Thursday, 16 October 2008

Vuitton Mania

Universally known and widely imitated, the Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas is an odd emblem of the times. The French luggage maker’s website lays out the Romantic version of the brand’s history (“Louis Vuitton, a trunk-maker in Paris since 1854, became a legend in the art of travel...a century and a half later, the legend lives on.”) but doesn’t mention when it became utterly ubiquitous, almost a victim of its own success, the Coca-Cola or McDonald’s logo of luxury goods – instantly recognisably and instantly associated with a certain lifestyle, in this case one of supposed elegance, money, power, and good taste.

The power of the monogram is not to be underestimated, both commercially and culturally: Vuitton leather goods turn in vast amounts of money – something which the frequent queues of tourists outside the Paris Champs Elysées store or rapid opening of new stores in China bears testament to. This commercial success partly comes from the fact that the Vuitton monogram is deeply ingrained in popular culture and is aspired to by many, which often manifests itself in the amusing Vuitton-esque designs in the photomontage (there is little the Vuitton monogram hasn’t unofficially graced, from wedding cakes, to iPhone themes, to SARS masks) or the more studied counterfeits of real LV goods. Unsurprisingly, LV takes a dim view of such activities and devotes a lot of resources to cracking down on it: the caveat is that the more the monogram is imitated the less exclusive it becomes (making people less inclined to shell out for the real deal), although ironically if the brand image became less exclusive it would probably be faked less, since it would be less of a byword for sophisticated luxury, which so many people want to get their hands on on the cheap.

It would be interesting to track exactly what commercial decisions and other twists of fate made the Vuitton monogram, originally the preserve of an exclusive luggage maker, become so widespread (while others, like Goyard’s, remained more exclusive) and what still makes it so popular even today (more so than the Gucci and Dior monograms and the Fendi interlocking F’s, which seem to have faded outas the 80s vogue for explicit branding diminished). It’s also interesting how LV manage to keep an astonishingly high level of brand exclusivity given all the counterfeit activity, and can simultaneously please wealthy customers who travel with vast LV luggage sets, and suburban kids who save up to buy the smallest ‘token’ LV purse; even amongst the fashion elite the brand is widely accepted, despite the fact that in a nondescript shopping mall parking lot somewhere there’s a clapped-out old car with the monogram of sorts clumsily stencilled on.

More recently this commercial obsession with luxury has come to the attention of designers and artists who have parodied the fakes themselves: witness Peter Gronquist’s Vuitton electric chair, the kitsch over-size photograph of a woman in an obviously fake Louis Vuitton hijab outside the Bogayo Moroccan restaurant in Hoxton in London, or Year Zero London’s trendy Vuitton-ish bags customised with neon graffiti designs.

1 comment:

  1. Why LV and not FF? Why LV and not GC? Why LV and not breakfast? ... not dinner? whatever else?

    I'd pick it on marketing. And people's desire to impress, to parade their wealth. Come to think of it, it's such an old and disgusting human habit to tag its possessions! However, MJ has a way of pushing things in the spotlight. Somehow (don't really know why) he's a marketingsugar. Everybody loves Marc, what he touches turns into gold. Let's tag that gold and parade it!

    (fact is, I like your blog so much, I think I'll be coming back soon! ;) )