he oldest of old school retailers, Le Louvre has undergone numerous changes throughout its 90-year existence. Once a stalwart on Collins Street, it moved its boutique to South Yarra less than two years ago. And now the Melbourne bastion of high-end fashion is expanding its oasis of elevated glamour to include a new online presence.
The new online store remains loyal to owner Georgina Weir’s ethos and is a digital embodiment of Le Louvre’s exclusive edit of some of the world’s finest fashion labels. Accessories predominate and there are touches of clothing including signature pieces by designers Mary Katrantzou, Balmain and Lanvin. Product designed by the Le Louvre team will also feature.
Extending Le Louvre to the online realm is a move in keeping with the South Yarra boutique’s metamorphosis from its seductively rarefied Collins Street store. “Le Louvre has always moved with the times,” says Anastasia Driver, assistant buyer. “When Miss Wightman opened the store it offered only made-to-measure garments, then Georgina in the 1960s introduced ready-to-wear to Australia. That was a really important part of moving forward for the business because that was the direction the world was heading in. It’s a natural progression that we take part in but we do it our own way.”
Georgina Weir, whose mother Lillian Wightman was the shop’s founder, agrees. “I brought the first ready-to-wear clothes to Australia in the 60s, so it’s not hard for me to grasp the fact that in the year 2012 we should have a web shop. Our catch phrase is ‘from carriage trade to online trade’,” she adds, a statement that suggests a strong awareness of the internet’s role in democratising luxury as well as revealing that she is anything but inflexible.
While online competition may offer its own set of challenges to retailers, Driver is optimistic about the influence the internet wields on fashion consumers.
“Thanks to the internet, people are becoming more educated about brands, labels and what’s out there,” she says. “People are more confident in their style because everything is exposed. The new Gen Y and Gen X don’t like being told what to do, we like to make our own decisions.” Driver says the service culture that is so integral to Le Louvre will be reflected in the online experience.
The website offers a haute mash-up of envy-inducing items. A pair of snakeskin puzzle wedge sandals by Lanvin are fit for a modern day Cleopatra, while Tom Binns’ Swarovski bling and the artistry of French designer Philippe Roucou – who interprets dreamy vintage Polaroid photos on exquisite limited edition silk scarves – embody Le Louvre’s inimitable approach to the curation of product. While being part of the zeitgeist, it defies fast trends.
The buying process is largely based on the intuition and judgment of the small buying team, a trio that comprises Weir and Driver alongside Amelia Coote.
While online shoppers may not be able to take time out on a pale pink opalescent crocodile leather couch or transform themselves behind an ocelot silk taffeta screen as they can in the theatrically furnished surroundings of the physical boutique, Driver says product has always been the star of Le Louvre and the web shop is no exception. Its design is clean, fresh and minimal, echoing Weir’s way of presenting product in-store.
Le Louvre’s distinctly European sensibility continues to come to the fore, with Paris and Milan remaining the glittering pinnacle of their buying trips. Weir’s predilection for European fashion, inherited from her mother, remains; she is unwavering in her belief that “out of Paris comes all fashion, not just French fashion”. Weir is far from Eurocentric, however, and she places great value on the nurturing of local artists.
In the 1950s Georgina’s mother Miss Wightman enlisted Austrian-born Louis Kahan’s considerable artistic talent after encountering him wandering down Collins Street. The recently arrived migrant went on to paint portraits for her clients and design the gilded Le Louvre font.
Now that font is being reinterpreted by an artist for a new age. To celebrate their 90th anniversary, Le Louvre invited graffiti artist Dan Wenn, whose feverish scrawl adorns the glittery mirrored stairway in its South Yarra store, to design a logo t-shirt. Its silver foil and hot pink bubblegum font captures a whiff of youth and freedom and is reminiscent of the halcyon years of the 80s New York City art scene. Printed on a slim-fitting ACNE t-shirt, the tees are available in a limited edition of 20 in each size. All profits will go to the Australian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Thanks to Le Louvre, we’ll be giving away a Givenchy bag in our newsletter this week (August 8, 2012). You need to be a subscriber to enter to sign up now if you’re not.