The story behind Philippe Parreno’s ‘monster flower’ for Louis Vuitton

Philippe Parreno and James Chinlund’s vast circus-like flower provided the backdrop for Louis Vuitton’s S/S 2023 womenswear show. Here, the artist and production designer tell Wallpaper* about the unique project

A giant red flower made out of tarpaulin-style fabric by artist Philippe Parreno
Rising more than 90ft high in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, Philippe Parreno’s installation was made up of dozens of red nylon panels
(Image credit: Photography by Philippe Lacombe)

Even before the Squid Game star HoYeon Jung opened the Louis Vuitton womenswear show in October 2022, walking the runway in a white skirt and crop top with oversized zippers, the spectacle had already begun. On arrival at the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, guests had discovered an enormous set with crimson red panels and spear-like ‘stamen’ emerging from the top. 

Dubbed a ‘monster flower’, the set design was the work of French artist Philippe Parreno and Hollywood production designer James Chinlund. Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections, had met Parreno about two decades ago. Both had long wanted to work together, and they exchanged ideas informally over the years. Last spring, Ghesquière invited Parreno to design the set for a show. On the day they met, Parreno’s friend Chinlund, with whom he had already worked on two short films, was visiting Paris, and Parreno asked him to join them. ‘I thought it was a perfect coincidence,’ the artist says. ‘This project was born out of the three of us meeting.’

Philippe Parreno’s ‘monster flower’ for Louis Vuitton

A cose up of red nylon sheets which evoke the petals of a giant flowe

The installation is arranged like the petals of a flower, with spear-like ‘stamen’ emerging from the top

(Image credit: Photography by Philippe Lacombe)

Chinlund, whose long and impressive CV includes films ranging from Requiem for a Dream to The Batman, describes his earliest collaboration with Parreno as ‘one of the most exciting and fruitful artistic collaborations of my life’. He says, ‘His ideas are so constantly surprising and inspiring to me. I studied under [conceptual artist] Michael Asher at CalArts, so I was deeply focused on the pursuit of making art with no object, freeing the ideas from the cycle of production. When I met Philippe, I realised that he embodied this ideal, and yet managed to maintain a relationship with the sublime and magic that made things feel alive and vital.’ 

Parreno recalls that at their meeting to discuss the S/S 2023 show, ‘Nicolas mentioned some keywords such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, baby dolls, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was the idea of something being cute, yet strange and disturbing at the same time. He also talked about the idea of scale, with something that would normally be small, like a zip, becoming a much bigger and weirder thing.’

A render of a giant flower set for Louis Vuitton

A sketch of the ‘monster flower’ installation. The cables reference the structure of circus tents but also the idea of restraining the central element

(Image credit: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

For Ghesquière, this was the first time that the staging of a show was conceived in synergy with the production of a collection. ‘Philippe Parreno encouraged me to take an artistic approach, looking at the literal meaning of words and how fashion might reinterpret them.’ The designer calls the collection ‘playful and very direct’. He explains, ‘I zoomed in on the functional elements of the women’s wardrobe as a real transposition of the familiar gesture of enlarging an image on a smartphone. I also took a lot of details from previous collections; I deliberately highlighted them because creativity is circular, it loops back. It’s circular, much like the layout of Philippe’s set: a luminous circle around this pulsating, strange flower.’

Parreno and Chinlund were intrigued by the fleeting nature and voyeurism of a fashion show, which reminded them of other, much less exclusive, cultural events. ‘We’d been discussing for some time the idea of carnivals, funfairs, circuses and theme parks,’ says Parreno. ‘I’m fascinated by them – they are both fake and real, and evoke a nostalgic sense of lost or decayed spectacle. That tied into the ephemeral nature of the fashion show: something grandiose that lasts only about 12 minutes before vanishing.’

A model walking on the runway at Louis Vuitton show with red backdrop

Designed in conjunction with the staging of the runway show, Ghesquière’s S/S 2023 collection for Louis Vuitton featured oversized details and, like the stage set, riffed on the idea of ‘threatening beauty

(Image credit: Photography by Giovanni Giannoni)

Sitting in the audience on the day of the event, it was hard to know where to look first. There was the clothing that played with proportions like a funhouse mirror; the flashing light bulb chandeliers that slid by on overhead tracks to the electronic beat of Wamdue Project; the slightly ominous scarlet ‘petals’ at the heart of the scene; the round mirrors that swivelled on their pedestals and reflected the models stomping past Janet Jackson, Jaden Smith and Charlene of Monaco.

The giant flower might have been a reference to Vuitton’s iconic monogram and the sci-fi aesthetic of many of Ghesquière’s silhouettes. ‘For me, “monster” is the keyword,’ says Parreno. ‘This is a flower that has taken on the form of a monster, but has had its physical force constrained. James and I had a lot of references around cables and the idea of restraining the structure. This was really based on the idea of a circus, which sets up and performs, before moving on to the next destination.’ Where to is anyone’s guess. As Parreno says, ‘This project belongs to no one in particular and to all of us at the same time, and for me that is why the image of this monster flower is particularly fitting – we have created something with a life of its own.’

A version of this story appeared in the March 2023 Style Issue of Wallpaper*, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today