Charlie Bucket spent his last coin on a chocolate bar in the hope that it would contain a golden ticket and gain entry behind the guarded gates of Wonka’s magical factory. If Roald Dahl were to write the story, today, Veruca Salt, the spoilt brat with the "I want it NOW, daddy!!!" attitude, would probably want to see behind the walls of Louis Vuitton or Chanel rather than Cadbury’s or Nestlé.
Her wishes were granted, last month, when LVMH expanded the fourth edition of its ‘Les Journées Particulières’ open days event. Seventy six venues across four continents held 'open days', with 38 never having been open to the public previously.
The event saw 56 fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Tag Heuer and Nicholas Kirkwood, taking part. New experiences included the opening of the Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the perfume creation workshop shared by Parfums Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in the centre of Paris and the Louis Vuitton workshop in Ducey, Normandy. It was also possible to reserve an exclusive tour of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s last residence in Montauroux.
Left - Inside Private White V.C. in Manchester
‘Les Journées Particulières' launched in 2011 and is a LVMH marketing exercise in harnessing the desire and interest from people to see the inner workings of brands they admire and respect. It’s this element of being able to see things you feel aren’t usually on display, demystifying the processes and laying bare the inner workings of these brands that gets people to make the effort to visit.
Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, recently tapped into this enthusiasm by auctioning the ultimate watchmaking experience by putting two VIP tours of its workshop in Switzerland up for sale. The brand hired Sotheby’s to auction the experiences, which comprise two separate lots that it claims represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness its work up close. Each involves a behind-the-scenes tour through the Vacheron Constantin Maison, accompanied by style and heritage director Christian Selmoni.
It’s this ‘magic’ that people want to see and the attraction and interest in seeing how things are made and a celebration our industrial history is expanding as more brands open up their factories to the public. It gives products a halo effect of ‘special’ and really cements the brands into people’s minds and memories in a positive way.
I always say, when you go to a factory, it’s a bit like going to a friend’s house for the first time: you really get a fully rounded and immersive experience and a lasting memory. It’s a familiarity you can’t get in a shop or by simply wearing the product.
Solovair produce their shoes in Northampton under their parental badge of The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) founded in 1881 by five men in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Ashleigh Liversage, Online Marketing Manager, NPS Shoes Ltd. says, “As more and more brands move their manufacturing outside of the UK it is important to us that our customers can come see for themselves how their footwear is made by our skilled workers in our factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
Right - Exterior of the Private White V.C. factory in Manchester
“Our Managing Director takes the group on a tour through the factory offering an exciting insight into all areas of shoe production,” says Liversage. “The NPS Factory tour follows specific content-related criteria, giving guests access to all shoe production technologies: the ‘Clicking’ or cutting Room, Closing room, Levelling / Making Room, Shoe Room, while machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century,” she says.
“The feedback from our customers is why we continue to offer the tour, they love to see how and where their footwear is made and hear about the history and heritage of NPS Shoes,” says Liversage. “Even those with no particular interest in footwear have commented how interesting the tour is. We have people come from all over the UK to attend our tours and even had visitors from Canada once!” she says.
Over in Manchester, Private White V.C., has the last remaining clothing factory in the world’s first industrial city. Mike Stoll, Factory MD, says the reason they have a factory tour is, “To raise awareness: we actually are real and make our special garments near Manchester City centre.”
“Most people that make the tour either make a purchase or send someone who does. It spreads the word,” says Stoll, but, “It only works if you have something to see. This building is unusual and the way we currently manufacture is unique.”
North of the border, Johnstons of Elgin produce some of the world's finest knitwear and blankets. George McNeil, Johnstons of Elgin, Retail Managing Director, says, “Rarely does the public get an insight into how their products are made, and the entire craft behind the process, and so this is a chance to see quality in the making and also to understand our rich and unique history.”
Visitors get to see “Everything!” says McNeil. “Our cashmere goes from raw fibre, through dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing by the latest generation of craftsmen, all in our Elgin mill.”
“If a brand has the personal touch to each and every product, like ours, it is hugely beneficial to educate the consumer,” says McNeil. “We are in fact the last remaining vertical mill in Scotland to take raw fibre to finished product – from goat to garment – making this traditional process unique in current times. As consumers continue to prioritise where their belongings come from, and become more curious about the work that goes into them, they will demand to know more and brands will answer.” he says.
Not all brands can offer this openness though. Brands often produce for other people, called ‘Private Label’, and many brands like to keep their producers and suppliers out of the public domain.
“As a manufacturer for over 160 different brands, we actually don't allow factory visits because of the issues they can cause,” says Rob Williams, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Hawthorn International, who produce apparel for various brands. “Many fashion brands prefer for their manufacturer to keep their identity private, so that their costs cannot be revealed and so that their designs can't be shared between brands who all use the same manufacturer,” says Williams.
“Because privacy and confidentiality is so important to our clients, we found that it caused a huge logistical problem to organise factory visits without the visitor seeing any intellectual property of our other clients,” he says.
Left - Johnstons of Elgin's mill in Elgin, Scotland
Factory tours work because of a growing niche of people’s fascination with being educated about the things they buy. It works for brands who want to tell their story and, often, explain why you are paying a premium for the products. Admittedly, you get shown what they want you to see, but, it's this openness and sharing that creates an atmosphere people want to buy into.
