Michael Burke on Jeff Koons and why Vuitton keeps on growing
It’s been a busy fortnight for Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke, who on Tuesday unveiled the house’s latest hot collaboration - a Great Masters series designed by artist Jeff Koons. A day before, Vuitton issued its latest impressive sales figures. While in the past two weeks LV has staged a red hot exhibition Les Objets Nomades in Milan’s Salone del Mobile; and a highly profitable few days in Geneva and Courchevel, presenting and selling Vuitton’s latest ideas in high-end watches.
But it's the Koons project gets him most excited. “It’s a threesome: a great artist, a great brand and a great idea. Working with Jeff Koons just felt right. We’ve had many meetings and talked about many subjects – all art-related. And this just clicked. He was super inspired,” said Burke in a phone call from his limousine en route to the Louvre for a celebratory gala dinner with the New Pop artist.
Koons uses five of his reproductions of paintings by great masters – Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; Rubens' Tiger Hunt; Fragonard’s La Gimblette; Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses and Titian’s Mars, Venus and Cupid – to develop a series of bags, such as the Speedy, the Keepall and the Neverful for Vuitton.
“To me that is Jeff’s way of saying everyone is influenced by everyone. My favourite is the Rubens, but that was inspired by another battle painting by Da Vinci. And Rubens riffed on it. We had no idea where he would take us. He had many, and conflicted, ideas – but in the end he went with Gazing Ball. The reflection, I guess, is what he liked. There is a clear connection between luxury and reflection. All the way back to the growth of the mirror in Venice. That’s what first started luxury rolling,” opined Burke, CEO of the largest luxury brand in the world.
Vuitton has indeed made covetable bags before by artists like Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince. Though all of those were link-ups led by the brand’s former creative director Marc Jacobs. His successor, Nicolas Ghesquière had nothing to do with the Koons partnership, which was hatched by Burke and executive vice president Delphine Arnault.
Unlike the other artists, Koons played radically with the LV Monogram.
“Eh, when he said yes – we did not know what he was going to do. He did not ask for permission. He just came back with a fully formed idea. Canvasses, and how can we not like that? And he was already playing with monogram. The word Jeff kept using was Humanistic. We met in New York and Paris or wherever and it was all very organic,” insisted Burke.
“It’s Five Masters, done by one artist for one house,” added Burke, who said the line,which is not limited edition, will be sold in one-third of Vuitton’s 450 stores.
The launch comes a day after parent company LVMH announced that its fashion and leather division, the majority of which is Vuitton, had scored a 15% increase in sales in the first quarter of 2017 to €3.405 billion.
“Louis Vuitton is like a finally tuned V12. We are firing on all cylinders; hitting it in all countries and selling well in every product category. We have no real weakness,” bragged Burke.
Last week in Milan, over 6,000 people daily entered LV’s Objets Nomades show of 15 pieces of custom-made travel furniture, a line stretching around the block each day. While up in Courchevel, guests crowded into its invitation only presentation inside the Cheval Blanc – an LVMH Hotel – to capture its latest ideas in haute horologerie.
“We sold high-end watches – all limited edition, or one-off, or bespoke. Average price €200,000 and we sold 35 of them. C’est pas mal,” the CEO laughed.
In a word, other brands may fade, designers lose their jobs and CEOs retire, but Louis Vuitton just keeps on booming.
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