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We went to see the christmas tree at Rockerfellar Center and the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue a few nights ago.  As we passed Louis Vuitton’s New York flagship store on the corner of Fifth Ave and 57th Street, I noticed something flickering in the shop windows.  What caught my eye was the flipping of rows of tiny black tiles each with white lettering, and at the end of each row, a roving light.  LV has put a functional Solari flight information display board in each window.  Apparently, they are relanuching their City Guides and had the building and store front decked out in a travel-inspired theme.  It is not at all christmas-y, unlike all the other stores up and down Fifth Ave.  Well, for those who can afford LV luggage, it is unlikely that they would be craning their necks to read the board, as they would be waiting in their first class lounge, or more likely flying on their own Gulf Stream.

I bet these boards must have appeared in dozens of movies to help depict the sorrow of separation or the anticipation of loved ones’ arrival.  Like a towering travel deity, making destinations appear and disappear, announcing delays and last calls, it literally spells out the fates of travellers standing beneath it.  As if to counter the traveller’s anxiety or boredom, it makes a strangely soothing, mesmerizing “tsktsk” sounds as the tiny tiles flip in tandem to form its message.  It is the sound of information being delivered.  I remember one of these display boards in Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, while I was waiting to board a flight to the UK many years ago.  It appeared in the background of a few yellowed 3″x5″ photographs of me and my classmates who came to see me off at the airport.

These electro-mechanical wonders of the past were manufactured by an Italian company, Solari di Udine SpA, since the late 50’s and must have cost quite a bit to install and maintain.  They are all but replaced by LEDs and flat panel displays. Apparently, a version of it is included in the collection of Museum of Modern Art.  I wonder how much LV had paid for these, or if they were recycled from airport junkyard, and what would they do with them once the ad campaign is over. – C



  1. I can’t explain why, but there’s something fundamentally attractive about the mechanical world, often independent of electricity, from days of yore.

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  1. […] Louis Vuitton / Solari di Udine […]

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