Louis Vuitton is one of the brands that is counted among the leaders of the luxury world today. However, this world renowned business had a humble start in the beginning. This brand is a legacy of a penniless runaway, who managed not only to build, but sustain a 160-year-old luxury empire with nothing but his sheer determination and skills.
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The beginning of Louis Vuitton dates back to 1830s, when a 14-year-old named Louis Vuitton left his family mill in Jura and spent around two years travelling to Paris entirely by foot. Throughout his voyage, he didn’t have anything with him but the determination to change his life for the better. Louis took numerous odd jobs during his 280-mile journey, before successfully landing a job in Paris, working as an apprentice for famous box maker and packer Romain Maréchal.
Within a few years, Louis gained a reputation as one of the best box makers in the city, and was appointed as the personal packer and box-maker for Empress Eugéni, wife of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. As a result, Vuitton quickly became one of the most sought-after craftsmen amongst the riches and elites in Paris.
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With an admirable determination, Louis opened his own workshop, Louis Vuitton Mattelier in 1854 on the left bank of the Seine outside of Paris with about 20 employees. Within a few years, he reinvented trunk design with the Canvas Trunk, a novelty for its rectangular shape and its durable materials. Louis marketed himself as a layetier et emballeur or a specialist packer and luggage-maker offering customized arrangements for those who sought professionals to safely pack their fragile objects while travelling.
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Louis established his business right at a time when travelers had just started to explore the newly established shipping and train routes, which called for specific luggage arrangements. The increasing demand for an innovative and convenient trunk design that can be carried along during such travels led Louis to introduce the very first flat trunk of his brand in 1858, featuring a flat top and bottom design. Existing trunks at the time had arched tops to prevent water from seeping in when they got loaded into the cargo of ships or trains, but this new design, perfected by Louis, was not only stackable, but also was created with the lighter and sturdier poplar wood making it easier for transportation. He also covered it up with a waterproof pearl grey canvas called Trianon instead of using traditional leather, which easily cracked and was prone to mould and bad odours. Since this flat trunk turned out to be a spectacular success, Louis decided to expand and move production of his business out of the city to Asnières. Gradually made-to-order requests were pouring in from everywhere, and Louis began creating trunks and boxes with special designs tailored to the needs of the customers.
Some of the most celebrated designs of Louis Vuitton included the vertical steamer trunk, which was first introduced in 1875. It featured a vertical and relatively light portable wardrobe with drawers, compartments and hanging space, allowing jet-setters to travel in style with the entire contents of their closets remaining in order, without the need for unpacking.
During World War I, luxury productions at Louis Vuitton’s factory in Asnières were forced to shut down, but by the late 1920s, orders from the world’s richest, elites and most stylish including Coco Chanel and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor began to roll in. From 1930, the house started expanding its productions to travel bags including the Keep-all bag, the Noé bag and the Steamer bag. These bags, originally designed for luxury travelers, went on to inspire many of the most celebrated Louis Vuitton handbags of present time.
It was actually Louis’ only son, Georges, who popularized the famous LV monogram, which is said to be both a testament to his father’s legacy and also a practical way of combating counterfeiting. Georges was, in fact, also responsible for adding another invaluable invention that guaranteed the impenetrable character of every LV creation. Known as the tumbler lock, the creation was developed by expert watchmakers and featured an ‘incorruptible’ mechanism, which essentially transformed the trunks into safes. Each of these locks was specially devised with a unique numbered key that ensured their inviolability.
Having previously focused on accessories, Louis Vuitton officially started its journey into the fashion world in 1997 by appointing Marc Jacobs as its artistic director, who designed and debuted the brand’s very first ‘prêt-à-porter’ collection in the following year. In 2013, Nicolas Ghesquièire succeeded Marc Jacobs as the new artistic director of Louis Vuitton, and has been continuing on the house’s legacy and spirit of travel by creatively reinterpreting the house’s archival pieces and iconic elements into new contemporary renditions.
Louis Vuitton launched “Objets Nomades” in 2012. The collections take inspiration from Louis Vuitton’s Special Orders and pay tribute to the iconic products and signatures of the House. The collection taps some of the world’s renowned designers each year to design new travel-inspired furniture to be presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan as part of Milan Design Week.
Louis Vuitton customers can order their own special product at any Louis Vuitton store any time of the year. The orders are made by hand using age-old techniques at their special-order atelier, located in the former Vuitton family residence in Asnières-sur-Seine, Paris, which is currently run by Vuitton’s great-great-grandson, Patrick.
From a humble trunk apprentice to a global producer of glorious bags and assorted accessories, Louis Vuitton’s legacy has maintained its heritage and reputation over decades.
Image Courtesy: Vogue