The Story Of Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton was a French box-maker and packer who founded the luxury brand of the same name over 150 years ago. From humble beginnings in the French countryside, Vuitton’s skill, innovation and determination quickly saw his signature trunks coveted by the world’s elite. With Marc Jacobs at the helm as creative director since 1997, the house has expanded its offering to include bags, clothing, shoes, accessories and jewelry, making it one of the most valuable luxury brands in the world.
Louis Vuitton was born on August 4, 1821 in Anchay, a small working-class settlement in the east of France. His father, Xavier Vuitton, was a farmer and his mother, Coronne Gaillard – who died when he was 10 – a miller. At the age of 13, tired of provincial life and of his strict stepmother, Vuitton left home for Paris. The 292 mile journey took him two years on foot with stops to carry out odd jobs to support himself along the way. Upon arrival in Paris in 1837, Vuitton became an apprentice at a successful box-making and packing workshop – a craft that was highly respected at the time. Within a few years he had gained a reputation as one of the best in his field in the city.
Louis Vuitton’s fortunes rose again in 1853 when he was appointed the personal box-maker and packer of the Empress of France, Eugenie de Montijo – the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Empress charged Vuitton with beautifully packaging her clothes. In 1854 Vuitton married 17-year-old Clemence-Emilie Parriaux. Shortly afterwards he left the shop he had apprenticed for and opened his own box-making and packing workshop in Paris. He also began creating his trunks in canvas instead of leather, which gave them the advantage of being hard-wearing and waterproof. Four years later, Vuitton introduced stackable rectangular shaped trunks to a market in which they had previously been rounded. In 1867 Vuitton was awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle, an international exposition organized by Napoleon and held in Paris, which further increased the popularity of his work. Vuitton introduced a trunk in a beige and red striped canvas in 1872. The design appealed to the new Parisian elite and helped secure the brand’s position as a luxury offering. In 1889 Vuitton won a gold medal and the grand prize at the Exposition Universelle, which once again helped to bolster the popularity of his work. Vuitton continued to work until his death at the age of 72 on February 27, 1892. He left control of the company to his son, Georges Vuitton. In 1896 Georges Vuitton created the famous LV monogram canvas – featuring diamonds, circles and flowers – to distinguish the brand’s products. In 1914 the Louis Vuitton building, the largest travel-goods store in world, was opened on the Champs-Élysées. Stores also opened in New York, Bombay, Washington, London, Alexandria, and Buenos Aires as World War I began.
Bag shapes that remain popular fashion staples today were introduced throughout the 1900s. The Steamer bag, a smaller piece designed to be kept inside the luggage trunks, was introduced in 1901. The Keepall bag was debuted in 1930 followed by the Noé bag, which was originally designed to carry Champagne, in 1932, and, in 1966, the cylindrical Pappillon bag. Thanks to advances in technology and a new coating process, a supple version of the monogram canvas was created in 1959.
During the period 1945-200, Louis Vuitton began to incorporate leather into most of its products, which ranged from small purses and wallets to larger pieces of luggage. In order to broaden its line, the company revamped its signature Monogram Canvas in 1959 making it more supple and allowing it to be used for purses, bags, and wallets. In 1978 the label opened its first stores in Japan: in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1983, the company joined with America’s Cup to form the Louis Vuitton Cup, a preliminary competition for the yacht race. Louis Vuitton later expanded its presence in Asia with the opening of a store in Taipei, Taiwan in 1983 and Seoul, South Korea in 1984. In the following year, 1985, the Epi leather line was introduced.
In 1987, Moët et Chandon and Hennessy merged with Louis Vuitton to form the luxury goods conglomerate. By 1989, Louis Vuitton came to operate 130 stores worldwide. Entering the 1990s, Yves Carcelle was named president of LV, and in 1992, his brand opened its first Chinese location at the Palace Hotel in Beijing.
