IIN NOVEMBER OF 2013 Louis Vuitton raised an epic suitcase-shaped pavilion in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate and promote the history of the brand. The project was ambitious, but ultimately controversial and arguably an unsuccessful one since after just ten days the brand was ordered to dismantle the structure by local officials due to its size and positioning in the square.1 At 30m by 9m, the suitcase was seen to be overshadowing the view of St. Basil’s cathedral and Lenin’s mausoleum within the square. Plans for the structure, which was to house the exhibition of the brand’s history over the coming months have too, been dismantled. This is not the first time the luxury brand has dominated the streetscape with their site-specific monument branding; large-sized suitcases in the trademark ‘LV’ monogram began appearing on the Champs-Élysées in Paris and have spread across Europe to Asia on the occasion of various openings, anniversaries and store renovations.2 In this case, and those of other brands, such as Prada, Dior and Tiffany & Co., these are immersive and engaging monuments in the brand’s name that go beyond the internal and exclusive confines of a retail or gallery space. Their exposure to the public in the city context, and their accessibility on the street-scape, is key to generating publicity for the company, reinforcing their status as a global brand.
These spectacular monuments reflect a luxury brand’s identity in a way that reinforces the perceived values created to sell the product; the giant suitcase is literally an icon for Louis Vuitton in the same way that the cultural art pavilion, ‘Prada Transformer’ designed by Rem Koolhaas in 2009,3 is for the Prada Group. Each of these presents a magnified and symbolic vision for the brand – powerful advertising in other words. For Prada the affiliation with Koolhaus’ design notation, and the intention of the monument as having an art and cultural focus, is key to furthering the image of the brand as intellectual and design-conscious. The location of these public installations is also important in offering an iconic context for them to be viewed in. These strategies incorporate the functions of public art, and, more often than not, engage with the vernacular or artists like Jeff Koons and Claes Oldenberg who in their installations rely on similar factors of place, public exposure and spectacle. Most often these objects are carefully placed in iconic tourist areas, or busy retail pathways. As well as having high traffic and visibility, this helps to reinforce the image of the brand with the iconography of the place itself; recent examples include, for instance, the Vuitton suitcase on the Champs-Élysées and the Tiffany box in New York’s Rockefeller Center. The city is an important element here as the locations are deliberately linked with the fashion company, and reinforce that these are global companies. This also connects with the themes of travel inherent in the marketing of these brands, like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Longchamp that maintain this as a vital component in the image of their brand.
The public exposure of these luxury structures is a strategy that represents a shift in focus for luxury brands, to promote outward to the public instead of the closed off exclusivity that is historical of high fashion brands. Moreover there is a level of public engagement required of these high fashion street monuments that goes beyond the fashion image of a billboard, as a spectacle that engages as a tourist destination and an iconic spectacle for the beholder but also as a finely-tuned, large-scale branding strategy.