LuxInside, Traces of Man: exploring what’s inside iconic luxury objects

June 20, 2014

A pair of chic, red-soled Christian Louboutin heels can cost upwards of $1,000 — a comparatively steep investment to the low-cost options in today’s fast-fashion market. Although this purchase allows you to strut around in flashy, instantly recognizable footwear, it also makes you wonder what’s beneath the shiny patent or studded leather exterior that makes these stilettos, or any luxury item, so expensive. In the case of the former, it’s the use of a very durable, costly metal — originally patented for the aircraft industry — to structure the heel and sole, resulting in a heel that will properly support a women’s ankle and stand the test of time.

We are often so enthralled by the allure of luxury items that the innovation, craftsmanship and technology behind these products — what arguably truly defines them — are overshadowed and, to an extent, intentionally hidden under embellished, cosmetic exteriors.

“The principle behind luxury products is that you should not see signs of human innovation or the work that went into them,” explains Laurence Picot, a Paris-based journalist. She is the founder and curator of LuxInside, an exhibition that, using a medical scanner and photography, combines art and science to give consumers a glimpse inside 14 of the world’s most lavish items, including the new Hermès saddle, S.T. Dupont lighter and Pierre Corthay shoes.

Picot hopes to show consumers the importance of the innovation of expertise and the excellence of craftsmanship, in addition to the innovations that govern the development of a luxury object. In turn, she hopes this will compel them to shop in a new, more informed manner.

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Picot (centre) with Mark Derbyshire, Holt Renfrew’s president (right), at the Toronto presentation of her exhibition.

The story behind LuxInside

After studying and working at various fashion magazines in Paris, Picot became inherently fascinated by the manufacturing and science behind an array of luxury industries and more so by the people involved in these processes. But when it came to investigating further, she unsurprisingly found luxury retailers unwilling to reveal the inner qualities of their designs.

In 2010, Picot teamed up with a collective of artists and scientists — now known as LuxInside — to create a process to depict the human talent that is so vital to the luxury industries. The end result was a series of stunning images, each featured next to one of the 14 “diagnosed” items. This helped consumers see the traces of the man who designed and manufactured the products for themselves, much like Picot has done throughout her career.

“I try to analyze what is really important inside the object — most of the time it is human talent,” says Picot.

Initially, working with a medical scanner proved challenging for the LuxInside team, as the devices are not designed to work with the metals and plastics found inside the Leica camera or Hermès saddle. Picot, working alongside radiologist Dr. Jean François Paul, software designer Sylvain Ordureau and graphic designer Ricardo Escobar, adapted their process and 3-D imaging software numerous times over a span of two years. Finally, the LuxInside team realized that the key to cutting through these objects’ exteriors was introducing new filters intended to isolate specific materials.

Toronto exhibit launch party

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The images’ revealing nature

In 2012, the exhibition launched in France, travelling to Macau, Argentina, and Brazil before returning to Paris in 2013 for a presentation at the Grand Palais. Recently, the French Embassy has launched the North American exhibition exclusively within Holt Renfrew stores. The exhibition’s first of four stops was Holt Renfrew’s Yorkdale location in Toronto.

The final images give consumers a rare peek at the secrets inside some of the world’s most iconic products and are quite revealing. Take the Dupont lighter: at first glance it is sleek and beautiful, but beneath its lavish gold or silver exterior is the airtight gas chamber that made Dupont lighters so desirable in World War II. Or Cadolle lingerie, a favourite among celebrities, which represents years of knowledge passed down through the ancestors of Herminie Cadolle, the woman who invented the bra. Or take a closer look at the Hermès saddle: beneath its quality leather and precise stitching is a light, carbon-fibre structure and padding that uses the same memory foam technology as high-end beds, giving the saddle the effect of being instantly “broken in.”

“For each industry, I picked one object that could represent the whole industry by its story, its aesthetics or its material,” says Picot.

Holt Renfrew exhibit schedule:

  • Yorkdale: May 22 to June 16, 2014
  • Calgary: July 3 to August 4, 2014
  • Bloor Street: September 9 to 29, 2014
  • Montréal: February 1 to 28, 2015


By Jill Adams
Photography by Tara West

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