Edited by Lester Brathwaite on
In this, the final installment of Quel Scandale!‘s “Fashion Fascists” series (see also: Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Daphne Guinness), we explore the wartime activities of Louis Vuitton and its role in aiding the Vichy regime, also know as the French puppet government that openly collaborated with the German occupying forces. The details of Vuitton’s involvement came out seven years ago with the publication of Louis Vuitton: A French Saga, which LVMH pretty much tried to ignore. But unlike a crying child, a secret Nazi past isn’t something you can lock in a closet until it passes out from exhaustion.
Louis Vuitton was born a thousand years ago in 1821 and established his company in 1854 after coming to Paris with only a few francs in his pocket at the age of 14. Typical rags to riches story. After Vuitton died, his son Georges expanded the company and started the world’s first designer label, introducing the now iconic LV mongram in the process.
To commemorate 150 years of luxury, author Stephanie Bonvicini began her research on Louis Vuitton: A French Saga. Initially she had the full cooperation of LVMH, but when the question arose of Vuitton’s activities from 1930 to 1945, they used the old “the files were destroyed in a fire” excuse.
Which always means Nazi-sympathizing. Anyone with undocumented activities between those years is usually a Nazi. Or dead.
Undeterred, Bonvicini dug through some historical archives and found that Louis Vuitton was the only store allowed to stay open in Vichy, where fantastically-mustachioed French general Philippe Pétain had established his puppet government backed by the Nazi government, the Vichy regime. Other shops, including Van Cleef & Arpels, had been shut down.
Interviewing surviving members of the Vuitton family, Bonvicini discovered that Gaston, Louis’ grandson and then-head of the company, had instructed his son Henry to forge an alliance with Pétain to keep the business alive. Compromise was a general practice among fashion houses during WWII — both Dior and Chanel whored themselves out to preserve French couture — but Vuitton ended up, rather humiliatingly, producing some 2500 busts of Pétain and other artifacts glorifying his grand mustache, as part of that compromise.
According to Bonvicini, ”Part of the collaboration was due to the family’s obsession with the survival of the company, and part down to the fact that there was a certain sympathy with the regime’s rightwing views.” Henry, for his part, was among the first Frenchmen to be decorated by the Vichy regime for his patriotic (?) efforts.
After these facts came to light, LVMH, who had previously promised to throw their full support behind Bonvicini’s book, turned a blind eye to it, claiming the author “exaggerated the Vichy episode”: ”This is ancient history. The book covers a period when it was family-run and long before it became part of LVMH. We are diverse, tolerant and all the things a modern company should be.”
Well, of all the Nazi-loving going on in fashion history, this is perhaps the most tame. After all, it’s not like Hitler came to any of the Vuitton family weddings. I mean, seriously, the Guinness family took that shit to a whole other level. [Guardian]