Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Louis Vuitton Sails into Beijing’s National Museum

The newly renovated National Museum of China is off to an impressive start with the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening Tuesday.

Louis Vuitton’s history with China dates back over a century, to the 1907 Paris to Peking expedition when members struggled against temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius in cars outfitted with Louis Vuitton trunks.

The First Louis Vuitton store in China opened at Beijing’s Peninsula Hotel in 1992. While China could hardly boast a privileged lifestyle at that time, Louis Vuitton showed vision for China’s future and confidence that a culture with such an ancient appreciation for beauty and elegance would embrace those qualities in the Louis Vuitton image. Today, Louis Vuitton is one of the most popular luxury brands in China, and Christopher Zanardi-Landi, President of Louis Vuitton China and Mongolia, explains an important part of that success has to do with holding the Louis Vuitton experience in China to the same standards of Paris or New York. “We’ve always wanted to make sure that the customer experience we have here is just as good as you can find everywhere else in the world,” he says.

The exhibition at the National museum comes just before Louis Vuitton’s 20th anniversary in China. Comprised of four rooms, the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition takes visitors on an up-close journey with Louis Vuitton throughout history, starting with its humble origins as a luggage shop in 1854. Louis Vuitton rocketed to fame after winning the favor of Empress Eugenie, and his distinctive luggage has been finding its way into history through famous expeditions and celebrity travel ever since.

Items on display throughout the exhibition convey Louis Vuitton’s three central characteristics: sturdiness, elegance, and precision. Some of the exhibition follows Louis Vuitton’s presence in more rugged lifestyles, including a bed that folds out from a suitcase, used on trips in Africa. The 1931 Croisiere Jaune expedition that led 40 men to drive 12,000 km from the Mediterranean coast to the China coast, following the footsteps of Marco Polo, was outfitted with Louis Vuitton trunks that stood up to adverse conditions ranging from dry desert climate to cold, damp climate, and the rocky Himalayan mountain passes.

Louis Vuitton’s luggage was also the lady’s choice. Louis Vuitton actually started in the luggage business as a luggage packer for high society ladies, who needed to transport voluminous, delicate dresses on their trips. Vuitton understood the needs of women so well that Empress Eugenie could not do without his custom-made luggage, and he became the favorite of all the famous Parisian beauties. Cases for toiletries and clothes belonging to performers and socialites in the early part of the 1900s show the delicacy and elegance that these women sought.

Precision is a notable part of every piece; every stud, every drawer of Louis Vuitton trunks on display still look handsome today despite extensive use by some of their original owners.

The first room of the exhibition is dedicated to the installation artwork of Chinese artist Zhan Wang. Inside a giant, mirrored rock, visitors watch the slow-motion video of a rock explosion. The unique trajectory of each tiny shard of rock is clear as the fragments travel to the outer edges of the screen, simulating the origin of the universe according to the Big Bang theory. Zhan’s work is not unrelated to Louis Vuitton’s story, as Vuitton started his business selling a practical, durable piece of luggage — a requirement for any traveler; the Louis Vuitton brand has since expanded to many product lines with varied appearances.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the exhibition held Monday night, Patrick-Louis Vuitton, the 5th generation of the Vuitton family was joined onstage by Yves Carcelle and Christopher Zanardi-Landi and actress Gong Li, a longtime fan of Louis Vuitton. Other celebrities on hand to show their support for the exhibition were television host Chen Luyu, magician Liu Qian, and actors Feng Shaofeng, Yuan Quan, Chen Qun, and Zhang Jingchu.
Actor Chen Kun attends the opening ceremony of Louis Vuitton Voyages at the National Museum of China

“For us, doing this exhibition in a museum that carries the history of the oldest civilization in the world is really moving for us,” CEO of Louis Vuitton Yves Carcelle remarked before the exhibition opening. “For 157 years, we feel like a young boy.”

The Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition runs at the National Museum until August 30. Admission to the museum is 10 yuan.

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