For the New York edition of the exhibition Volez, Voguez, Voyagez, curator Olivier Saillard finds the line between an exhaustive history of Louis Vuitton and modernity. There is an attention to intimacy on display: these are, after all, pieces of luggage that carried a person’s most irreplaceable and valuable items, as well as items devoted to vanity: lipsticks, hairbrushes, and perfume. “During the exhibition research, we discovered very old sticks of lipstick in a bag or in a wardrobe,” Saillard says. “You can just imagine Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich using them. I’m always very touched when I find a hair, which is something very intimate.” The exhibition maintains its sense of grandeur, and is a full visual experience. One room devoted to exploration places visitors on the floor of a sailboat, mast rising from the center of the room, posh explorers standing at the railing with luggage at their feet, a scene of the ocean to one side, and the endless desert to the other. The sets often dwarf and impress, whether you are in a recreated train car or among the clouds, a plane loaded with luggage flying directly at you.
Tokens of Americana, New York, and Hollywood are incorporated throughout the exhibition. Trunks from Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, and Ernest Hemingway are shown, with personal effects—Hemingway’s typewriter and Bacall’s and Garbo’s gowns—on display next to their luggage. “A lot of trunks are coming from notorious New Yorkers,” Saillard says of the history between Louis Vuitton and America. “You can see in every chapter a lot of items that explain this close relation between Louis Vuitton and America.”
Talking with Saillard about what he finds so fascinating about a brand’s archive, he speaks about humanizing the brands and people that have become near-untouchable fashion monoliths. “I like to reveal who is behind the brand. Most of them come from a very simple life, and I believe that is why they want to do something new.” With this approach, Saillard has chosen to include personal letters and documents from Louis Vuitton himself, which are displayed throughout the rooms. It can sometimes be hard to showcase a long and storied history, such as Louis Vuitton’s, while still making it relatable, but Saillard’s passion for detailed storytelling and his experimentation with traditional exhibition norms has created an experience of pure discovery.
“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is on display October 27—January 7, 2018 at the American Stock Exchange Building in New York.