A Brief History of Louis Vuitton | Savoir Flair

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Fashion
A Brief History of Louis Vuitton
article JEAN LARIVIÈRE | LOUIS VUITTON
by Savoir Flair 10-minute read January 12, 2024

From a modest workshop to the pinnacle of luxury fashion, Louis Vuitton's history is a masterclass in style and craftsmanship.

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1821

Louis Vuitton was born in Eastern France.

The brand’s founder, Louis Vuitton, was born in 1821 in Anchay, a small village in the mountains of Eastern France. Descended from a humble family – Vuitton’s ancestry included five generations of carpenters, farmers, and milliners – the stubborn and headstrong youngster ran away from home at the age of 13, yearning for the excitement of Paris. Vuitton traveled for over two years, taking odd jobs along his journey to make ends meet. When he turned 16, he finally arrived in Paris on foot, eager and excited to explore the city where anything seemed possible. As a box-making apprentice to Monsieur Marechal, the young Vuitton gained key skills in packaging and preserving, quickly building a reputation for himself as a master craftsman and earning a cult following among the Parisian elite.

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1853

Empress Eugénie granted royal patronage to young Louis Vuitton.

By the time Louis Vuitton was 30, his client list had extended into the very pinnacle of French royalty. In 1853, Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III and the most powerful woman in France at the time, hired Vuitton as her personal box-maker. A stylish and daring figure, Empress Eugénie had real confidence in the young designer. With her royal patronage in tow, Vuitton began to see the doors open to the possibility of creating his own company.

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1854

Louis Vuitton opened a workshop in Paris.

In 1854, Louis Vuitton revolutionized luggage design by producing his first flat-topped trunks, which he covered in Trianon gray canvas. This innovation came shortly after he opened his own custom box-making and packing workshop on Rue Neuve-des-Capucines in Paris. Prior to this, chests typically featured domed lids, designed to let rainwater run off, and were often nailed and covered with leather.

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1858

The introduction of flat trunks.

A mere four years after opening his store, Vuitton revolutionized the trade by displaying his first series of flat trunks in 1858. These flat trunks, which to this day are considered the birth of modern luggage, were innovative and elegant. They were much lighter, resistant to odor and water, and rectangular in shape, perfect for stacking. This design innovation came during the mid-19th century, a period of transportation boom following the invention of the steam engine, creating a higher demand for luxurious baggage.

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1859

Louis Vuitton opened a large factory in Asnières.

To accommodate skyrocketing sales and a burgeoning international clientele, including the Khedive of Egypt, Louis Vuitton expanded his operations in 1859 by founding new workshops in Asnières, just a mile outside the gates of Paris. The Asnières factory, with its innovative metal and glass construction reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, not only mirrored the quality and comfort of Louis Vuitton products but also filled the workspace with light. By 1888, the heart of the Asnières workshops was bustling, employing 30 people, and symbolizing the growing success of his trunk-making enterprise.

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1868

Louis Vuitton developed an elite clientele including royalty.

Louis Vuitton’s exceptional articles won him an elite following. Vuitton created the trunk bed for legendary explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, which helped bolster his reputation as the master of designs for travels to distant lands. The trunk bed, one of Louis Vuitton’s cult objects, was first designed around 1868, prior to Savorgnan de Brazza's expedition to the Congo.

At the 1869 inauguration of the Suez Canal, Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, topped the list of heads of state placing special orders with Louis Vuitton. 

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1870

The company recovered from the Franco-Prussian war.

The Franco-Prussian war brought about the destruction of Louis Vuitton's cherished Asnières workspace, but undeterred and steadfast, he swiftly rebuilt a new shop at the upscale 1, Rue Scribe. This relocation not only marked a shift towards luxury luggage but also signified an early outreach to an international clientele, as indicated by handbills advertising the shop's new address and specifically mentioning that English was spoken. Vuitton's determination to overcome obstacles and adapt to new circumstances paved the way for this aristocratic location to become a hub of luxury luggage innovation.

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1872

The monochrome beige palette became a signature of the brand.

