PARIS - Nicolas Ghesquiere's "must-see" debut for Louis Vuitton last Wednesday wrapped up Paris fashion in a grand finale that opened a new chapter for the luxury brand after the departure of Marc Jacobs.
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, one of Asia's biggest stars, Catherine Deneuve, Princess Charlene of Monaco and one-time mentor Jean Paul Gaultier were among the VIPs on the front row to see the prodigiously talented former Balenciaga designer's first collection.
"Don't try talking to anyone in fashion for the next half hour at least," tweeted one woman just before the show, which started with a letter to guests from Ghesquiere left on every seat.
"Words cannot express exactly how I am feeling at this moment. Above all, immense joy at being here in the knowledge that my stylistic expression is at one with the Louis Vuitton philosophy," said the designer who parted company with the fabled Balenciaga fashion house in November 2012.
On the catwalk for autumn/winter 2014/15, Ghesquiere rang the changes with a collection of logo-free clothes with a retro feel.
And in contrast to showman Jacobs - famed for turning his shows into spectacles - there wasn't a carousel or mini-train in sight.
Leather featured not just in the bags but also in pieces worked into the clothes in a wintry palette of black, beiges, browns and splashes of Ghesquiere's favourite "sporty" red.
The new casualness
Ghesquiere's skirts were short, gently flared and cinched at the waist. Trousers were tight-fitting. Everything was high-waisted and teamed with strappy or patent ankle boots.
Outlining his vision backstage after the show, Ghesquiere said he had in mind a woman who was at home mixing pieces in a way that was both modern and effortless.
"I didn't want to do a theme or a story or be very dramatic. I think I have this vision of Vuitton as multiple propositions.... it is a woman who is talented at mixing clothes, more than having a (single) look," he said.
"It's that modernity that I love with Vuitton. It's this easiness that you have comfortable functional pieces, embellished pieces, it's the way you mix it together, this new casualness that I am interested in," he added.
Jacobs was given a standing ovation at Paris fashion week in October when he bowed out after 16 years at the helm to concentrate on a stock exchange flotation of his own brand.
The US designer - under whose stewardship "Vuitton mania" saw queues around department stores - is credited with taking Vuitton from "stodgy luggage house" to one of the most sought-after brands in the world, particularly in the lucrative Asian market.
'Get the look, get the bag'
After years of rapid global expansion, Ghesquiere is expected to steer the brand towards a more upmarket, exclusive image.
The company, which marks its 140th anniversary in 2014, turned in sales estimated at 7.3 billion euros ($10 billion) in 2012 with leather goods estimated to account for 90 percent of sales.
Vuitton is parent company LVMH's most profitable brand, accounting for more than 70 percent of annual sales of its fashion and leather goods division which also includes the brands of Celine, Givenchy, Fendi and Kenzo.
Ghesquiere said he would be working to integrate the bags into clothes in one harmonious look.
"Sometimes people have a tendency only to see Louis Vuitton as a leather goods company, because the bags are so strong and beautiful and fashion can be a little timid compared to that," he said.
"(For me) it has to be a look. It has to be that when you get the bag you have to get the look, and when you get the look you have to get the bag. It has to be an entire silhouette."
And he said he was thrilled to be back designing after his post-Balenciaga break from the industry.
"It was necessary to think and take a little distance and when you take distance you are so happy... (but now) it's super exciting. We are playing the game, we go for it and that's the best," he said.