EXCLUSIVE: Louis Vuitton Taps Cate Blanchett for High Jewelry Campaign

PARIS — Louis Vuitton is poised to unveil its largest high jewelry collection to date in Marrakech on Tuesday, and it has a new brand ambassador to front the line: Cate Blanchett.

The Oscar-winning Australian actress stars in the advertising campaign for the Spirit collection, photographed by Sølve Sundsbø, which is set to break in WWD on Friday and in The Economist and the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine on Saturday. The images were styled by Carine Roitfeld, with artistic direction by Baron & Baron.

Blanchett has supported Vuitton for at least a decade, attending a store opening in Rome as far back as 2012. Earlier this month, she handed out the LVMH Prize for Young Designers at a ceremony in Paris, wearing an outfit by Vuitton womenswear designer Nicolas Ghesquière.

“She’s one of a kind. She transcends culture, she transcends times, she transcends trends. Many things have changed, and she’s there, as relevant as ever,” said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, the star brand at French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

“That staying power is not based just on looks. She has a very specific look, but that’s just the first thing you see. Staying power needs a lot more than just that. And her staying power is her character, how she engages, her humanity, her intelligence, the way she relates to people, how she can talk about so many different subjects. She has gravitas,” he added.

Blanchett succeeds fellow actress Alicia Vikander, who last year fronted the brand’s first high jewelry campaign.

The “Carol” actress is pictured wearing bustier dresses accessorized with some of the star pieces from the 125-piece collection, which required more than 40,000 hours to execute. Francesca Amfitheatrof, artistic director of watches and jewelry at Vuitton, was inspired by mythical creatures including dragons and phoenixes.

The five themes within the collection — Liberty, Grace, Fantasy, Radiance and Destiny — were chosen as allegories for the spirit of the house, expressed through articulated creations and motifs of chevrons, checkerboard patterns and multiple interpretations of the house’s signature letter V.

Amfitheatrof said maintaining a sense of “graphic modernity” was fundamental to the Vuitton high jewelry vocabulary.

“Our clients will have already bought or own classic pieces,” she said. “Once you have those beautiful classic pieces, you want to add or you want to shop for extraordinary pieces, pieces that are really unique. And I think that that’s what we attract. We attract clients that are looking for something that speaks to them, that connects emotionally with them.”

What strikes the most in Spirit is not only the size of the gemstones used, but their profusion. “I’m not minimally minded when it comes to stones,” Amfitheatrof admitted.

Burke said the pandemic complicated the sourcing process. “It made it very difficult to travel. It was complicated, but we work with three to five years’ inventory. Another year would have been catastrophic. Beyond two years, you really start hurting because you’re starting to have stones that you didn’t see. You have to travel to see them. You cannot buy them sight unseen. Diamonds, you can, but not a colored stone,” he said.

However, he said Vuitton benefited from having “the best sourcer of stones in the world,” whose identity he kept confidential for security reasons. “She’s a personality in the industry, and she’s able to get stones that no other house can get,” he said.

Take the 10.28-carat ruby from Mozambique that is the centerpiece of the Destiny necklace. Its emerald cut is extremely rare for this stone. “We did it because that particular ruby, and only that ruby, can afford that cut,” Burke explained.

It’s one of the Spirit collection’s three exceptional stones, alongside an 8.90-carat Colombian emerald that likewise takes pride of place in the Liberty necklace. Accompanied by six smaller emeralds, an 18.09-carat Sri Lankan sapphire and a 2.50-carat LV flower-cut diamond, it sits on a complex structure designed to be supple like “a malleable armor.”

Engraved on the back is the sentence: “Liberty is the freedom to explore the world and express innate power.” Amfitheatrof said she named the collection’s themes after the values of the Vuitton woman — or man, as she reported that male customers are increasingly attracted to its jewelry offering.

Completing the trio is a 65.26-carat tsavorite that forms a detachable pendant to the curvilinear Grace necklace, which evokes a pair of wings curving around the neck.

The presentation in Marrakech, in an installation devised by renowned Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana, aka the Campana Brothers, will reveal the first part of the collection, totaling 80 pieces. The next chapter will roll out in January.

Burke said more than 100 couples would attend the event in Marrakech, which is also due to host a Saint Laurent menswear show on July 15. “It’s a place where people congregate, come from far reaches of the world, and come together,” he said. “It’s a very, very strong local culture, yet it speaks to everybody.”

Vuitton staged its high jewelry presentation in Monaco last year and has previously held events in locations including Prague and Capri. An atmospheric setting feeds the imagination of the house’s designers and also inspires the clients, Burke said.

“There are many custom orders that emanate from these get-togethers,” the executive reported. “If you were just getting together in a hotel suite, it’s not going to be a creative moment.”

Demand is strong despite the consequences of the war in Ukraine and renewed COVID-19 lockdowns in China. “The only impact is the impact on travel. The demand is intact, if not stronger, actually,” he said.

Customers might be infatuated with certain stones or cuts, but provenance is also a concern. Burke said Vuitton was able to pivot away from using Russian diamonds as soon as sanctions were announced in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

But LVMH has decided to remain a member of the Responsible Jewelry Council, even after luxury competitors such as Compagnie Financière Richemont and Kering stepped down from the group in protest over its failure to exclude Russian diamond mining company Alrosa, which accounts for around a quarter of global diamond production.

“We think that if we want to change things, we have to be part of it. It’s a lot easier changing from the inside than from the outside,” Burke reasoned.

He described Vuitton’s commitment to using responsibly mined stones as an “ongoing” effort. “We never greenwashed. We never said things that weren’t true. We still have a little bit of ways to go. In diamonds, we’re there. We’re not there yet in all colored stones,” he said.

And while LVMH recently made its first investment in lab-grown diamonds, Burke is not ready to switch away from natural diamonds anytime soon.

“There are many issues, which is why it’s a good thing that LVMH is dipping a toe in it, because we need to know what’s happening. We need to stay abreast of all the progress, but it is very energy-intensive. In some aspects, the carbon footprint is higher than responsibly mined stones, so we have to be careful of that,” he cautioned.

Vuitton is not only doubling down on natural diamonds, but also on its exclusive patented LV monogram star and flower cuts, which feature extensively in the Spirit collection.

“Our clients are clamoring for them, and very often, it’s custom cut to a size for a ring or for earrings,” Burke said, noting the complexity of the designs came from the presence of concave surfaces. “There’s very, very few polishers in the world that know how to polish a concave surface, so it’s more than just a look — there’s a technical prowess. That’s why we got it patented.”


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