The Louis Vuitton Window Artist Bringing ‘Street Theater’ Beyond the Shop

For Faye McLeod, retail window displays are a way to build the brand across both physical and online worlds

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Earlier this year, crowds of onlookers gathered outside Louis Vuitton stores in Paris, London, New York and Tokyo to catch a glimpse of legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. From the shop windows, strikingly lifelike robots of Kusama–dressed in her signature polka dots—gazed out at the spectators, occasionally blinking or waving. At the height of Kusama’s renewed fame, Louis Vuitton’s uncanny installations went viral. 

The story goes that the 94-year-old artist, who has partnered with the luxury brand since 2012, was even compelled to see the spectacle herself. She traveled down in a wheelchair to the Louis Vuitton shop in Tokyo’s Omotesando area to examine her robotic likeness up close.

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“[Kusama] was so happy, she cried,” said Faye McLeod, Louis Vuitton’s visual image director, who is behind the fashion house’s global windows and special projects. “Then she went back to her studio and painted for the entire week.”

Such is the impact of McLeod’s creations for Louis Vuitton, which could stand as works of art in their own right. For the past 14 years at parent company LVMH, McLeod has overseen fantastical and dreamlike displays, from the giant Kusama sculpture peering over the roof of Luis Vuitton’s flagship store on the Champs-Élysées to whimsical animals and circus acrobats. No longer confined to a glass box in a storefront, McLeod’s windows have evolved along with technological innovations, stopping onlookers both on city streets and social media. 

Louis Vuitton tiger installations
Louis Vuitton celebrated Lunar New Year with tiger tail installations in its Chengdu maisonLVMH

“Windows are street theater,” McLeod told Adweek. “It’s not always about [attracting] customers. It’s about captivating the public.”

The windows are also one small part of a global operation that sees creativity as inextricably linked to business success. LVMH, which according to analyst firm Bernstein spends around $951 million on marketing annually, has continued to grow despite economic turmoil, reporting a 15% revenue increase to $46.7 billion (42.2 billion euros) for the first half of 2023. Industry observers have partly attributed LVMH’s growth to its investment in brand building and creative marketing.

“I look at windows like the billboards to your brand. For some people, it’s the first interaction they’ll have with your brand,” said McLeod. “We’re always pushed to be more daring, more experimental, to have more fun, to be more playful.” 

Learning in glass

McLeod is from Glasgow, Scotland, where as a fashion student she got a weekend job at a local boutique. One day, an employee asked her to help with the window displays, which set her on an unexpected creative course.

“When you go into a window space, there’s just a pane of glass between you and the public. It’s a democratic space, so people can love your work or not like your work—but it’s really honest,” she said. 

After completing her studies, McLeod got jobs in window design for retailers including Selfridges and Liberty, before moving to New York and working with brands such as The Limited.

Faye McLeod
Windows are a ‘democratic, honest space’ in which to create, says McLeod.LVMH

Her time in the U.S. fashion capital showed her how “creativity is a business,” she recalled. She has brought that outlook, merging creative pursuits with commercial objectives, to Louis Vuitton, which she joined in 2009. 

With 465 Louis Vuitton stores worldwide, the studio led by McLeod creates displays for more than 1,300 windows and changes them six times a year. The team comprises of creatives, set designers, lighting designers, carpenters and more.

Dreaming in 3D

The studio’s projects can be global or local, bound by window glass or spilling outside it. 

“We don’t keep ourselves in this confinement of the [window] space,” said McLeod. “We think in 3D, and technology has caught up.”

Technology has helped to expand the limits of the studio’s creations–the robot Kusamas are just one example—and McLeod has a curious mindset about technological advancements. She said she is “so excited” about Apple’s augmented reality (AR) headset, the Apple Vision Pro, and that the studio has begun experimenting with generative AI tools. 

Louis Vuitton
The studio’s displays are no longer just contained to a window.LVMH

But it wasn’t always this way. In the early days of Instagram, McLeod said she was “terrified” of the social media platform. 

“I kept getting asked, ‘Can you make it more Instagrammable?’” she recalled. “It became this thing, but I was like, I don’t know how to do that. The more I was trying, the more it just looked forced.” 

She changed her mind after a conversation with Mark D’Arcy, partner and chief creative officer of The Brandtech Group and the former creative leader of Facebook. 

“He kept saying to me, ‘It’s just a layer to your work. Stop trying so hard,’” she said. “The more I leant into the discomfort of possibly getting it wrong, the more it just came out naturally.”

Now, McLeod is obsessed with how her windows can take on a life of their own online, and how people interact with them. She considers this exchange with the audience while creating new work. For every installation, she and her team incorporate a focal point or space where spectators can capture it. She said she stands in doorways or street corners near Louis Vuitton storefronts to observe people’s reactions. 

Louis Vuitton store
Now McLeod also considers how the audience will interact with her displays.LVMH

“You’ve got tourists coming from everywhere. Some people turn up with suitcases and new clothes doing photo shoots. Families take pictures; some people capture their reflections in [the glass],” she said. “I love when everybody’s got their iPhones out. There’s nothing better than when you do a window, and you’ve got nose prints on the glass.” 

A creative legacy

McLeod said she works closely with senior leaders in Louis Vuitton’s business, including the head of communications, to ensure her projects align with the brand’s vision and goals. “For every one window we design, we probably present five ideas,” she said. 

While many creatives or artists may want to tune out commercial interests, she said a “curiosity” in that area has helped her “deliver creative solutions for the business.” 

Nevertheless, her bosses at LVMH have also allowed her the freedom to explore and push the boundaries of what her department has previously achieved. 

Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Yayoi Kusama also took over Harrods in London.LVMH

“It’s always about imagination, which is one of our core values,” she said. “Whenever you look at a window, I try to make sure there’s an emotional feeling to it. I like to think it’s art—there are a lot of artful minds that have gone into making it.” 

McLeod sees her studio’s work as one piece of a storied creative tradition. When she joined Louis Vuitton, she spent the first two weeks combing through the fashion house’s archives. She discovered that Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of the eponymous founder, had a passion for creating store window displays, changing them every two weeks and sometimes removing the glass to present his work to the Parisian public. 

“Let’s turn the street into a cheerful space,” Vuitton wrote for the publication Vendre in 1925. “By our daily renewed efforts let’s draw the passers-by, let’s give him a reason to dawdle, to stroll.” 

Louis Vuitton store
Louis Vuitton gives McLeod’s studio the opportunity to be ‘playful,’ she says.LVMH

McLeod has taken up that call, expanding it from city streets to digital avenues. 

“When I leave [Louis Vuitton], I like to think that someone will find my work someday and they’ll interpret it their way, the same way I interpreted Gaston’s work,” she said. “They’ll find this moment in history, and go, ‘someone had fun with that brand.’”