Cruise Control: Come fly with Louis Vuitton

Who better to reimagine a time when air travel was the epitome of glamour and luxury than Louis Vuitton?
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Airports don’t exactly exude glamour these days. But when the 2,000-strong fashion crowd touched down in New York for the 2020 Louis Vuitton Cruise show two weeks ago, there were fewer Ziploc toiletries bags and full-body scanners and more every shape of monogram bag imaginable, with influencers thronging to get the perfect shot of the gull-wing-shaped structure that is the TWA terminal. Because this wasn’t just any airport; this was an airport chosen by Louis Vuitton because it once symbolised the golden age of travel.

Designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1962, the space-age structure and sweeping red carpets were intended to appeal to the early jetsetters, at a time when even those travelling economy were offered a choice of three entrées. “He wanted a building in which the human being felt uplifted, important and full of anticipation,” Saarinen’s wife, Aline, said of the building, which was declared a landmark. But, short of a cameo as the set of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, the TWA terminal has been abandoned for the best part of the last 20 years – and it’s only now reclaiming its status thanks to a multimillion-dollar renovation as a luxury hotel that boasts an infinity pool-cuzzi set to be a plane-spotters’ dream.

When Louis Vuitton’s Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière – who is said to choose show locations personally up to a year in advance, based on his love of modernist architecture – heard about the project, he was keen to unveil the restoration. Not least, you can imagine, because if any brand understands how to make travel luxe, it’s Louis Vuitton, whose steamer trunk revolutionised luggage in the 1800s.

You certainly got the sense that Saarinen would have been pleased by the reaction, as A-listers not-so-fresh from the Met Ball a mere 48 hours earlier were whisked through, arrivals. Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner and new husband Joe Jonas treated it like the most glamorous date night, glued to each other on the front row. Elsewhere, there were Oscar winners aplenty. Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and Emma Stone sat together, the latter seen conferring with her stylist, no doubt over which looks were on their hit list.

Certainly, the collection offered up lots of pieces you can expect to see on the red carpet soon. From puffball miniskirts to glitzy winged capes and jacquard dresses that played up the distinctive steelwork of New York’s most famous Art Deco buildings, this was a Gotham City-meets-The Great Gatsby show. “I love the fantasy about New York; it’s a wonder city with so much energy but there’s also a dark side and the collection expressed that,” Ghesquière said backstage.

At times, the tourist-fandom was quite literal: Bright Lights, Big City-style satin bombers emblazoned with the world’s most distinctive skyline and a Chrysler Building-shaped bag that’s surely already got a waiting list. “I wanted to go back to the feeling of my first trip to New York, because when you first come you have so much to discover and so many images that are strong in your mind,” Ghesquière said of feeling “very free to express any emotion and clichés about the city”.

But there were more subtle references to the Big Apple, too – think pinstripe suiting and dresses reminiscent of 1980s Wall Street, that, for a designer known for his statements, felt pleasingly wearable. “It was clearly a reference to Wall Street; the old Wall Street, actually,” he admitted. “I remember the entire world was smiling at the fact American women were wearing suiting with sneakers 20 years ago, maybe more than that, and look now what’s happened.”

There weren’t any sneakers. But for those keen on fashion’s continued movement towards comfort, there were boots galore. Steel-toed combat boots, Cuban heels and sock boots, take your pick – as long as you’re able to stomp up the sidewalk in them, was Ghesquière’s message. “It’s interesting,” he said backstage, “we’ve tried to put heels in again every season over the last few years but what was helping the silhouette a few years ago doesn’t any more. Good news is that we don’t need the high heels.”

And so to the bags… Here we had the clearest sign that – for all the location choice harking back to the past – this is a brand very much looking to the future. “Digitally connected bags” featuring flexible screen technology, which Louis Vuitton is the first to incorporate into fashion, proved the biggest talking point, thanks to what could be seen as a series of screensavers being visible on the side of your bag. They proved Instagram catnip for the social-media-savvy audience – and will no doubt attract similar hype when they land in store mid-October. An item that offers the promise of escapism, while also constantly being connected? That’s modern luxury right there.

Photos: Supplied and Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images