The luxury fashion conglomerate that recently blessed the world with Rihanna’s Fenty Maison has become associated with a far less appealing personality. Many in the fashion industry are outraged at the seemingly unholy alliance between LVMH and Donald Trump, who, amid any number of crises in the world and within his administration, was on hand last week to help cut the ribbon on the Louis Vuitton Rochambeau Ranch in Johnson County, Texas. He stood beaming alongside LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault, as daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Louis Vuitton chairman and CEO Michael Burke and more looked on.
The factory is the French company’s first in the United States, which Arnault called the “number one [market] for LVMH in the world,” according to NBCDFW.
“Today, we continue the extraordinary revival of American manufacturing, and we proudly celebrate the opening of the brand-new Louis Vuitton—a name I know very well. It cost me a lot of money over the years,” Trump quipped at the ribbon-cutting.
As Glamour reports, the factory—which has promised to create 1,000 (likely low-paying) jobs in the region over the next five years—was more a pragmatic than altruistic move for Louis Vuitton, which received a 10-year, 75 percent tax abatement from Johnson County (h/t the Cleburne Times-Review) estimated to save the company $91,900 annually.
“This shows two commitments: One, the commitment of LVMH to the American market, and two, the commitment of President Trump to the American worker,” said Arnault (h/t WWD).
Ahh yes, that would explain the photo-op, since Louis Vuitton has never been known for red ties or ill-fitting suits.
According to WWD, the extended courtship between Arnault and Trump is one that dates back to the 1980s. More recently, Glamour reports that Arnault—currently the fourth richest man in the world with an estimated worth of $76 billion attended Trump’s first State Dinner in 2017, while Louis Vuitton has since added its name to the administration’s Pledge to America’s Workers. And yet, Arnault skirted around the questionable optics and obvious political implications of an association with the most divisive president in history.
“I’m not here to judge any types of policies,” he told WWD. “I’m here to work with my brand and we are going to, over five years, have 1,000 people working here and that’s what matters.”
Burke was even more glib, telling the outlet that the alliance is “about jobs, it’s not a political statement. This is about engaging with the president of the United States’ overriding economic goal of bringing jobs back to the United States.
“It’s ironic that it’s a French company that’s doing it,” Burke continued, adding an arrogant spin to an already willfully oblivious stance. “There’s a subject…for those who want to be critical. Once again we’re helping out America. That’s what friends are for.”
But most aren’t buying it—including Louis Vuitton women’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière and Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan‚ who gave her own searing analysis, writing:
The president is radioactive. Entering his orbit means stepping into the white-hot heat of a brutal sun or into a deadly nuclear meltdown. Wherever he travels, Donald Trump is at the center of a volatile cloud of unknowable proportions.
Thursday afternoon, French businessman Bernard Arnault stepped into that cloud...
The ribbon-cutting was jarring in its utter nonchalance, in its unflinching fealty to corporate normalcy during these most abnormal times. Can there be neutral ground when the players are a president who has made women in general, along with immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community, feel as though they are under siege, and a billionaire mogul who reaps tremendous profits from those very people?
Is a public shrug permissible anymore when all around there is chaos?
Ghesquière was also outspoken in his disavowal of the alliance, calling Trump a “joke” in an Instagram post which read: “Standing against any political action. I am a fashion designer refusing this association #trumpisajoke #homophobia.” (Menswear creative director Virgil Abloh, currently on sabbatical but active on social media, has been conspicuously silent on the issue, thus far.)
Ghesquière was one of many calling out LVMH for aligning its brand with a president who has openly discriminated against any number of marginalized groups—not to mention denying climate change. That fact alone made the timing even more ironic, since the same day as the Texas ribbon-cutting, LVMH touted the latest news in its partnership with human and environmental rights organization UNESCO.
Obviously, LVMH would be far from the first company to play both sides of the political fence. But to do so at this juncture is particularly perplexing, as it is becoming almost inevitable that the company—and Trump—will end up on the wrong side of history.
But since shame is clearly not an issue at play here, many believe the best strategy is to hit the luxury wallet-maker in its wallet. Shannon Coulter, consumer advocate and founder of #GrabYourWallet is suggesting concerned consumers do just that, adding LVMH to the organization’s master list of companies to boycott.
“Creating jobs is not an excuse to ignore morally repugnant behavior,” she told Business of Fashion on Friday. “Businesses are willing to look the other way in order to work with the Trump administration, but it’s a worrisome trend.”
One businesswoman who has repeatedly rebuked Trump’s increasingly destructive policies, rhetoric and administration is Rihanna. The star celebrated the launch of Fenty Maison with LVMH earlier this year, after being personally approached by Arnault to make history as the first black woman to helm a luxury fashion house. So far, Rih has remained mum about this latest development—which could affect her wallet, too, should a boycott gain traction.