Louis Vuitton releases its latest collection at the Salk Institute in La Jolla
Louis Vuitton — one of fashion’s most revered houses — visited one of San Diego’s most revered architectural houses on May 12. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, sitting on a La Jolla cliff overlooking the shimmering Pacific Ocean, was an idyllic setting for the French brand to present its Cruise 2023 Collection.
Although this wasn’t the first time the Cruise show had taken place in California, it was the event’s debut in San Diego and the first fashion show hosted by the Salk Institute, an architectural marvel designed by Louis Kahn.
The building, considered Kahn’s masterpiece, opened in 1963 for virologist and medical researcher Jonas Salk, developer of the first successful polio vaccine. The institute has been praised for its “reverential approach to architectural design, showcasing the symbiotic relationship between site, light and space”, according to a 2016 report. San Diego Union-Tribune article on Kahn.
Past locations for Vuitton’s Cruise show have run the gamut both geographically and aesthetically. But what they all have in common – stunning architecture and design – made it clear why Vuitton and Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of the brand’s women’s collections, chose the Salk Institute.
“Having spent a lot of time in California, I was drawn to the idea of showing there again,” Ghesquière said. “The Salk Institute has been a place of wonder to me over the years, and the stunning Brutalist architecture of Louis Kahn in this extraordinary setting of the Pacific Ocean and California sunset provides me with endless inspiration. It also celebrates intelligence, knowledge and belief in the power of science.
On May 12, fashion-forward celebrities and others entered the institute’s courtyard to their assigned seats, gray concrete slabs that gave them unobstructed views of the models — and for the most part, the San Diego’s best sunset view.
Christina Binkley, a longtime Los Angeles-based business and culture reporter, said she wasn’t surprised by the show’s choice of location.
“For [Ghesquière] to pick a place, there has to be a moment for the people who are here, and there has to be a great moment for the photography that’s going to be released around the world from this show,” Binkley said as she marveled at the imposing buildings surrounding the courtyard. “There are all these angular, organic [lines]and the ocean is right there – it’s spectacular.
“I think it fits [Ghesquière’s] design personality in terms of the shapes and character of this place,” said River Richie, a fashion intern who traveled from New York for the show.
The design of the Salk Institute takes care to blend the old with the new.
“There’s this sense of majesty and austerity at the Salk Institute,” previously said Ariel Plotek, former curator of modern and contemporary art at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Union-Tribune. “Kahn’s work, here in La Jolla and elsewhere, refers to the past with a strong connection to the present. In a way they remind you of the pyramids, the great buildings of Rome, but they are there now for us to discover. I think Kahn’s architecture was deliberately backward looking. … The influence of antiquity, whether Greek, Roman or Egyptian, even medieval – that kind of monumentality.
Kahn’s juxtaposition of old and new, of hard angles with the soft edges of nature, was honored – make it celebrated – in Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 collection. Models walked in designs with clean lines (reflecting the Salk Institute) and flowing silhouettes (mimicking ocean waves). Puffy, cape-like pieces and robes were paired with metallic leather pants, clunky platforms swimming in chains and space-age shoulder pads reminiscent of “The Jetsons” and, in some cases, the post-apocalyptic aesthetic of “Mad Max”.
Many early 2000s trends were on display: low-rise jeans, wrap-around sunglasses, black belts, and eye-catching cut-out leather boots. The collection evoked an aura of medieval and millennial encounter.
Then the models slipped behind the concrete walls of the Salk Institute, and Ghesquière, dressed all in black, entered the courtyard for a farewell salute after the 20-minute show. This gave the crowd plenty of time to capture images for social media before the sun disappeared over the horizon. ◆