In 1997 Marc Jacobs was appointed the house’s first creative director. At the time, Jacobs told US Vogue: “What I have in mind are things that are deluxe but that you can also throw into a bag and escape town with, because Louis Vuitton has a heritage in travel.” In March 1997 he designed and introduced the company’s first “prêt-à-porter” line of clothing for men and women. Also in this year products introduced included the Monogram Vernis line, the LV scrapbooks, and the Louis Vuitton City Guide. Jacobs collaborated with designer Stephen Sprouse in 2001 to create a limited-edition line of bags featuring “Louis Vuitton” written in graffiti over the monogram pattern. The graffiti read Louis Vuitton and, on certain bags, the name of the bag (such as Keepall and Speedy). Certain pieces, which featured the graffiti without the Monogram Canvas background, were only available on Louis Vuitton’s V.I.P. customer list. Jacobs also created the charm bracelet, the first ever piece of jewelry from LV, within the same year.
The house has cultivated a strong celebrity following under Jacobs’ direction and many models, actors and musicians have been the face of the brand. For the Core Values campaign, introduced in 2007 and aimed at showcasing the brand’s travel roots, celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Bono, Sean Connery, Keith Richards and Catherine Deneuve have appeared. Other campaigns have included Natalia Vodianova, Christy Turlington and Kate Elson for autumn/winter 2010-11; Madonna for spring/summer 2009; Diane Kruger, Chloe Sevigny, Christina Ricci and Scarlett Johanssen for spring/summer 2007; Scarlett Johanssen for autumn/winter 2004-05; and Jennifer Lopez for autumn/winter 2003-04.
In 2002, the Tambour watch collection was introduced. During this year, the LV building in Tokyo’s Ginza district was opened. In 2003, Takashi Murakami, in collaboration with Marc Jacobs, masterminded the new Monogram Multicolore canvas range of handbags and accessories. This range included the monograms of the standard Monogram Canvas, but in 33 different colors on either a white or black background. Murakami also created the Cherry Blossom pattern, in which smiling cartoon faces in the middle of pink and yellow flowers were sporadically placed atop the Monogram Canvas. This pattern appeared on a limited number of pieces. The production of this limited-edition run was discontinued in June 2003. Within 2003, the stores in Moscow, Russia and in New Delhi, India were opened. In 2004, Louis Vuitton celebrated its 150th anniversary. The brand also inaugurated stores in New York City, São Paulo, Mexico City, Cancun and Johannesburg. It also opened its first global store in Shanghai. By 2005, Louis Vuitton reopened its Champs-Élysées store in Paris designed by the American Architect Eric Carlson, and released the Speedy watch collection. In 2008, Louis Vuitton released the Damier Graphite canvas. The canvas features the classic Damier pattern but in black and grey, giving it a masculine look and urban feel. Also in 2008, Pharrell Williams co-designed a series of jewelry (“Blason”) and glasses for Louis Vuitton. In 2010, Louis Vuitton opened what it described as their most luxurious store in London. In early 2011, Louis Vuitton hired Kim Jones as its “Men Ready-to-Wear Studio and Style Director”. He became the lead designer of menswear while working under the company-wide artistic directorship of Marc Jacobs. On 17 September 2011, Louis Vuitton opened its first Island Maison in Singapore, the first ‘maison’ to be opened in South-east Asia. As of September 2013 the company hired Darren Spaziani to lead its accessory collection. On 4 November 2013, the company confirmed that Nicolas Ghesquière had been hired to replace Marc Jacobs as artistic director of women’s collections. Ghesquière’s first line for the company was shown in Paris in March 2014.
In 2012 Louis Vuitton was named the world’s most valuable luxury brand for the seventh year in a row in a study conducted by Millward Brown Optimor. Valued at $25.9 billion (£16.5 billion) it beat Hermes, valued at $19.1 billion (£12.1 billion) in second place and Rolex, at $7.17 billion (£4.57 billion) in third place.
The famous trunk maker with a pioneering spirit and all the tradition of a manufacturer has been seeking perfection for almost 160 years. Today, Louis Vuitton continues to expand its know-how with further innovations, passing on its heritage as it looks to the future.