‘Japonisme’ is a French word used to describe the influence of the Japanese art of ukiyo-e (wood block prints, exemplified by the work of artists Utamaro Kitagawa and Katsushika Hokusai during the Meiji Restoration era) on impressionist painters in the 1870’s and later Art Nouveau and Cubist artists including Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrac and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Japonisme was neither an attempt to copy a Japanese art style by French and European artists nor was it any sort of merged integration between the East and West. Rather, it was about Western artists using essential elements prevalent in Japanese art--particularly the emphasis on mundane subjects--in their own work which emphasized the ‘everydayness.’ See: Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Père Tanguy or Camille Monet on Garden Bench by Claude Monet. It was this idea of 'Japoisme' that Kim Jones channeled yesterday at the Serre du Parc André Citroën, with the words Paris and Tokyo inscribed in black letters on a giant mirrored globe above the runway. It's an idea that has been inherent to the Louis Vuitton brand since the founding of the atelier with the influence of the first wave of fashion globalization when Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo began showing in Paris in the early 80’s as well as Kenzo in the '70s. Jones was also influenced by the illustrations of Antonio Lopez, showing a collection dedicated to 'city warriors' that was both tradition-based and fashion-forward. Yet Mr. Jones’ Far East inspirations were never literal. Like the Impressionists before him, he incorporated ‘Japonisme’ into his own work on the collection. There were hints of his debut Maasai-inspired collection seen in graphic red stripes on cashmere coats and the large scarves/shawls. There were '70s silhouettes in a slim-fitted single-breasted suit in reflective wool fabrics. The only literal expression of ‘Japonisme’ was the navy silk kimono shown as a formal suit. By focusing on the Japanese invasion of Paris fashion in the early 80’s and then innovative idea of the deconstruction and reconstruction in vogue then, Mr. Jones may have resolved how to position Louis Vuitton menswear. In the past, the menswear has been more about tradition rather than high fashion. And in recent seasons, one could feel this dichotomy in the shows. Now, fashion seemed to have taken the upper hand: there were boxy jackets, a double breasted feather-collared jacket, and slim fit suits in dark forest green. And faithful to the brand’s travel heritage, there were numerous sportswear pieces that can go with any man's existing wardrobe like a large satin duffle parka, a silver metallic reflective fire-fighter coat, or an ultra luxurious nubuck and crocodile blouson with a shearling collar. The leather crocodile shoes with metal toe or metal heels details are surely wait listed items at Vuitton’s stores come next September. Steamer and doctor bags came in ‘nomade’ leather and there were ‘brocard’ brocaded portfolio bags. But unlike other seasons, accessories and handbags, though omnipresent, were mere supporting actors to the clothes. Beyond the obvious surface shine of the fabrics, Mr. Jones’ collection moved the brand’s menswear forward by providing customers with fashion forward clothes based on traditional tailoring in luxurious fabric and fabrication.
At Louis Vuitton, the designer is the artist, travelling and connecting worlds, people and cultures. That's what Marc Jacobs did with Stephen Sprouse, with Murakami and with Richard Prince in the arts, with Hollywood et al. He has become the Louis Vuitton heritage itself and the new exhibition in March will testify to this. Now Kim Jones, too, has emerged from the shadow--traveling to Africa to integrate Maasai cultures in his first collection and now 'Japonisme' today.