Veuve Clicquot London exhibition celebrates Champagne’s Grande Dame

Work by artists including Yayoi Kusama and Sheila Hicks combine with Veuve Clicquot's rich history to ensure 'Solaire Culture' is more than just an ostentatious marketing exercise

Words by William Morris

The Solaire Culture exhibition
The Solaire Culture exhibition has now opened in the UK, the US and Japan, Veuve Clicquot's three biggest markets

In a world that demands authenticity, provenance and ‘narrative’ from its brands, Veuve Clicquot must look to any marketing professional like a one-way ticket to nirvana. It’s a conclusion easily reached after even the most cursory wander around Solaire Culture, the marque’s travelling exhibition, which has just opened in London after stops in Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Created to celebrate the brand’s 250th anniversary, the exhibition sprawls over two floors of the Grade II listed building at 55 Regent Street, known to many as the former home of Tower Records and the Swan & Edgar department store on Piccadilly Circus. According to Jean-Marc Gallot, President & CEO of Veuve Clicquot, more predictable events locations in London were quickly dismissed after a glamorous spot on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was secured for the LA leg of the tour. 

Yayoi Kusama created a sculpture and other artwork, including the wine's label, during a collaboration with Veuve Clicquot for the 2012 vintage of La Grande Dame Champagne

The intention is that the exhibition be ‘dynamic and immersive’, so there are shifts in style and tone as you move between its surprising number of rooms. French heritage curator and art historian Camille Morineau brought together nine female artists, including Yayoi Kusama, Sheila Hicks and Inès Longevial, to deliver artwork inspired by Madame Clicquot and ‘Solaire Culture’, the term coined to define ‘her free spirit, her boldness, and her profound optimism, which continues to inspire the House and radiate throughout the world’.  

Paintings inspired by the only existing portrait of ‘La Grande Dame’ of Champagne greet you in the first space, including an interpretation by Kusama. A striking sculpture by the Japanese artist also features later in the exhibition.  

 The most interesting section focuses on Madame Clicquot’s character, as well as her attitude to life and business. This is where Veuve Clicquot’s heritage and the strength of its archives, which fill a space around 1km in length back at HQ, come to the fore; there are contemporary letters and artefacts, and insights into Madame Clicquot’s innovations with bottle riddling, rosé and label design. 

Yayoi Kasuma
Yayoi Kasuma with a bottle of La Grande Dame 2012 featuring her artwork (Photo: Yayoi Kasuma)

The inherent risk with an endeavour of this nature is that it becomes a glossy, three-dimensional branding exercise and there is an enclave in which a designer ice bucket, amongst other trinkets, is given overly reverential treatment. This, thankfully, is the only real tilt towards consumerist theme park and the rooms that follow explore the crayères (chalk cellars) in which Veuve Clicquot’s wines are matured, as well as the Champagne’s appearances in music and literature. Other rooms on the first floor are dedicated to large pieces of sculptural and three-dimensional art; in another, deck chairs (with Veuve Clicquot yellow stripes, of course) are parked in front of a big screen playing soporific footage from the vineyards. 

Content aside, the scale of the exhibition itself is something to behold. Champagne sales hit a record €6bn in 2022 and Veuve Clicquot was only behind Moët and Lanson in UK sales for the year; it’s clear that a respectable portion of the brand’s financial success has been lavished on this project to guarantee that budget, scope and ambition are all in proportion. 

Naturally, Solaire Culture also represents an opportunity to try some of Veuve Clicquot's Champagnes

Just before the gift shop – this is the West End, after all – is the resurrected Sunny Side Up Café, which ran as a pop-up in Soho last April. A short brunch menu written by Andi Oliver is available, as, of course, is Champagne. In addition to the house cuvée, guests can also order the 2015 vintage of La Grande Dame by the glass – a rare opportunity to taste the brand’s ‘prestige’ vintage Champagne without committing to the cost of a whole bottle.

Solaire Culture is not just a celebration of a brand or a product but of the ambitious and visionary woman who built Veuve Clicquot and set it on course for the success it enjoys today. If you’re in London and have an affinity for the Champagne with the yellow label, or an interest in the history of wine and the role a pioneering businesswoman played in it, it’s well worth visiting, particularly given there’s no entrance fee. If it represents a break from shopping, one that includes a glass of quality fizz for good measure, so much the better. 

Solaire Culture is open at Piccadilly Circus, London, until 6 June 2023. Visit the official website for further details.