The New Store of Louis Vuitton in Shanghai
What I glean about the nature of luxury from my yesterday visit to the new Louis Vuitton store at Shanghai’s Plaza 66 at the West Nanjing Road is a mixture of the appeal of the retro accessories, contemporary interior design and leisurely travel imagery. Basically, our present sense of self that these depictions intensify, fictionalize and glamorize does not appear to extend any further than the invention of railroads that, one one hand, brought distant locations within reasonable temporal and financial reach to the wider public and, on the other, made international travel much more comfortable than at any other point in time.
In other words, our sense of luxury may well have been born in the nineteenth century as world literature, daily press, international languages, world fairs and panoramic displays gave the sense of the exotic, stimulating and addictive pleasures to increasingly wide social circles. One only needs to think of tea, sugar, and coffee to understand that whole social worlds continue to be built around what only a tiny elite seemed to be able to afford. Even though Louis Vuitton bags, ties and suitcases are far from becoming consumer items of broad swaths of population, the images of trains, hotels and landscapes have long stopped being a preserve of the monied classes.
In Shanghai, there does seem to be a dynamics of emulation of Paris that is not only present in the architectural memory of this city, but also affecting the transformation of downtown urban districts into neo-classical shopping arcades, gourmet restaurants and chic neighborhoods. The presence of global fashion brands on premiere pedestrian boulevards, shopping thoroughfares, and freshly built floors of luxury shopping malls indicates the aspiration of Shanghai not only to be a place where international design, perfume and fashion makers would clamor to open their boutique outposts, but also to find its own style that would put it apart from other global cities.