This is the National Trust for the fashion geeks amongst us and it’s growing in popularity. Johnstons of Elgin has tea shops and restaurants attached to their mills which can also be a revenue maker for the company.
The tour makes the product come alive, you can picture what you’re buying being made and this really is the ultimate souvenir. People love a factory tour with a final stop at the factory shop for a bargain. Who needs a stately home when you can have a Victorian shoe factory?
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Arguably the greatest fashion designer of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent, is synonymous with Marrakech and North Africa. I’d wanted to visit Marrakech for a while, now, and when the new YSL Museum opened in October, it was definitely the thing that cemented my reason for going.
Left - Take your ChicGeek selfies before you go in because the exit is on the side
Located on the same street as the famous Jardin Marjorelle – it was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980 to stop it being developed into a hotel. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle,” - the new museum is testament to Saint Laurent’s talent, his 40 years career and his connection with the city. Built by the Fondation Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s life and business partner, the two museums bearing his name - there’s another new one in Paris BTW - are preserving his archive and legacy.
The 4,000 m² building includes a 400m² permanent exhibition space devoted to the work of Yves Saint Laurent and designed by Christophe Martin. The museum also includes a hall for temporary exhibitions, a research library with over 5,000 volumes, a 140-seat auditorium, bookshop and terrace café.
Right - The iconic Mondrian dress welcomes you into the main exhibition space
The new building has something of the Frank Lloyd Wrights about it. The low-rise, concrete and brick finish, designed by French architectural, Studio KO, has a 20th century modern feel and is beautiful in its simplicity.
As you enter the circular entrance you’re greeted by the timeless and elegant YSL logo - take all your pictures and selfies now, as you won’t be coming back this way - once inside there is a green tiled fountain in a glazed courtyard.
There is a small, temporary exhibition space, painted Marjorelle blue, currently showing the paintings and illustrations of Jacques Majorelle, the creator of the garden. This space will change up to three times a year with different exhibitions and it was interesting to see what a talent Majorelle was. Think Art Deco Arabia.
In the main exhibition space, everything is dark and meticulously lit. The first thing you see is Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Mondrian dress, an item of clothing so simple, yet original, and part of the explosion of pop we saw in the mid-sixties. This is, rightly, one of the greatest items of women’s fashion from the 20th century.
Left - There was a strict no pictures policy, I never quite understand why, so here's one of the museum's images of the beautifully lit main exhibition space
There’s a small sketch of the classic logo, designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1961, and, then, the room opens out into a timeline charting the life and career of the designer.
At the end of the room is a collection of classic, black ‘Le Smoking’ suits. Saint Laurent revolutionised womenswear by making it acceptable for women to wear black tailored dinner suits.
As you turn, a double height portrait of Yves surveys a collection of looks from his career. There is no chronology here, and even the worst type of 80s gypsy or Russian dresses look great due to the lighting. Towards the end there is a large display cabinet with lots of accessorises and fashion jewellery. The pieces with lots of embroidery and Braque-like birds really sparkle in the black space with the shiny floor adding to the sumptuous feel of the exhibition.
As you leave, you enter into the gift shop with its red lacquered walls. There’s a café across from the auditorium showing catwalk shows from Yves Saint Laurent’s career. The exit is here, with Prickly Pears lining the walk back to the street, letting the small museum flow with visitors.
There isn’t any menswear in the museum, but, if you like fashion, there’s plenty to enjoy. Small touches reinforce the power of this brand. I’m not sure if Kering, the parent company of YSL, had any input here, but they must be very pleased with the result. The brand definitely goes up in your estimation and puts itself in the enviable position of having lots of recognisable brand signatures and designs.
Even the subtle touch of two separate fuchsia pink and tangerine coloured glass windows reflects the small coloured squares on YSL’s ready-to-wear ‘Rive Gauche’ label and no doubt a colour combination taken and inspired by Marrakech.
Left - Born in Algeria, Yves Saint Laurent is synonymous with North Africa
A pioneer, Yves Saint Laurent was the only fashion designer of his generation to systematically archive his work, beginning with the founding of the couture house.
Beginning in 1964, Yves Saint Laurent decided to set aside for safekeeping certain pieces from every collection. The Fondation Pierre Bergé’s holdings include every entire haute couture collection made by Yves Saint Laurent between 1962 and 2002. The Fondation also safeguards 65 Dior garments designed between 1955 and 1960 while Yves Saint Laurent was Christian Dior’s assistant, before becoming the couture house’s creative director.
Right - TheChicGeek outside the recently opened museum
Unfortunately, Pierre Bergé died a few weeks before the museum officially opened. But, with his ashes now in the Jardin Marjorelle, along with Yves, they are both now part of an exciting and stylish cultural quarter in Marrakech which charts the career and development of one of the biggest 20th century brands in fashion. The museum is a definite must if you're visiting Marrakech and the Jardin Marjorelle.
Below - Designed by French architectural firm Studio KO, the museum has a feeling of a Frank Lloyd Wright meets Marrakech aesthetic
TheChicGeek was a guest at Le Palais Paysan around 25 minutes from central Marrakech by car with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains and surrounding countryside. See more here