Over its 160-year history, the Louis Vuitton monogram has adorned everything from dumbbells and bikes, to coffee cups and popcorn boxes.
But it’s only in recent years that the iconic logo has crossed over into the food world, emblazoning cakes, pastries and restaurant façades at LV-branded food outposts in Osaka, Tokyo, Chengdu, China—and now, for the first time, Paris.
Opened in December in the center of the city, adjacent to LV’s global headquarters and across from the La Samaritaine department store, the Maxime Frédéric at Louis Vuitton café—named after its head pastry chef—was developed as part of the “LV Dream” experience, a free exhibit that traces the brand’s history.
It’s a cleverly designed finale that bookends an experience meant to endear visitors to the house of LV. Visitors learn about the brand’s modest beginnings, when a scrappy teenager named Louis Vuitton left his village in eastern France and arrived on foot in Paris at the age of 16, and the evolution of the brand’s heritage creating trunks for Paris’s 19th century traveling elite, and its growth into a luxury fashion empire.
LV Dream is the latest all-in-one retail, cultural and gastronomic space designed to foster brand loyalty with exhibits that explore the companies’ heritage and legacy, as well as celebrity chef-signed gourmet treats aimed at enticing visitors to stay as long as possible—and spend more money. Gucci tapped Italian chef Massimo Bottura to helm a restaurant at their branded museum Gucci Garden in Florence, where visitors can shop and learn about the history of the Italian fashion house, while Dior also opened a branded exhibition space last spring and enlisted French chef-to-the-stars Jean Imbert to oversee the restaurant and café.
Back at LV Dream, it’s a Monday afternoon in January, and a steady stream of visitors who have just finished the exhibit follow one another and take the stairs to the second floor café and gift shop—few opt to turn to their right, towards the venue exit.
It’s 3 pm and the café is full; the wait for a table is a good 30 minutes. Mothers have come with daughters; girlfriends with their boyfriends; and retirees with their fellow pensioners. And in keeping with the theme, many have come in character carrying LV attire, be it monogrammed bags or other assorted accessories.
The theme repeats itself on a long marble display table, where the LV iconography—flower blossom, four point star, Damier Ebène checkerboard motif—is deconstructed into chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut entremets and lemon meringue cakes with exacting detail, each one presented under protective glass cloche domes.
Frédéric, who is also the executive pastry chef at the Cheval Blanc, Paris hotel across the street (LVMH’s first luxury hotel in Paris), tells Robb Report his first priority was to meet the people behind the brand—and not the ones in suits and high places. During a visit to the company’s studio and former family residence in Asnières northwest of the city, Frédéric met with the artisans and craftspeople where the trunks are made by hand.
“Once we had done that, we started to see a lot of similarities between our work in patisseries and the work of the artisans there, whether it’s a woodworker or a locksmith for the trunks,” he said. “It’s about handcrafted workmanship, and that’s completely in line with our work as artisan pastry chefs, bakers and chocolatiers.”
At the café, attention to detail extends not only to the replica cakes and the chocolate bonbons and bars at the chocolate boutique next to the café, but also to the marble display table which, upon closer inspection, has also been carved out with the LV symbols.
Astute observers will also note the gold signature on the chocolate éclair as a direct copy of Louis Vuitton’s handwritten signature.
The decor is decidedly sober by LV’s luxury standards, with dozens of tropical plants bringing life to the concrete floors and exposed ductwork in the former department store, La Belle Jardinière (despite its name which translates to ‘beautiful planter’ the store sold pret-a-porter fashion).
“It’s a breath of fresh air inside our café and I find it very pleasant,” Frédéric said. “I’m very attached to the vegetation, especially as the grandson of a farmer.”
Frédéric, 32, together with his older sister, are fifth-generation farmers who’ve taken over the family spread in Normandy where he spends his weekends “recharging” by collecting the freshly laid eggs and cracking the hazelnuts, both of which are used to make the café’s cakes and pastries. The farm also makes the hazelnut spread sold at the chocolate boutique, on-site. It’s perhaps for this intimate personal connection that Frédéric’s name is given equal honors alongside Louis Vuitton in the café name.
Along with his own farm, Frédéric partnered with family-owned or heritage suppliers throughout France: coffee is sourced by Cafe Verlet, one of the oldest coffee roasters and coffeehouses in Paris, which opened in 1880 just a few decades after Vuitton opened his first shop in Paris. Milk, butter and cream come from his friends who run a dairy farm in Normandy, and pears for the pear charlottes from a small producer in the Midi-Pyrénées.
The exception is the chocolate, which is sourced from small-scale cocoa farmers from Vietnam, Peru, Madagascar and Venezuela, and is overseen by master French chocolatier Nicolas Berger.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors come to understand that Frédéric is just one in a long line of notable designers and artists—Damien Hirst, Marc Newsom, Tracey Emin, Takashi Murakami, Frank Gehry, Karl Lagerfeld—who have been invited to collaborate with the brand and reinterpret the house’s classics over the years.
In a few months, the pastry chef will release another collection of cakes and pastries that deconstruct the monogram in edible form, this time with the flavors of spring: rhubarb and strawberry.
“The objective is to make a pastry that is light and feminine, because that’s what characterizes our pastries, but also that of the house of Louis Vuitton.”
Click here to see more images of Maxime Frédéric at Louis Vuitton.