There’s really not much that can top Louis Vuitton. It’s a household name that currently spans from bags to clothing, fragrance to jewelry and is name of one of the largest luxury good conglomerates in the world, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). But Louis Vuitton got it’s start over 100 years ago in 1854 Paris in the travel trunk business.
At 16, Louis Vuitton arrived in Paris by foot to start apprenticing for trunk artisan, Monsieur Marechal. He worked for the craftsman for 17 years before setting up shop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines under his own name. At the time, travel was mainly by horse and carriage and travel could be rough on personal belongings. Wealthy travelers would bring their affects to craftsman who would create custom trunks and smaller containers to withstand the conditions and rough handling. When Vuitton opened his doors, trunks were mostly domed shaped, for water run off, and tended to be very heavy. In 1958, Vuitton introduced his flat-stacking, canvas-made trunks to much acclaim; and many imitators. His success led to the opening his workshop, Asnieres, just north of Paris with 20 employees. By the 1870s, imitation and design plagiarism were becoming a serious issue for Vuitton; so in 1876 he set out to separate his trunks from the rest! Vuitton began producing them in a beige and brown strip canvas. By 1885, Louis Vuitton opened it’s first store front in London on Oxford Street, and just three years later, Vuitton introduced the Damier Canvas print, to replace the stripe motif, that is still in production today.
Top left going clockwise: Monogram (1896), Damier (1888), Beige and brown stripe (1876), Grey Trianon (1858)
Nearly at the turn of the century (1892), Louis Vuitton passed away and the company went to hands of his son, Geroges Vuitton. Georges sought to make Louis Vuitton a worldwide success and the go-to for luggage. In 1896, Georges introduced the iconic LV monogram featuring quatrefoils, flowers and of course, the LV monogram and to top if off, he got patents worldwide. In addition to the patents of the legendary LV monogram, Georges, with the help of Louis a few years before his death, had perfected a 2 spring lock for their bags that they introduced in 1886 which he received patents on a few years after. The patents were working and Georges continued expansion. By World War I, Louis Vuitton had opened shops across the globe, including a Champs-Elysees shop, one in NY and Washington as well as Buenos Aires and Bombay. Directly after the war, Louis Vuitton introduced the ‘Carryall’ and ‘Speedy’ styles that are still on their roster today.
After Georges death, the company began incorporating more leathers into their manufacturing line, allowing for coin purses, wallets and bags, as well as the creation of the Epi line in 1985. Through the 70s, 80s and 90s, LV continued growing, opening stores in Japan, China and South Korea. In 1987, Louis Vuitton merged with Moet and Hennessy to become a luxury goods behemoth. Marc Jacobs was appointed creative director in 1997 and launched a pret-a-porter line for men and women the following year. During his reign at Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs took the storied luggage house and built it a sustainable clothing business. He started doing collaborations, such as those with Stephen Sprouse. Sprouse’s graffiti lay over the classic LV monogram with “Louis Vuitton”, “LV”, “Speedy”, and “Carryall” in neon hues on bags, shoes and jewelry, introducing it’s first foray into the category. Other collaborations include Takashi Murakami, whom gave the classic a technicolor flare or Yayoi Kusama, famous for her bold colors and use of dots, played with micro and macro dot formations over the print.
Last year marked Marc Jacobs last at the house and the introduction of recent Balenciaga designer, Nicolas Ghesquiere. He took the house in the direction of the 70s. And launched his first campaign with a set of photos featuring Freja Beha Erichsen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jean Campbell and Liya Kebede by famed photographers, Annie Leibovitz, Juergen Teller and Bruce Weber. Can’t wait to see what he shows in Paris in a few weeks!