For some, Louis Vuitton denotes that desirable-yet-elusive Mini Dauphine and for others, it could just be a fragrance bottle with their initials engraved on it, or a petite shawl kissed with quatrefoil blooms to keep you warm and chic on cold winter nights. Emblematic of style, travel, art, sport, music, cinema, culture and luxury—the dynamism of the Louis Vuitton metier is hard to decode or document. The very mention of the Maison brings to mind, the exquisite, monogrammed trunks—a shining beacon of royalty and jet set glamour.
Ever thought about the pioneering visionary who started it all? The founding genius behind the iconic Maison who built the strong aesthetic and an adamant design grammar? Was Louis a dreamer, was he a poet at heart, or a bit of both? The bicentennial celebrations of Louis Vuitton’s birth (1821-2021) makes it totally worth revisiting the Maison’s fascinating history, which has witnessed a litany of creative incarnations of timeless luxe. Let’s take a trip all the way back to 18th century France to understand what makes Louis Vuitton a symbol for undying optimism, resilient spirit and unstoppable growth.
Louis was born in the Jura region of France, in the village of Anchay, and was steeped in the traditions of his wooded homeland and his milling ancestors. From the family mill to the Parisian packer’s workshop, he embarked on a new trail, one of his own making and one that was nourished over the course of his apprenticeships. In Paris, his own nuclear family would form the solid, unshakeable foundation for his future business.
When he arrived in the French capital, he took advantage of family connections and learned the ropes of his trade. An eager and observant apprentice, he gradually honed his skills to diversify his company’s product lines. He met his partner at a dance in Paris and married her on 22 April 1854. And Louis laid the foundation of the Maison the very same year.
Innovator – in – Chief
Since the inception of his business in 1854, Louis crafted a vocabulary of untiring reinventions—a testament to the evolution of his trade and the positioning he chose for the Maison. In 1854, he introduced himself as a “packer in Paris” while, in 1879, he referred to himself as a “manufacturer of travel articles”.
Given his in-depth knowledge of wood, Louis extrapolated specific species: poplar made the barrel light and beech strengthened the slats. He needed the perfect combination of strength and lightness: a heavy trunk would increase transportation costs, and one that is too fragile could be damaged during the journey. Louis addressed this challenge by crafting a trunk that exemplified weightlessness and sturdiness in equal measure. The shape of what would become the Louis Vuitton trunk: flat and reinforced with wooden slats.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the expansion of automobile and train travel inspired Louis to recontextualise the size and shape of his luggage models, as well as the materials used to make them. He saw leather as the best choice for its tactile, lightweight and sturdy appeal. In 1880, a leather goods department was created at the Asnières workshops to address these new needs.
Toast of Vendome
Louis Vuitton opened his first store at No. 4 rue Neuvedes-Capucines, near the Place Vendôme. It was a strategic location which drew a caviar clientele in droves—those that needed their precious belongings carefully packed. The ultimate highpoint was the proximity to the Tuileries Palace, home to the imperial couple, Napoleon III and Eugénie, who often journeyed to their various holiday spots. He was hired as a personal trunk maker-and-packer for the Empress. This assignment made him sought-after among the elite and royal clients, who became his loyal patrons.
Louis’ only son, Georges Féréol Vuitton, played a pivotal role in the company’s development from an early age. He became a natural successor to the family business. Following his marriage to Joséphine Patrelle in 1880, Georges moved up to shoulder more responsibilities, as he took over the helm of the Rue Scribe store from his parents. Meanwhile, Louis continued being in charge of the Asnières workshops.
In 1896, Georges Vuitton designed a new canvas pattern as a way to stay ahead of the curve and prevent his products’ from being copied. This canvas had a motif that brought together the now-iconic quatrefoil flowers and his father’s initials. Initially named the LV canvas, it was eventually rechristened as the Monogram canvas—the design undoubtedly a son’s heartfelt tribute to his father, four years after his death. To this day, it is the symbol of the Maison, recognised by all, recognisable among all.
200 Louis: A Window Homage To Louis Vuitton Interpreted by 200 Visionaries
From August, 2021, as a celebration of this historic milestone, the House unveiled celebratory windows that showcased creations from 200 talents, special friends and visionaries.
Across the globe, 200 Louis essayed an inspiring homage to the founder of the Maison, who was not just an entrepreneur and innovator, but also a dreamer. A trunk—the boldest insignia of the Maison—is transformed into a vessel, a building block, a metaphorical blank canvas for collective imagination and individual artistic expression. The starting point for all 200 visionaries: a box measuring 50 x 50 x 100 cms, which is close to the dimensions of the original trunk that Louis developed in the 1850s with its flat lid.
“Imagine having a conversation with not just one visionary, but 200,” Faye McLeod, Louis Vuitton’s Visual Image Director says. “We have never done windows like this before. There’s exceptional energy that emanates from them–this constant flow of creativity. People will really sense the feeling of celebration,” he adds.
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