Louis Vuitton was born in 1821 in the mountain town of Anchay, in eastern France. At around age 13, he set off on foot to find his fortune in Paris. It was a journey of some 300 miles, and it took him more than two years.
Arriving in Paris at age 16, Vuitton became an apprentice to a box manufacturer. In his early 30s he designed a flat-topped trunk that could be stacked — a radical innovation, as hitherto trunks had featured curved lids. Hired as the personal box-maker and packer to Eugenie, Empress of France, Vuitton became the travel goods manufacturer of choice among the aristocracy.
Passed from father to son, Vuitton’s business grew to include clothing, shoes, jewellery and, of course, handbags. Its iconic offerings have included the Keepall, released in 1930; the Noé, from 1932; the Alma, from 1934; Stephen Sprouse’s 2001 Graffiti bag; Takashi Murakami’s 2003 Monogram Mulitcolore; the Neverfull tote, released in 2007; and the Capucines, from 2013.
Loyal customers have ranged from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Kim Kardashian; design collaborators have included Marc Newson, Frank Gehry and Cindy Sherman.
One of the reasons Louis Vuitton has so many followers is quite simple: the house makes pieces that are above all highly functional. Thoughtful design and durable materials are the hallmarks of a Louis Vuitton bag. The Keepall, for example, is completely waterproof, while the Boreal briefcase in Taiga leather — made from smooth calfskin — is one of the most durable on the market.
Twice a year, Louis Vuitton releases its runway collection handbags. Known as show bags, these pieces are produced in extremely limited quantities and only made available to VIP clients and in the largest Vuitton stores worldwide. Often more exaggerated and complicated than the collection pieces, show bags stand out for their intricate materials and craftsmanship. They are generally numbered and always marked with the season and collection in which they were produced. Perhaps the most important of these is the 2001 Graffiti, followed by the 2003 Multicolore.
A brand’s lead director not only guides its artistic vision, but can also steer the brand’s identity. Marc Jacobs, one of the architects of the collectible runway handbag market, arrived at Louis Vuitton in 1997. The acclaimed designer transformed the storied luggage brand into the blockbuster fashion house it is today, introducing the brand’s first-ever ready-to-wear collection. He also launched collaborations with the likes of fashion designer Stephen Sprouse and artist Yayoi Kusama. While staying true to Louis Vuitton’s heritage, Jacobs reinvigorated the brand for a younger generation.
Louis Vuitton’s pioneering relationships with contemporary artists have included projects with Takashi Murakami in 2003 and 2008, and Richard Prince in 2007, who created paint-splattered bags adorned with quotations. In 2013, Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer Kim Jones enlisted Jake and Dinos Chapman to develop a capsule collection known as the 'Garden in Hell'. The floral print they produced featured strange creatures resembling a bloodshot eyeball, and demonic owls.
Louis Vuitton constantly reinvents classic models and looks to the brand’s archive for inspiration. Some models have been produced for over 100 years, while new styles incorporate traditional models and motifs to show the evolution of the brand. The Trunk clutch is a miniaturised version of the piece which first made Monsieur Vuitton a famous, household name.
As technology and social media have amplified the house's reaches, the lines between art, fashion and street culture have blurred. Once trunkmakers to European aristocracy, Louis Vuitton now collaborates with brands like skateboard-maker Supreme, a mainstay of New York City streetwear.
For Fall/Winter 2017, Supreme and Louis Vuitton produced a collection that took the men’s fashion world by storm. The limited-run pieces combine the Louis Vuitton monogram with the Supreme box logo.
Painstakingly crafted in limited quantities from the very best materials and finished in rich, deep colours, Louis Vuitton Exotics represent the finest in quality and craftsmanship. Difficult to find in stores and rarely seen on the auction market, these crocodile, alligator, ostrich and snakeskin pieces are the pinnacle of the Vuitton collector market. The shine on an alligator piece -- such as the burgundy bag above -- surpasses anything that can be crafted in leather.
The brand boasts one of the world’s most exceptional collections of antique trunks, many of which are displayed in its stores around the world. Travel items, such as the Keepall travel bag and the Pégase suitcase, remain some of Vuitton’s best-selling pieces.