Louis Vuitton stages dramatic runway show in Hong Kong
By Stephy Chung and Oscar Holland, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN) — Louis Vuitton’s creative director for menswear Pharrell Williams signaled the label’s ambitions in Asia on Thursday evening, staging a playful show under the lights of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.
The American musician and designer, who in June shut down Paris’ Pont Neuf bridge to showcase his debut collection for the label, continued his high-profile tenure at the brand by unveiling its latest looks against one of the world’s most iconic skylines.
The event saw models walking an outdoor runway at the Avenue of Stars — Hong Kong’s answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cantopop singer Anson Lo, Chinese boy band TNT and South Korean actor Song Joong-ki were among the celebrities in attendance.
The show was themed on travel, everywhere from “Hawaii to Hong Kong,” said Williams. Speaking to CNN just hours before, he described the collection as having “a very hyper focus on dandy” — expressed through its “sailor side” and “resort side,” he added.
In a nod to what the brand described as the city’s seafaring history, the runway’s maritime theme saw musicians in sailor hats strumming ukuleles and a catwalk covered in sand and digital displays screening lapping waves.
Models — who included members of Hawaii’s surf communities — swept along the harborfront in striped suits, sailing jackets, fisherman-style sandals and tropical floral prints, with Williams’ relaxed silhouettes and embellishments giving some outfits the feel of elevated beachwear. Many of the looks were completed with naval accessories, like raffia bucket hats and a Louis Vuitton Keepall 25 bag hand-embrodiered with seashells.
The sky then filled with dozens of drones, taking on forms including the brand’s LVERS logo — a combination of the classic LV monogram with the word lovers, a philosophy at the heart of Williams’ practice, according to the show notes — before he emerged to take a bow.
“It’s a luxury house, but this luxury house was founded on the traveler — the world traveler,” he told CNN. “And here it’s landed us in Hong Kong.”
The French label appointed Williams in February following the death of his predecessor, Virgil Abloh. As well as putting on a spectacular show at Paris Men’s Fashion Week, complete with an orchestra and gospel choir, Williams has already reimagined some of the brand’s classics — such as a version of its Speedy bag in crocodile leather, a design only available to select customers and priced at $1 million (giving the bag its nickname, the “Millionaire Speedy”).
When asked to reflect on the pressures accompanying one of fashion’s top jobs, Williams told CNN, “Oh the pleasure is amazing. You said pressure, I said pleasure. What’s hard about pleasure?”
Allure of the city
Thursday’s event marked Louis Vuitton’s first ever pre-fall menswear show. And while pre-fall collections are not considered as prestigious as labels’ Spring-Summer or Fall-Winter lines, the move nonetheless demonstrated the importance of Hong Kong — and Asia at large — to the French fashion house’s expansion plans.
Louis Vuitton opened its first boutique in Hong Kong in 1979. The city’s residents now spend more on luxury goods, per capita, than anywhere else in the world, according to market research firm Euromonitor. It has also traditionally been a popular destination for the wider region’s luxury shoppers, thanks to the absence of sales tax in the territory.
Earlier this week, Dior, which is owned by Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH, announced that it too will unveil its men’s pre-fall collection in Hong Kong, at a undisclosed venue, early next year.
This can also be considered something of a coup for Hong Kong, which is working to restore its international reputation as a go-to destination following years of some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 travel restrictions and the introduction of a controversial National Security Law that critics say threaten political freedoms and civil liberties.
Recent months have seen officials attempt to lure tourists back to the city with its “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which included a giveaway of 500,000 free airline tickets. In a brief statement published Tuesday, the Hong Kong Tourism Board described the Louis Vuitton event as “making fashion history.”
Organized alongside K11 Group, which operates a mall beside the Avenue of Stars and the area’s wider art and design district Victoria Dockside, the runway was also livestreamed around Hong Kong via digital billboards.
The show also marked a continuation of Louis Vuitton’s attempts to court lucrative Asian markets. Although LVMH does not disclose the performance of individual brands, the French conglomerate’s rebound in profits was partly fueled by resumed Chinese spending after China’s post-Covid reopening.
In 2020, during the height of pandemic, the label’s menswear division eschewed a digital edition of Paris Men’s Fashion Week to instead debut its newest collection in mainland China. Then under Abloh’s leadership, the brand showed formal garments, animal-themed streetwear and bright block colors on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai.
Louis Vuitton’s womenswear division, meanwhile, hosted its first major show in South Korea this past April, when it transformed Seoul’s Jamsugyo Bridge into a striking runway.
But beyond the region’s strategic importance, the choice of Hong Kong was, for Williams, personal. The 50-year-old said he had felt “incredibly supported” by the city in the past, and has held a number of collaborations and events there in recent years, including a private sale launched by his digital auction platform Joopiter and jeweler Lorraine Schwartz back in March. “I definitely knew I wanted Hong Kong to be my second stop after Paris,” he said of his Louis Vuitton show schedule.
And after years living with the pandemic, the Asian city feels like it’s “back in the business,” Williams added.
“The slingshot is pulled back as far as it can go, and (it’s) about to let go… from a deep serious ebbing into a very serious energic flow,” he said. “You’re going to see it across business and all the different sectors, from fashion all the way to finance.
“I think it’s very serendipitous that we get to come here right when things are just about to transform.”
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