For decades, the artisans of Louis Vuitton have honed their unique skills by elevating exotic leather to new heights of refinement — all of which is responsibly sourced as well.
Exotic leather (python, stingray, lizard, ostrich, crocodile) boast natural appeal, though it is crocodilian leather that claims the pinnacle of superiority. It is prized for its unrivalled versatility and chic appearance and is regarded as the most precious and exclusive leather. Over the decades, Louis Vuitton’s artisans have gradually taken this exceptional material to new levels.
All exotic skins used by Louis Vuitton are responsibly sourced, originating from species protected by the Washington convention, otherwise known as CITES. All tanneries working with Louis Vuitton comply with these international guidelines ensuring 100% traceability and animal welfare remain at the heart of the Maison’s crocodilian creations.
The creation process
The creation process for a single bag is intricate, with a procedure totalling 350 various steps. From the selection of the skin to the final product, thorough care and attention are critical at every stage. As soon as the skin is tanned, the Maison selects only the cream of the crop. It is at this juncture that the destiny of each skin is determined. Experienced artisans decide what style of bag, colour and surface-finish best exhibit the beauty of the skin by complementing natural scale patterns.
The search for the most suitable exotic skins for each bag is a lengthy and arduous process. Moreover, a single handbag requires between three to five separate, comparable skins. Each segment is selected to achieve scale pattern continuity at the intersection where the edges of each bag meet. Investing extra care is prioritised in ensuring the colour and lustre of each surface is a precise match.
Furthermore, it takes anywhere between six to 10 weeks to tan an exotic skin. Afterwards, an additional six weeks are required to colour, nurture with oils, and buff the surface of the leather to achieve the final desired finish before the process of crafting the bag can commence. Without a doubt, the creation of these uniquely constructed assets requires every ounce of the Maison’s legendary savoir-faire.
In terms of technique, Louis Vuitton is dedicated to the exploration of new and contemporary methods for better colours and treatments, while perfecting the art of consistency. For example, the adjustment of colour recipes until hues obtained are of the right tone and depth. On average, it takes 15 odd trials to produce the perfect dye recipe.
At present, the Maison’s exotic bags are available in a permanent range of 33 specially formulated colours, with additional choices offered seasonally. No other luxury house carries such an extensive colour palette in crocodile.
As for finishes, Louis Vuitton’s exotic skins are available in three classic alternatives, namely shiny, matte and high shine. Creating a shiny crocodile bag is achieved by the action of buffing a semi-precious agate stone on the skin surface. The pressure combined with the heat generated by this mechanical action magnifies the skin’s natural brilliance without the aid of varnish. The stone used in this rigorous hand-buffing process must be polished every two days to keep its surface flawlessly smooth.
For a classy matte finish, the skin is softened at length by hand before being polished with a roll of wool felt which results in an understated, satin-like sheen. Meanwhile, the high-shine finish offers a mesmerising balance of matte and lustre, full of suppleness. To accomplish this, the artisan begins the process for a matte finish and then nourishes the leather with oils in readiness for the plating step, which adds gloss to the surface. The use of heat and pressure intensifies the skin’s reflective capacity, without altering its soft texture.
Occasionally, Louis Vuitton offers seasonal finishes meant to surprise and delight exotic leather connoisseurs. For example, recent seasons have seen the emergence of pearlescent, gold leaf foiling and Fusion – a hand-painted brushed lines of colour to create a subtle lateral striped effect offered as options. Unafraid to innovate, the Maison also dabbles in radically bold treatments that push exotics for the contemporary landscape.
Among the distinctive finishes unique to Louis Vuitton is the raku treatment that emulates cracked glaze on Japanese pottery. On exotic skins, this inventive method highlights the contrast between natural scales and their outlines. Another example is the matte shou-sugi-ban technique, wherein treatment of the skin mimics the charcoaled, bubbled surface of traditional Japanese timber.
Yet another milestone treatment that has become a signature style for Louis Vuitton is the traditional tie-dye technique, prominently influenced by the Japanese art form of shibori. These meticulous methods explore different handcrafting traditions to enhance the natural beauty of the skins while making use of modern materials, and new techniques that lay the groundwork for the future of the craft.
Popular styles within the exotic bag collection include the Capucines, Petite Malle, Twist, City Streamer and Petite Boîte Chapeau. Whichever design suits your taste, Louis Vuitton’s bold new direction in exotic leather goods unites colour, expert construction, and unconventional graphic effects to make each bag a unique work of art and a lifetime companion.
This story first appeared on Prestige Online Malaysia.