands-on.

Kenzo at Les Journées Particulières

“We have the capability of taking a sketch, and by the end of the day, having a muslin; I don’t think there are very many ready-to-wear brands that have a full atelier [in-house],” said Lim, who has been spending more time in Paris, following the birth of her daughter, and was deep into preparations for the Spring ’14 men’s collection, which will debut next week. “We’re also celebrating the brand; Kenzo Takada is a source of inspiration, and it becomes a question of how we move forward and evolve.”

At the Louis Vuitton factory in Asnières, guests could either sign up for a tour of the special orders “haute maroquinerie” production floor plus a glimpse inside the Vuitton family home (located on the premises, it’s a stunning example of early art nouveau), or a workshop that involved learning how to saddle stitch and paint leather tags (bonus: getting to wear a slick chocolate-brown Vuitton apron). Tough choice.

The brand’s forefather chose Asnières, on the outskirts of central Paris, back in 1859, because of its proximity to the Seine; wood arrived by boat back then. Today, it is one of nine ateliers in France and beyond; yet almost every stage of bag production is still executed by hand. Moreover, a trunk can only be made from dozens of highly specialized tools. Patrick-Louis Vuitton, a fifth-generation family member and director of custom designs, was spotted accompanying French actress Virginie Ledoyen through the workstations; guests seemed more enthralled by the forming of a handle (the point that it meets the bag appears raised thanks to hidden stacked leather discs).

Dior at Les Journées Particulières

Christian Dior’s salons at 30 Avenue Montaigne (above) drew lines before dawn on both days, even though most of the reservations had been allocated online. Re-creations of the brand’s seven in-house ateliers were spaced out around the second floor so that within the span of an hour, people could learn about the brand’s perfumes, the shoes and bags, the men’s suiting, the two Haute Couture ateliers (“tailleur” for tailoring and “flou” for dresses), the baby division, and, finally, watches and jewelry.

There were insights aplenty: a lineup of slim and curvy bust forms that represented actual clients (sans names, natch), the pure white toile designs juxtaposed alongside completed runway versions, the frills of an elaborate Baby Dior dress that had been starched to remain rigid, the hidden hand-stitching to reinforce a men’s lapel, the mossy green wax used to mold a ring, and the table designed to secure the piece of tulle upon which a couturiere sewed bead after bead. Each detail had a raison d’être.

Dior at Les Journées Particulières

A lot of numbers got tossed around during the visits: two hundred hours of workmanship might go into a Dior Haute Couture dress, 150 artisans work at Asnières, the space between each nail on a Vuitton trunk is 11 mm. But to memorize these and take away nothing more would be to miss the multifaceted message of quality over quantity. On one level, the weekend served a promotional purpose—all processes lead to a finished product, after all. The other important point, however, is that Les Journées Particulières is about image preservation. Such a glorified, engaging show-and-tell helps convey that value is often determined by values. And in this way, Les Journées Particulières continues well past the weekend, whether we’re there to witness each stitch or not.

Photos: Courtesy of Kenzo and Christian Dior

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