With Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday this month of August, we take a walk down memory lane to reminisce on the maison’s journey and its most iconic creations
Let us take you back to the year 1834, when a young Louis Vuitton made a decision that would change the course of his life – and the world. At the time, a thirteen years old Louis Vuitton from Anchay, in the French Jura area, left his home town for Paris. Finally reaching the city two years later, he started an apprenticeship at the renowned trunk maker and packer Romain Maréchal. Keep in mind that this was the age of horse-drawn carriages, boats and trains. And baggage was handled roughly, so travellers called upon craftsmen to pack and protect their cargo.
With the knowledge he gained through his apprenticeship, Louis Vuitton quickly became a valued craftsman at the atelier of Romain Maréchal. These were the roots of his highly specialized trade and the beginnings of his career in an artisanal industry that called upon skills to custom design boxes and, later, trunks according to clients’ wishes. While Louis Vuitton eventually decided to become a trunk-master at the age of 16, he stayed at Romain Maréchal for 17 years before he eventually opened his own workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines in the heart of the Place Vendome neighbourhood in Paris, where all fashion houses were established in the second half of the 19th century.
In 1859, barely five years after founding his own maison, Louis Vuitton discovered that his rapidly-growing business required a new nexus. To that end, he chose to open his workshop in Asnières, in the northwest part of Paris. This was a clever, conscious and daring move. Being on close terms with Charles Frederick Worth, the founder of Parisian haute couture, and also having been appointed as Empress Eugénie’s trunk maker and packer, Louis Vuitton was quick to understand the revolution that was taking place in transport and foresaw the repercussions it had on luggage.
As a visionary artist, he essentially reinvented fashion packing. Louis Vuitton realised that a flat trunk would be more practical and efficient than the classic domed design. This marked the birth of the Gris Trianon. As rival manufactures began to copy his innovations, he opted for increasingly complex designs, moving from grey cloth to colourful stripes and later on to the checked design known as the Damier. Louis Vuitton died in 1892, having passed on precious savoir-faire f future generations, in a spirit of permanent innovation, constantly at the service of travel.
In 1896, Louis Vuitton’s eldest son Georges-Louis Vuitton created the Monogram in honour of his late father. An icon was born, revolutionary when it appeared. With its interlaced initials, encircled, rounded flower and four-petal flower encased in a concaved diamond, this most particular and personal of signatures was instantly transformed into a universal symbol of modernity and is one of the first exercises in luxury branding and a defining sign of a global culture to come. Then, in 1906, Maison Louis Vuitton started creating trunks in the style that today’s shoppers would instantly recognise. The atelier’s creations range from explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza’s famous Trunk Bed for his expeditions in 1905 to the Vivienne Dollhouse Trunk, Vanity and Fragrance Trunk and Vendome Trunk.
The journey of Louis Vuitton’s trunks began with innovation and ever since, innovation has stayed at the forefront of the maison’s hard-sided creations. New technology – such as 3D printing – continue to expand the possibilities for purpose-built trunks while the brilliant minds of Louis Vuitton’s designers and artisans ensure that the brand’s trunk remain aesthetically-striking essentials. And, with the brand’s 200th birthday this month, we cannot wait to see what the Louis Vuitton has in store to mark this monumental milestone.