Talk about irony: French fashion house Louis Vuitton unveiled a giant, two-story suitcase in Moscow’s Red Square this past week just steps from the mausoleum of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. For many in Russia, the towering luxury item was yet another sign that the Red Square had officially fallen to the capitalists.
The Red Square has seen its fair share of odd sights over the years, from public executions to political protests and a particularly gruesome artistic act of self-mutilation earlier this month, but the massive trunk took most Muscovites by surprise. After all, Louis Vuitton had emblazoned the 30-meter (100-foot) wide, 9-meter (30-foot) tall bag with its signature gold-on-brown pattern, and plopped it right into the heart of Russia’s prized World Heritage site, blocking views of the Spasskaya Tower, the Kremlin walls and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
The luxury luggage had barely seen the light of day before President Vladimir Putin’s administration, spurred by public outcry from all echelons of Russian society, urged Louis Vuitton to pack its bag and take off. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had not directly “issued written instructions to remove” the installation, but did ask that it was dismantled, according to the Interfax news agency.
Many critics have argued that a towering luxury item that the average Russian cannot afford has no place in the country’s heartland, despite the fact that the Red Square has become noticeably more commercial in recent years with concerts, fashion shows and a corporate-sponsored skating rink each winter.
“The Red Square has special status. It’s a sacred place of the Russian state. There are symbols that must not be trivialized or denigrated, because the future of the state depends on it,” Sergey Obukhov, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, told RT News.
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A member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party reportedly filed a complaint with Russia’s anti-trust watchdog requesting that the agency investigate whether the oversized luggage violated any of the country’s advertising laws. A government-sponsored civic group, meanwhile, convened to propose a new law to protect Russia’s monuments from exploitation.
Bloggers wasted little time digitally altering the Louis Vuitton display and fashioning it into nearby Russian landmarks, namely Lenin’s mausoleum.
â€” Афиша Город (@afishagorod) November 26, 2013
Louis Vuitton has insisted that its display has a “noncommercial character,” and is modeled after luggage that belonged to Prince Vladimir Orlov, a cavalry officer close to Tsar Nicholas II.
The French company intended to open a travel-themed exhibition inside the bag on Dec. 2, titled “L’Ame du Voyage,” which would feature “25 historical items invigorated by 12 contemporary art video installations,” according to information posted on its website. The expo was meant to show how the luxury firm had evolved over time “while maintaining links with iconic travelers and designers.”
The installation is part of the GUM department store’s 120th anniversary, and Louis Vuitton planned to donate the proceeds of all ticket sales to the Naked Heart Foundation, headed by model Natalia Vodianova. The supposed history lesson and generosity, however, was missed on most Russians, and was certainly not enough to quell the uproar.
“The appearance of the Louis Vuitton pavilion received mixed reaction from Muscovites,” GUM noted in a statement posted on its website. “Given the general opinion of society, as well as the design that has, in fact, exceeded permissible dimensions for construction, we have asked Louis Vuitton to immediately dismantle the pavilion, and also make every effort to remove any irritant effects associated with the Louis Vuitton exhibition pavilion in the shortest time possible.”
Vodianova said she was heartbroken by the cancelation and hoped the exhibit could be moved elsewhere. "If the show does not take place, we will not only be deprived of an exciting journey into history and beauty, but the charity won't receive any funds from the ticket sales," she wrote on her Facebook page.