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Louis Vuitton's new Oratoire atelier is all about being environmentally friendly

Louis Vuitton has unveiled a new workshop in France that is all about being more sustainable and eco-friendly from the ground up

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By House & Garden South Africa | November 30, 2022 | Trends

Sustainability in fashion does not only mean sourcing green materials or embracing circularity. Factories and workshops can – and should be – eco-friendly too. This is why Louis Vuitton is reconceiving the design of its leather ateliers with environmental impact in mind. The first in this initiative is Oratoire, a 6 039-square-metre single-story bioclimatic building in the Loir-et-Cher region of central France.

Named for its neighbouring woodlands, Oratoire is a model of eco-design: recycled metal for the structure; recycled cement for the flooring; Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood for the walls (to absorb machine noise); solar panels on the roof, which generate enough energy to power the building; and a new ventilation system of mini windows, with temperature-activated louvres that allow wind to circulate through the space without blowing papers off desks. The wind’s temperature is cooled by a network of rain-fed ponds and reservoirs that also nurture local biodiversity.

As in villas of ancient Rome, the subflooring has pipes that circulate water to heat the building in the winter and cool it in the summer. A bank of 61-metre-tall windows faces north, bathing the workshop with diffused natural light; the southern (and therefore warmer) facade has fewer and smaller windows, and is shaded by trees. The goal of the company’s in-house architecture team was to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the building – not easy, since sewing machines generate heat – by using natural cooling methods rather than air-conditioning, which is environmentally problematic on a host of levels, including energy consumption and fluorocarbon emissions. As a result, Oratoire’s energy usage is half that of existing Louis Vuitton ateliers. ‘Modular and agile, the atelier Oratoire is the image of our new generation of workshops,’ Louis Vuitton chairman and CEO Michael Burke said at the ribbon-cutting.

Diffused natural lighting floods the workshop thanks to North-facing window walls, Image courtesy of Louis Vuitton

It is also a cornerstone for Our Committed Journey, Louis Vuitton’s program to improve its environmental performance and reduce its carbon footprint by embracing circular creativity on every front. In the 168 years since it was founded, Louis Vuitton has produced leather goods that last for generations. Now the company is applying that same ethos to everything from fashion shows to boutique design. At the Met Gala in New York City in May, Louis Vuitton dressed several guests in vintage archival pieces, thereby encouraging re-wear (an easy circular practice) on the red carpet. For years, the company has incorporated certified eco-practices, such as renewable energy and LED lighting, in its store designs. By 2025, Louis Vuitton has pledged to reuse or recycle all event and store-window materials and rely solely on renewable energy in its production and logistics sites.

Following Oratoire’s lead, two more Louis Vuitton bioclimatic workshops are due to open in France this year – one of them in the Drôme, a southern region known for toasty summers, where the design team must harness and tame the fierce mistral wind. Should Oratoire’s natural air-cooling systems prove themselves to be efficient, Louis Vuitton will recreate them here and in the brand’s future workshops.

Originally written by Dana Thomas for the October 2022 H&G issue. Grab your digital copy of House & Garden here or pick up a physical copy of the latest issue now available in-stores nationwide.

Overhands and slim windows limit the sun’s impact on the building’s temperature, Image courtesy of Louis Vuitton