How Ethical is Louis Vuitton?

Image via WWD.com
Lately I’ve been questioning the implicit ethical guidelines that govern the fashion community. Let me explain why. We have labels that only use vegan leather and other organic materials, we have beauty companies that will not test on animals, and we have brands and fashion icons that donate to charities all over the world. However, even the most socially conscious brands run into PR nightmares, which for the most part, are borne out of sheer ignorance rather than conscious unethical behavior. A recent example of this situation that I’d like to examine is the Louis Vuitton trunk erected in Moscow’s Red Square that has managed to stir up a tremendous amount of controversy, so much so that the trunk has since been dismantled.

I will admit, when I first saw a picture of the structure I was in awe, it was marvelous! In my opinion it receives perfect marks for evoking brand awareness and creativity, concurrent with creating a sense of nostalgia, as it is meant to replicate a vintage trunk, while also making it modern and very avant-garde due to the large size of the monument, coming in at 102 feet long and 30 feet high. It was created to house “The Soul of Travel” exhibit, which would put 30 iconic Louis Vuitton suitcases on display, the suitcases are associated with icons such as Great Garbo, Catherine, Deneuve, and many more. The show was part of a long line of glamorous events planned for this year, to mark the 120th anniversary of GUM, a Russian retail center.

Representatives from Louis Vuitton state the company received all necessary authorization to build the temporary venue in the center of the Red Square and claim the exhibit’s purpose was to strengthen the already strong relationship the brand has with Russia. So what was the problem? From a marketing perspective, it appeared as if this was a perfect opportunity for Louis Vuitton- located at an extremely popular location, the monument would receive tons of press and international recognition due to both its size and creative appearance, and there was even a star-studded party organized last Friday to kick off the exhibit. It appears as though the issue lies within its main attribute: the location, the giant suitcase blocks the iconic view of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral, which has caused outrage from both Russian civilians and political leaders.

In response, Louis Vuitton immediately began to dismantle the temporary venue and representatives are currently scouting other locations to house the magnificent exhibit that I’m sure had taken months to plan and execute. So who is at fault? Louis Vuitton for appearing to be insensitive to the Russian people? The retail company they were celebrating? Or the officials who granted permission for the temporary venue to be built?

In theory, both the officials and the Russian retail company should have been fully aware of how sacred this location is to both the Russian people as well as to local politicians, however, Louis Vuitton, whether deserved or not, is the one receiving the backlash from this controversy.

So the question remains, how far is too far in fashion? Should luxury brand giants, like Louis Vuitton, receive a carte blanche when events like this occur? Obviously Vuitton has not “won” this one but this is not the first time nor is it the last that a well-known brand will be under scrutiny for its marketing tactics. Furthermore, I wonder what would happen if we looked at this from an artistic standpoint, many respected artists have done such things where they erect large and temporary monuments all over the world, sometimes without permission, and yet they may get a slap on the wrist. The art for the most part is not meant to offend people to such a degree as this suitcase apparently has and many admire the art especially when it is put on such a large scale. Is the suitcase not just a giant art piece? An expression of art from a brand that has given artists themselves, such as Stephen Sprouse, the opportunity to meet the masses and become instantly respected within both the art and fashion world.

Of course I’m not a representative from either party so my opinion is simply from the perspective of an outsider reading about the event, however I do think this occurrence is a perfect opportunity to examine the implicit ethical guidelines that govern the fashion community. Art will always evoke feedback, sometimes negative and sometimes positive, so perhaps the suitcase fulfilled its duty as a piece of art.

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