Gloria Vanderbilt, Sarah Bernhardt, designers Paul Poiret and Jeanne Lanvin, Ernest Hemingway, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Coco Chanel…The people that have traveled with Louis Vuitton trunks—on everything from stagecoaches to trains and trans-Atlantic steamboats—are among the most stylish and glamorous in history. For some customers, only customized versions would do: the khedive of Egypt Isma’il Pasha flew to Paris in 1869 to order a number of the trunks made with special racks for storing, preserving, and transporting fresh fruit in preparation for the inauguration of the Suez Canal; screen star Greta Garbo requested one for carrying only her vast collection of shoes; Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld owns some designed specifically to accommodate his audio equipment: iPods, iPads and JBL speakers. If not for their proven durability, functionality and reliability, then at least for their versatility can one accurately call the Louis Vuitton trunk the leading lady of luggage.
The first trunk was covered in Trianon gray canvas and had a flat lid like the ones in our sale—a revolutionary feature that made stacking them an option. (Most trunks at the time had arched tops, which were believed to deter water from settling in.) In 1872, the striped canvas style—vertical bands on a beige background—became the house signature, and three years later, in 1875, the famous wardrobe trunk was revealed, forever changing the way that people packed for long-distance trips. At last, jet-setters could carry the entire contents of their closets in impeccable order, without worrying that their garments would get ruined in transit.
Today, Louis Vuitton trunks represent a bygone era of excessive packing and superstrong porters. That said, because they were built to last, many of the oldest ones remain so beautifully intact that, today, they’re suitable to popular, new purposes: as coffee tables and chic storage boxes, for example. Indeed, the trunks on sale —most of which date back to the early 20th century—retain all of the elegance of the early days of international travel and would make perfect companions both abroad and at home.
Many are familiar with the Birkin bag’s backstory, but for good measure, let’s review. In 1981, Hermès former chief executive officer Jean-Louis Dumas met the English actress and singer Jane Birkin on an airplane en route to London. Ms. Birkin was frustrated because she couldn’t find a good weekend bag, Dumas asked her to tell him what that perfect bag might look like, and 3 years later in 1984 he sent her exactly the bag she’d described—a shorter and wider version of Hermès’s classic Haut à Courroies (HAC) shopper, aptly named the “Birkin.”
Our sale includes 15 expertly-curated Birkin bags. The variety is extensive: pink, purple, yellow, blue black, and white leather, with gold tone or silver palladium metal hardware, to start (indeed, the question here is less of a “what if” than a “which one,” we think). Having reservations about buying a used one? Consider that Jane Birkin, who has owned four of her namesake bags, wears them to pieces and actually recommends beating them up a bit. “A Birkin bag is a very good rain hat,” she told Vogue recently. “There’s no fun in a bag that’s not kicked around, so that it looks as if the cat’s been sitting on it.”
What Ms. Birkin’s is saying, essentially, is that it’s all about personality, that which you bring to the bag, and that which the bag brings to you. All of the handbags in this sale––from the sequin-covered Chanel purse to the Hermès pouch designed exclusively for the art book publisher Visionaire—are uniquely expressive and exclusive. Some come with a story: the Hermès Le Cas Du Sac shoppers, striped with pieces of the brand’s silk scarves, were made for an exhibition at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris in 2004; Louis Vuitton’s football (yes, an actual football) was created to celebrate the World Cup, hosted by France in 1998. Each tote, clutch and carryall has its own singular history and built-in style. It’s how you twist it and make it your own that matters most.
“Jewelry should be viewed with innocence, with artlessness, just as we enjoy the sight of an apple tree in blossom at the side of the road as we speed past in a motor car,” said Coco Chanel. An early fan and designer of costume jewelry, Madame Chanel approached accessorizing with terrific style, grace and—most importantly, perhaps—humor. “A woman should mix fake and real. To ask a woman to wear real jewelry only is like asking her to cover herself with real flowers instead of flowery silk prints. She’d look faded in a few hours,” she said.
Our sale is full of apple trees in blossom, so to speak—dazzling faux pieces that’ll catch eyes while crossing crowded rooms; that will flash brightly on dance floors, and look fresh from mid-day to midnight. Much of our jewelry—an Yves Saint Laurent charm belt, a spyglass necklace and earrings from Chanel—is from the 1980s and exhibits that decade’s love of all things overtly glamorous and sexy. Other earlier pieces, like the gilt Schiaparelli cuff and Miriam Haskell choker, pendant, and earrings, reflect their era’s standards for women’s modesty, reserve and properness-via-pearls. What all of the pieces have in common is a sense of playfulness and modernity that transcends time and place. As our guest Laure Heriard Dubreuil shows, pairing these baubles with less formal looks (white t-shirts and daring necklines, for example), will—to use Madame Chanel’s metaphor—keep them from wilting today and for decades to come.