The Sublime Meaning of Louis Vuitton's World Cup Trophy Case

For the next two weeks, I'll be deferring to some friends for their World Cup-related insights. Yesterday, Anmol Chaddha, our man in Cape Town, maneuvered the tricky, harshly realistic expectations of the host fans. Today, Pete L'Official—who has previously guested in this space with his musings on Cristiano Ronaldo—considers the meaning of Louis Vuitton's plush, edition-of-one World Cup Trophy case. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? (Well, I do. And it involves R. Kelly.) Be sure to bookmark this page, until the blog's RSS feed gets sorted out.

By Pete L'Official

Of all the pleasantly bewildering things to behold in these days leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the image of Louis Vuitton's FIFA World Cup Trophy Case, with the trophy itself safely ensconced in what looks like velvet-lined interiors, certainly ranks among the most provocative. That FIFA should call upon one of France's most famous fashion houses to appoint a bespoke accessory for one of the world's most famous prizes? Not at all surprising. Neither is the fact that the case comes plastered with the company's signature monogram. (Any perceived vulgarity of taste here is far outweighed by the refinement of their other Cup-themed promotional campaign.)

What is rather chastening about the idea of such a luxurious—or ridiculous—object won't be found in the picture that features trophy and case, presented under the bright and watchful eyes of Naomi Campbell (!), but in another: that of the same case, but one amidst many, many others, all similarly logo-stamped. This is the trophy's Raiders of the Lost Ark moment. ( In case you've forgotten...)

One-of-one, you could say that Louis V's case is more limited in edition than the trophy itself (of which there are two, though only one of solid gold--the one given out to the winning team is merely gold-plated.). Which makes the case all the more fascinating: this made-to-order object, so specialized and specifically designed to execute one purpose—to house the World Cup Trophy—is then designed to look on its exterior like every other piece of Louis Vuitton luggage you have ever seen in your lifetime, whether bootleg or the genuine article. It is, on the part of LMVH, a gesture both breathtakingly arrogant and one that frankly makes me smile. Of course they would slap their logo all over the box. Louis Vuitton, and certainly those who make calculatedly public use of their production line (talking to you, Kanye, Pharrell, fact, what are the odds on Yeezy being on the phone to the company's original workshop in Asnières right now looking for a one-off carrying case for the next Grammy that he will unceremoniously lose to someone extremely undeserving of one) is not a line known for subtlety.

If the image seemed shocking or dismaying, my point is that it shouldn't. Yes, it fills a conspicuous role in a world already too familiar with advertising and sponsorship, label collaborations and brand crossovers, corporate synergy and transnational signifiers, but it also provides us with a rare and spectacular vision—a singular moment and a single object—befitting that of the spectacle of talent, tactics, pride, politics, architecture, infrastructure, marketing, fashion, beauty (...and everything else that Bono told you it wasn't about) that comprises the World Cup. It almost beggars belief, like only some of the best of World Cup moments can. (And stay tuned for an impassioned meditation on this very Dutch moment from a fellow contributor.)

We are far beyond the days of merely trying to complete your Panini sticker book. Soccer fans worldwide have been conditioned to wait expectantly not just for the tournament's arrival, but also for the extravagantly executed ad campaigns (usually from Nike, Adidas, and Puma), which are as memorable--often more so--than the games themselves. They have been richly rewarded this year. Enter "World Cup" as a search term on a well-known fashion blog like Hypebeast or Highsnobiety and you'll find countless small-batch products, themed on the World Cup and curated by a dizzying array of designers of the boutique and the broad-market variety.

The World Cup, after all, is a limited edition. Played once every four years, and restricted to thirty-two teams, each with specially designed uniforms for the occasion (indeed, most teams/apparel manufacturers have taken to stitching the opponent and date underneath the team badges so as to commemorate the match—and possibly further increase the uniqueness of each shirt)—nearly the entire enterprise (indeed, almost of soccer itself) is predicated on the idea of rarity. One solitary goal between two teams might win a match, one World Cup Final win can define a career—and even the elite players often only get the opportunity to play in perhaps two, maybe three tournaments over a lifetime if they're lucky.

Yet it's also one of the few limited editions in which the entire soccer-loving world can feel some measure of ownership. One ought to watch the games for, yes, the goals, the ambition of 40-yard cross-field passes, the arrogance in shots struck from egregious distances, the drama of elimination and the ecstasy of triumph—all of that. Your memory serves as a personal stamp of authenticity on the tournament, with a print run of one.

So be mindful of moments small and large—this, and these, are what I will be watching for: the wry smiles shared among professionals who will be facing their day-job teammates, the pre-match tunnel or post-wrenching-tackle chatter, the post-match jersey exchanges, the Argentine haircuts, the balletic Portuguese, French striker swagger, English WAG excess, Paraguayan cheekbones, Dutch intensity, the Communist Rooney, and because when else can you say that you were definitely-almost-maybe watching the same thing, at the same time, as Kim Jong-il? When they made that man, they certainly broke the mold. (Unless they didn't.) A limited edition, indeed.

Pete L'Official is currently a student in the History of American Civilization program at Harvard. His interests in modern American literature and culture, American art, and the urban built environment do not preclude him from waking up at ungodly hours on the weekends to watch the English Premier League and the heartwarming, hilarious friendship between Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, and Carlos Tevez. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, Salon, the Believer and elsewhere.