Travel, according to Louis Vuitton, is as much an art form as Yayoi Kusama's macaroni covered objects currently littered about the fourth floor of the Whitney. And we all know that art can't be rushed. Accordingly, the celebration of the "Art of Travel" a la Vuitton circa Shanghai 2012, was divided into two champagne-drizzled chapters, Chapter one consisting of the opening of the brand's first Maison in China at Plaza 66.
After an unprecedented afternoon of free time (an extremely rare phenomenon on blogger/press trips), guests loaded into cars from the Park Hyatt to shuffle to the luxury shopping center. My car happened to pass none other than Marc Jacobs' en route, that telltale beard just visible through two layers of tinted glass, giving the gig away. Pulling up to the mausoleum of glass and concrete, photographers lined the vast, sweeping walkway whilst an enormous Louis Vuitton billboard bore down overheard. The message was clear: for the next twenty-four hours, the town belonged to Vuitton.
Stepping across the threshold and into the light of the oval skylight dominating the four-floored gallery-like space, bloggers commingled with the easily recognizable faces of the VIP guests, both Eastern and Western, including Peter Marino (where Marc suited and booted, Marino left some of the more S&M heavy accessories at home), Bernard Arnault, Yves Carcelle, Laetitia Casta, Clémence Poésy, Alexa Chung, Poppy Delevigne, Fan Bingbing as well as artists Zhan Wang, Liu Ye, Liu Wei and Qiu Zhijie.
As is characteristic of each Maison, the Shanghai store has been specially conceived to fit the local atmosphere and draw from the domestic pool of contemporary artists. On the ground floor, for instance, guests are greeted by a five-metre high "pagoda," or rather, a modern interpretation of one rendered in polished stainless steel entitled “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon - 2011,” this piece is the largest of a trio created by Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie. The mens' universe lives downstairs (though there's nothing cave-like about that leather lined haven of man chic) and the women's ready to wear upstairs where planted terraces on the second and third-floors overlook the Nanjing West Road. Meanwhile, the ground floor is dedicated to leather goods, watches and jewellery.
Further celebrating the journey of the Louis Vuitton Express from Paris to the Bund, guests were also invited to see the exhibition “Louis Vuitton Express” mounted inside the Plaza 66 shopping center, which runs from July 18th to August 12th. A sort of sliver of the Louis Vuitton X Marc Jacobs retrospective shown in Paris a few months ago, it features 19th century travel-related articles drawn from the extensive archives of Louis Vuitton displayed in the guise of baggage on a moving train as well as a mirrored blue-lit room highlighting some of Marc's more iconic work for the house, including a specially crafted case for Barbie.
When the last blogger had had her final snap inside the Vuitton hall of heritage mirrors, we piled back into the cars bound for dinner at YongFoo Elite, which was like stepping off the Louis Vuitton Express and into the mythical 1920's Shanghai of the movies. A beautiful converted villa that seamlessly married a kind of traditional Chinese approach to interiors and decor with antique European sensibilities--mahogany furniture, deco items, ancient Chinese paintings and classical calligraphies, tattered and carved screens.
The garden was absolutely serene, with lapping ponds brimming with koi, canopies of magnolia trees hung low laden with round glowing lanterns that cast silhouettes across terrace, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere that was presided over by a large Buddha sitting peacefully in a corner. The night ended here, with an exquisite six (or was it seven?) course meal of the most delicate Euro-Chinese fusion, and generous refills of dry white wine. If travel is an art form, then Louis Vuitton is surely a grand master and the Shanghai Express one of their great masterpieces.