Welcome to the Fanciest Olympics Ever




Paris, that most presentable of capitals, is being polished before it hosts the Summer Games. Around the Champs-Élysées, where some of the benches date to the 1850s, the seats are getting a new layer of paint before an estimated 15 million visitors arrive to scuff them up again. High on the steps of the National Assembly, I watch as workers fuss with temporary statues of Olympians, lowering them into place with cranes. France no longer has a monarch or a royal family, but some say it gets close in the form of Bernard Arnault, owner of the luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH, and his five children, each of whom oversee a part of their father’s empire. The Arnaults and LVMH are closely involved in the coming Games, major sponsors who mean to tempt those millions of visitors (and upwards of 1 billion more viewing on TV) with fine handbags and belts, fragrances and jewels, a whiff of LVMH’s trademark savoir faire. A former editor of Vogue France, Carine Roitfeld, has agreed to collaborate with LVMH and the Arnaults, designing tuxedos for opening night. Just outside Paris, in a private workshop run by Louis Vuitton, one of LVMH’s luxury brands, artisans are making trunks to house the tournament’s medals.

A gentle bock-bock-bock of mallet on wood serves as a hypnotic soundtrack to the work. It’s late in March: less than four months to go before the Games begin. Despite the deadline, production is measured and stately. Wearing smocks or cardigans, wielding slide rules, chisels, scalpels, hairdryers, and rattling boxes of tacks, the artisans here have the cool of craftspeople who’ve been asked to respond to all sorts of whims over time. Vuitton became an immortal name in France through the manufacture of brass-cornered trunks, trunks adapted to meet the demands and dreams of wealthy customers, trunks designed to cradle: handbags, watch collections, writing desks, even the World Cup. During the tour, I’m told they won’t build anything for the storage of corpses (they’re sometimes asked to) or for weapons (except for the occasional hunting rifle), but there have been trunks designed to become walk-in golf lockers, trunks that contain foldaway beds.

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The trunk being built this day for the medals will be tall and wardrobe-like, clad in monogrammed canvas, its interior lined with black leather. Passing into the part of the workshop where it’s being made, I’m met by smells of wood chip, glue—and over at the workbench where they will sew on the fat leather handles…is that honey? Someone explains. The thread they’re using is slathered by hand with beeswax. I watch the slow assembly of a single padded drawer, inside which a set of gold, silver, and bronze medals will rest. The padding looks as comfortable as my seat on the inbound Paris train. As for the medals themselves, they were made to designs drawn up by an LVMH-owned jeweler, Chaumet, each to contain a lug of iron extracted from the Eiffel Tower.

All of this is exceptional, this convergence of luxury and a sprawling, sweaty event like the Olympics. At Tokyo 2020, medals were carried about on recycled trays that strongly resembled those molded plastic dishes for coins you find on public buses. When Princess Anne unveiled the medals for London 2012, she did so out of a tired-looking briefcase. Olympic sponsors tend to have a utilitarian flavor: banks, beers, e-commerce, pharma, sportswear. One sponsor of Beijing 2008 was the State Grid. Paris 2024 has felt different from the start. Last year, when LVMH announced what was termed a “creative partnership” with the Paris Games, the news was presented by Bernard Arnault’s son Antoine, who stood in front of very tall windows with an unimpeded view of the Eiffel Tower behind him, the Parisian sky sulky and dramatic.

In the very busy months since, LVMH has lent in-house talent to vivify these Olympic and Paralympic Games—while also reportedly contributing around $160 million to the organizers’ budget. Every Olympics ends up telling a story about their host nation, whether by intention or not. Beijing 2008 was China’s fist on the table: We’re here, we matter. London 2012 was about the British tremulously (and, as it turned out, fatefully) rediscovering a jingoistic pride long subdued. Under the stewardship of LVMH and the Arnaults, we can expect Paris 2024 to live in history as the better-dressed Olympics, the cork-popping, leather-lined, beeswax-scented Olympics. But what will LVMH and the Arnaults receive in return for the loan of their eye, their taste, that industrious bock-bock-bock of their artisans?



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