Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour
The Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne – the ultimate coalition between art and luxury – opened this week on a high note.
How high? Right up there with Frank Gehry’s glass and steel structure, its curved sails reaching into a windblown sky.
Frank Gehry,architect of the foundation, President François Hollande and Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH
“An iceberg, a glass house – a boat,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), describing in an opening speech the different names given to the building that hovers like a cloud over the green park on the outskirts of Paris.
The luxury tycoon, whose philanthropy brought a dream of a modern art foundation to life, thanked the architect before himself receiving a glowing testimonial for his generosity from President François Hollande.
Bernard Arnault, Frank Gehry
Although the concept of wealthy patrons opening private temples for the arts is already developed in America, and donating money for renovation has spread across Italy, the Louis Vuitton Foundation is a rare statement in France, were the state has been the main provider of culture.
Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of womenswear, and actress Michelle Williams
Ringed by fashion and art royalty – from Karl Lagerfeld to Jeff Koons – Arnault, 65, described the exceptional structure as what he believed to be the most complex building in existence – yet one done with humour and with human proportions, fulfilling his dream for the past 15 years.
In turn, American-Canadian Gehry, 85, apologising for his limited French, said that he knew that the park, chiselled into the memory of Parisians as children, was sacred, that he understood the gravity of his task and added, “I hope I didn’t screw up.”
Natalia Vodianova and Antoine Arnault, chief executive of the menswear brand Berluti and chairman of Loro Piana
He went on to say that he found Arnault “quite an artist in the way he thinks”, interested in music and the arts. And that he even “listened to me as well”.
“It is a mix of intelligence, creativity, imagination and technology,” said Hollande, praising the architect for his earlier success in revitalising the Spanish town of Bilbao in 1997 with the dramatic, modernist Guggenheim museum.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation
The president believed that this new “cathedral of light”, with its unique architecture, was an industrial building that encompasses “a revolution of art and technology”.
The event, set in this dramatic landscape, drew celebrity guests such as Marisa Berenson, Sofia Coppola, Marion Cotillard and Michelle Williams, as well as museum directors from across the world.
Film director Sofia Coppola
They all roamed the building looking less at the work of Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly in plain, square rooms, than at the soaring structure with a nest of stairs leading to an upper level, which offered an aerial view of a twinkling Paris cityscape and even the Eiffel Tower.
For Arnault, this was a family affair, which included his wife, the pianist Hélène Mercier, daughter Delphine and son Antoine, with his partner Natalia Vodianova. They clustered in a room displaying the early architectural plans for the building and a series of mesmerising videos that showed the structure built in high speed or slow motion, the photography done by aerial drones.
Designers Raf Simons of Dior, Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy
The family of fashion was also gathered for the event, from Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour to Pierre Bergé, co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent. Other designer guests included Raf Simons of Dior, Kris Van Assche of Dior Homme, Phoebe Philo of Céline, Jonathan Anderson of Loewe and, of course, Nicolas Ghesquière for Louis Vuitton, who staged his September show in the building.
That had given the fashion crowd the first sight of the silvered surface and rippling water.
The foundations of this light and airy building are, metaphorically speaking, Vuitton’s leather bags, Dior gowns, Fendi furs and Céline’s tailored coats – not to mention jewellery, watches and piles of empty champagne bottles.
Delfina Delettrez, Carla Fendi, Sofia Coppola, Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO Michael Burke, and Silvia Fendi
But after a quarter of a century of fashion cosying up to art and of designers striving for the immortality associated with pure artistry, Bernard Arnault has succeeded in creating an object fit for eternity.
At this joyous event, where orange fish – a symbol of Arnault and Gehry as Pisces – swum over the entrance hall – I had just one moment of sadness.
I remembered my first glimpse of this cultural dream when the late Yves Carcelle showed me the maquette, or scale model, of the building after the first strike in the park’s soil.
Suzy with the plaque of the Louis Vuitton foundation
When I said I was dubious whether this tangle of wires, like a Barbie doll’s messy hair, would everreally happen, he gave me his chuckling smile and said: “It will!”
I wish Yves had been here to see the wings of glass fly high into the sky.