Louis Vuitton suitcase stirs trouble on Red Square

Criticism of the Louis Vuitton suitcase’s location and the display’s timing has heightened as construction nears completion. Source: RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov

Criticism of the Louis Vuitton suitcase’s location and the display’s timing has heightened as construction nears completion. Source: RIA Novosti / Maxim Blinov

The appearance of an exhibition pavilion in the shape of a trunk the causes a scandal by the Kremlin’s walls.

The management of GUM, an upmarket department store in central Moscow, has asked the Russian representatives of Louis Vuitton to dismantle a huge pavilion trunk after its appearance on Red Square caused great public outcry. 

Politicians and ordinary Russians were outraged by the French fashion house’s initiative to set up the suitcase-shaped construction in the capital’s main square, and the facility will now be dismantled.

The structure itself, measuring 9 meters in height and 30 meters in length, is an oversized replica of a suitcase that belonged to Prince Vladimir Orlov, realized for him by special order. The prince was a close confidant of the last Russian tsar Nicholas II Romanov, and voluntarily worked as a driver for the imperial family. He also participated in the 1900 Summer Olympics, representing the Russian Empire in the equestrian competitions.

The travel bags, suitcases and handbags of Isadora Duncan, Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway, Catherine Deneuve and many other celebrities and historical figures who are known to have used the fashion house’s products, are to be showcased during the exhibition “The Wandering Soul,” which was supposed to be held in the pavilion on Red Square.

Tickets for the exhibition are quoted at 200 rubles ($6). The organizers, however, emphasize that the project is a non-commercial event, and the money would go to Naked Heart Foundation, a charity run by Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova.

The trunk appeared on Red Square on Nov. 26, on the 120th anniversary of GUM, one of the most famous stores in Russia. Shortly after, it was reported that leadership of the Kremlin’s administration had requested the immediate demolition of the structure. 

Construction of the pavilion was not approved by the administration of the Russian president, a source inside the Kremlin told Russian news outlet ITAR-TASS. It remains unclear, however, how such big an object could appear near the Kremlin’s walls without approval.

“Taking into consideration the position of the society, and also the fact that the construction of the pavilion exceeded the allowable approved dimensions, we informed the Russian representative of Louis Vuitton of the need for the immediate dismantling of this pavilion,” the press-service of GUM told RIA-Novosti.

Members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation were among the first to notice and voice their opposition to the appearance of the trunk. Apparently offended by the fact that the pavilion was placed next to Lenin’s Mausoleum on the square, they promised to file a complaint with the police. 

The negative response quickly gained momentum. The chorus of protests was joined, among others, by the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinskiy.

Vladimir Chernikov, head of the Moscow Media and Advertising Department, said that he had sent a formal request to the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), asking it to determine whether the pavilion was an advertising construction. 

“If FAS confirms that this building constitutes advertisement material, in accordance with the federal law “On Advertising” and as decreed by the Moscow government, the construction will be demolished, as the placement of the advertising structures in the area of the Kremlin is not allowed,” he explained.

As revealed to the Russian newspaper Izvestia by Alexey Vanchugov, head of real estate company Accent Real Estate Investment Managers (AREIM), GUM - whose controlling shareholder is Bosco di Ciliegi - is responsible for trade and promotions on Red Square. 

The company has to seek approval from the Kremlin commandant’s office, the Federal Guards Service and the city’s advertising department. The management at Bosco di Ciliegi would not comment on the issue.

According to Alexander Eremenko, managing director of the branding agency BrandLab, the Louis Vuitton event grew significantly in popularity as a consequence of the scandal. “Of course it is an ad. 

The company has already carried out similar events in the United States, Japan and other countries. In some places it was a separate pavilion, and in others it was part of a building. The purpose of the exhibition is advertising. It is very odd that people do not recognize it as such,” he said.

Eremenko estimates that the construction could have cost up to $10,000,000 and believes that the negative reactions from representatives of the Russian political circles, as well as the threat of its demolition, will bring this exhibition international fame.

This is supported by the fact that the initiative has not faced such harsh criticism in any of the other countries in which it was presented. Besides, there is a good chance that the exhibition will remain on Red Square. By the time the FAS concludes its investigation, and as the organizers continue to argue over its location, the half-month long event will already be over.

Based on materials from Izvestia, Newsru.com, ITAR-TASS, and RIA Novosti.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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