Russians to Louis Vuitton: Get Rid of That Giant Suitcase on Red Square

A promotional exhibit for Louis Vuitton, a large wooden chest on display in Red Square, Moscow on Nov. 26 Photograph by Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Louis Vuitton, the French luxury house, is facing protests over a giant replica of a steamer trunk it had installed in Red Square, Moscow’s best-known historic landmark. The 100-foot-long, 30-foot-tall structure was built to house a temporary exhibit honoring the 120th anniversary of the adjacent GUM department store.

A GUM spokesman told RIA Novosti today that the store had asked Vuitton to remove the structure, described by critics as “alien” and “indecent.”

For now, Vuitton is holding its ground. “Louis Vuitton has not received any official request to dismantle the pavilion,” a company spokeswoman in Moscow said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “All necessary authorizations have been obtained in advance.” In a separate statement issued late today, a Kremlin spokesman said that the government had given no orders to dismantle the structure.

In fact, temporary structures are often erected in Red Square, including horseback riding rings, grandstands for musical performances, and an ice rink installed every winter. But the oversize Vuitton case infuriated some Russians who feel their country has been overtaken by crass commercialism. Vuitton is “a symbol of vulgarity,” actor Maxim Vitorgan writes on his Facebook page, comparing luxury handbags with “pink tights, rhinestones, Rolex and Bentley, or whatever else you need to be seen as cool.”

The pavilion is to house an exhibit called Soul of Travel, which is to raise funds for a charity run by Russian model Natalia Vodianova. She is the girlfriend of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Chairman Bernard Arnault’s son, Antoine, who runs the Paris-based company’s Berluti menswear division. “If the show does not take place, we will not only be deprived of an exciting journey into history and beauty, but also of funds from ticket sales,” Vodianova wrote on the Facebook page of her charity, the Naked Heart Foundation.

A Vuitton spokeswoman said the company “highly respects the rich history and importance of Red Square. The exhibition is a tribute to our longstanding relationship with Russia,” she said, adding that “historical pieces belonging to the Romanov family and great Russian personalities will be displayed.”

( Corrects to remove assertion that Louis Vuitton is dismantling its Red Square structure and to include the company's response. )
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