Where better to show off the face of the “new” China than near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square? As the country gears up to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party on 1 July, Louis Vuitton is joining in the celebrations.
Honouring its 19th year in China, last week the French luxury house launched “Louis Vuitton Voyages”, an exhibition charting the company’s 157-year history at the newly refurbished National Museum of China, which is located adjacent to Tiananmen Square.
Running until the end of August, Voyages is a tasteful retrospective of all things travel and fashion-related in LV-world; the company’s signature luggage pieces, including the Cabin Trunk from 1898 and the canvas Steamer Bag from 1901, are on display encased in glass and hanging from decorative hot air balloons.
Chinese artist Zhan Wang’s big-bang-like installation of exploding rocks (accompanied by a suitably menacing-end-of-the-world-type music score) also gets a space in one of the four exhibition rooms.
The museum, which is the largest in the world after the Louvre in Paris (over a million exhibits of China’s 5,000 year history are housed here), reopened in March after three years of renovation. “Voyages” is the second exhibition and the museum’s first luxury label showcase. “It makes us very proud to be asked to exhibit at the museum that represents China,” says Pietro Beccari, LV’s executive vice-president. “It gives recognition to a brand that can bring a modern way of looking at the world and that respects artists and promotes art in different forms.” LV was a pioneering international luxury brand when it set up shop in China in 1992. Since opening at the Peninsula hotel in the capital, it now has 36 stores in 29 cities across China and in such unlikely locations as Ulan Bator in Mongolia.
Though the LV-craze is mostly good for company coffers, Louis Vuitton has had to dedicate a big chunk of its 40-strong team of global LV-counterfeit-fighters to combating piracy in China. Beccari says that LV closes up to two fake factories (where the LV-monogram goes on everything from steering wheels to cigarettes) a month.
In part, “Voyages” is meant to educate LV-newcomers on the importance of getting the real deal. And hopefully visitors will take away esteem for craftsmanship and its distinguished history. As the LV launch-party gets going with an entourage of fancy cars driving all the way up to the museum doors (civilian vehicles normally aren’t allowed to stop anywhere close to Tiananmen Square) and hundreds of LV-fans and international journalists pour into the almost absurdly spacious entrance hall, a distant rumbling of thunderstorms is heard over the hot Beijing evening.
Or maybe it’s the sound of Chairman Mao rolling in his grave as champagne glasses clink and the LV-ribbon is cut at the National Museum of China.