Louis Vuitton elevated travel to an art, with his revolutionary trunks laying the foundations of the colossal luxury emporium that bears his name.
It will come as no surprise to anybody that Louis Vuitton is the undisputed king of luxury. With a brand value of $29.2 billion in 2017, Louis Vuitton is the leader of the luxury pack, outstripping houses like Cartier, Chanel and Hermès.
What might come as a surprise, though, is the fact that this giant luxury label did not start life in the lap of luxury: far from it. Diligence, ingenuity and the invention of the flat-topped stackable trunk were behind Louis Vuitton’s rags-to-riches tale. Join us on this fact-filled journey and discover how an impoverished runaway built an empire on a trunk.
Travelling in style
With the advent of more extensive and exotic shipping and train routes, travellers and explorers needed specific luggage to transport their kit. Commissions poured in and replica Louis Vuitton crafted luggage and boxes for a new generation of affluent men and women on the move, converting a necessary, utilitarian item into a luxury product.
One of Louis Vuitton’s most popular products was the deluxe vertical steamer trunk, a portable wardrobe with compartments and hanging space, allowing a traveller to dress without having to unpack. Other curiosities included a leather box designed to house all the volumes of Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time and a box for the Maharaja de Baroda, once the ruler of India’s most powerful princely states, to transport his silver tea set while travelling. Another ingenious invention was Louis Vuitton’s trunk with a folding bed, below, designed for the French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza for his expedition to the Congo in 1876.
Flat-top trunks: the birth of modern luggage
Producing beautiful trunks was not enough for this pragmatic impresario. In keeping with the realities of travelling to exotic destinations, his trunks would be able to take a beating and still look brand new. They would be lighter, more resilient, with an entirely new physiognomy.
One of the biggest problems with conventional trunks in the 19th century was the dome-shaped lid, making them impossible to stack and occupying valuable space in the hold. Vuitton’s Eureka moment came in 1858 with the creation of a flat-topped, rectangular trunk that could be stacked. Instead of using hide to cover the flat-top trunks, which could get mouldy and smelly in the tropics, Vuitton used canvas over the poplar wood frame. Lightweight, water-resistant, airtight and odourless, his distinctive Trianon grey canvas trunks became the must-have travel gear for affluent globetrotters.
The iconography of a brand
There was one problem, though: all the luggage looked the same. The scramble played out on chaotic quays and railway platforms around the world, with porters struggling to identify the luggage of their clients, prompting Louis Vuitton to offer his customers a simple solution in the form of a bespoke tag.
Anything was possible and eye-catching monograms, crests, stripes, initials and geometric motifs in bright colours were painted on the luggage, allowing porters to pick out their patron’s belongings at a glance.
Downsizing from trunks to replica bags
During World War I, the Louis Vuitton outlet factory in Asnières was used to make folding stretchers for the front and luxurious products were temporarily taken out of production. However, by the late 1920s the world’s richest and most stylish clients were placing orders again. Coco Chanel, the Aga Khan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Vanderbilts were devoted clients of the brand, and even the legendary American pilot Charles Lindbergh ordered two suitcases after his epic transatlantic flight in 1927.
Many of the most desirable Louis Vuitton replica handbags available today are in fact the descendants of models introduced at the turn of the last century. The famous Alma bag can trace its ancestry to the Steamer bag, a humble linen and night bag designed to keep trunk drawers tidy and your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones.
The Keepall bag appeared in 1930 and, as its name suggests, was a handy supple travel companion that could be stuffed with goodies. The Noé bag of 1932 was originally conceived to transport five bottles of champagne and its bucket shape is still going strong.
A global luxury empire is born
Ten years after the merger with LVMH in 1987, the board of directors felt it was time to venture beyond luggage and recruited star designer Marc Jacobs to create the first men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections. Succeeded by Nicolas Ghesquière in 2013, the creative designer has rejuvenated the LV monogram and insisted on incorporating the replica LV monogram in just about any product imaginable.
Louis Vuitton is the goose that lays the golden eggs for LVHM, tempting consumers from all income brackets to enter its luxury portal with products ranging from a £180 bottle of perfume to a high jewellery diamond and tourmaline necklace worth millions.