In a mysterious small hamlet no longer recognized by modern geographers (though historians concur that it lied in the mountainous region of Eastern Jura), Louis Vuitton was born in the golden summer of 1821.
Young Vuitton spent the majority of his childhood surrounded by heavily wooded massifs and blue satiny lakes. However, the rustic lifestyle proved too slow for Master Vuitton’s burgeoning taste. And so at the plucky age of 16, his ambition took him to the bustling metropolis. In Paris, he apprenticed at a workshop belonging to a lauded luggage and trunk-maker, Monsieur Marechal. He stayed on for 17 years.
During this time, Paris was artfully shaping itself as the stronghold of good taste and fashionable manners. Men wore suits and critiqued art; women donned crinoline skirts and tête-à-têted. Polished society flirted with notions of adventure and exploration; “Bon voyage” was the word du jour. For seasonal trips to country villas or travels to more exotic locations, the skills of trunk makers and professional packers were much in demand.
After leaving his long-time position with Monsieur Marechal, Louis Vuitton opened his own atelier. The year to remember is 1854. Business sailed smoothly for the first four years, that is, until a prodigious game-changer blew in. His newly debuted trunk was rectangular in shape (more stackable) and covered in grey canvas (better against the inclemency).
Vuitton’s artistic designs combined with the practicality of his trunks left a pleasant impression on the beholder, custodian and proprietor alike. Amongst his notable clientele was the Empress of France, Eugénie de Montijo – her husband was Napoleon III. Madame de Montijo frequently switched her abode to more enticing locales, according to the seasons, and oftentimes called for Mr. Vuitton’s unparalleled expertise to box up her costume jewellery, and, lest we forget, her actual jewellery, so that she could leave with grace and arrive in style. It was through her patronage that Mr. Vuitton was able to cultivate a legion of aristocratic patrons, and thus solidify Vuitton’s image as a brand of luxury and celebrity.
Louis Vuitton died in 1892; he was 70 years old. The company’s reins passed to his son, Georges Vuitton. A qualified craftsman and ambitious entrepreneur, as was his father, Mr. Vuitton Jr. shepherded the corporation to new heights. He enhanced his father’s audacious legacy (elegance and functionality must endure the harshest of critics: time) by designing the company’s LV monogram, introduced in 1896. At the time, Mr. Vuitton Jr. thought such a pattern would put a stop to the mushrooming number of counterfeits on sale at the markets. Ironically, the pattern became the most counterfeited motif in fashion history.
The monogram canvas was revamped in 1959. The graphics stayed, but a new state-of the-art coating method was applied, allowing the fabric to maintain its suppleness while adding durability.
In 1987, leading champagne manufacturer, Moët et Chandon, and gargantuan distiller, Hennessy, merged with Louis Vuitton to form the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH (its parent company is Christian Dior S.A.). Current CEO Bernard Arnault compared his fashion blockbuster to “a luxury Microsoft.”
For a long time Louis Vuitton was not a full fashion house like its counterparts Chanel and Dior, which produced ready-to-wear and haute couture. To expand the purview of the label, Marc Jacobs (with a confirmatory nod from Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour) was installed as LV’s creative director in 1997. Unlike other designers in the top job of rival fashion houses, Mr. Jacobs had no archives to draw inspiration from. One could say it was an adventure – one into the high-stake territory of high fashion. But like Mr. Vuitton’s game-changing trunk in 1858, Mr. Jacobs’s off-the-rack inception was a trendsetter. A series of small serendipitous lines soon followed suit, from handbags to watches and fine jewellery.
True to Louis Vuitton’s reach-for-the-stars reputation, Mr. Jacobs cast full-time singer and moonlighting actress, Jennifer Lopez, in a raunchy advertising campaign shoot. This first campaign was followed by a chart of stars that epitomized the house’s much prized glamour, namely Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and mega-supermodel Gisele Bündchen. But Mr. Jacobs also perceived that the LV trademark was a winner in its arena. Thus to complement glittering faces, celebrated living-legends were drafted, viz. moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, and multi-medalled swimmer Michael Phelps.
Another momentous strategy which Mr. Jacobs implemented to keep habitual and potential buyers (not to mention copycats) on their toes was via periodic collaborations with prominent artist. A successful blending of high-art and haute fashion saw an outstanding collaboration between Louis Vuitton and contemporary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, resulting in the famed multicolored monogram bag.
It should come as no surprise that production at the Louis Vuitton’s workshop is tightly controlled to maintain its track record of exclusivity. In fact, demand always far exceeds supply by tenfold. And prices are never reduced, ever. Thus, ‘liquidation’ takes the cases of Vuitton on a different journey than do commonplace outlets: the End.