Vuitton introduces a trunk in beige-and-red striped canvas. From this point forward, the monochrome beige palette becomes one of the house’s signature designs. The much-imitated Trianon gray trunk gave way to one covered in canvas and red stripes on a beige background. The model shown here was made for Sultan Abdülhamid II.

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1885

Louis Vuitton opened a store in London.

Louis Vuitton opened his first store in London in 1885 on Oxford Street, his second on the Strand in 1889, and the third on New Bond Street (pictured).

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1888

The year of the creation of the Damier canvas.

For the first time in the company's history, the Louis Vuitton registered trademark appears on the Damier canvas, a checkerboard pattern created in 1888 and reintroduced in 1996, symbolizing the brand's hallmark design.

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1889

The Damier Canvas at the Exposition Universelle.

Louis Vuitton displayed the Damier canvas at the Exposition Universelle and won a gold medal for his wardrobe trunks and garment bag. The Eiffel Tower (shown at an early stage of construction) was the real star of the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889.

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1890

The tumbler lock was invented.

In 1890, Georges Ferréol Vuitton, the only son of Louis Vuitton, introduced the tumbler lock to the brand's creations, effectively transforming them into secure safes, each fitted with a unique, numbered key. He even boldly challenged the renowned escape artist Houdini to open one in a public display.

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1892

Georges Vuitton inherited his father's company.

Georges Vuitton assumed control of the family business in 1880, managing the boutique while his father concentrated on design. Shortly after Louis Vuitton's death in 1892, Georges expanded the brand's reach overseas, introduced the iconic monogrammed canvas, and designed a tamper-proof lock. 

Georges Vuitton continued to lead and grow the Louis Vuitton empire until his own passing in 1936.

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1896

The invention of the signature LV monogram canvas.

In an attempt to prevent plagiarism, Georges Vuitton creates the monogram canvas, which features a botanical pattern and the LV initials. On March 21, 1905, the company filed a trademark and trade certificate of deposit for the monogram canvas with the National Office of Industrial Property. The monogram canvas remains a lasting symbol of modern luxury to this day. 

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Monogram Motif

The architectural detail of the Doge's Palace in Venice showcases a stunning quatrefoil motif carved in stone, reminiscent of the timeless and universally appealing design found on Louis Vuitton's monogram. This motif, which appears in various civilizations, adds to its enduring charm.

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The Four Historic Canvases

Clockwise from top left: The Monogram canvas (1896), the Damier canvas (1888), the Trianon gray canvas (1854), and the striped canvas (1872).

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1897

Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the son of Georges and grandson of Louis, joins the company.

Gaston-Louis Vuitton, a key figure in the Vuitton legacy, infused his eclectic interests and travel vision into the family business. An avid collector, he gathered antiques and travel memorabilia, influencing the House's designs and products. His artistic collaborations led to functional yet aesthetic items, like his uniquely designed attaché-case with a discreet document slot, exemplifying the brand's blend of innovation and craftsmanship.

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1914

The company opened a shop in Champs-Élysées, Paris.

Georges Vuitton opens the largest store for travel articles in the world, the Vuitton Building, at 70, Champs-Élysées. It will be the company’s Paris address until 1954. The Champs-Élysées, building, whose facade is now classified as a landmark, represents its era’s latest trend, halfway between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

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1914

The company opened a shop in Champs-Élysées, Paris.

The store bears an amusing resemblance to Louis Vuitton’s shoe trunk.

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1926

The brand launched three perfumes.

In 1926, Louis Vuitton introduced its first perfume, Heures d’Absence, and subsequently released Je, Tu, Il, Reminiscences, and Sur la Route. The Heures d’Absence perfume even featured a unique box shaped like a milepost.

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1932

The brand introduced a variety of bag shapes.

A variety of bag shapes were introduced during the 1900s – from the Steamer bag (pictured) in 1901 to the Keepall bag in 1930 and the Noè bag in 1932, which was originally designed following a request from a champagne producer for a bag that could carry five bottles at a time. In 1966, the Papillon bag was born. All of these supple bags represent an era during which freedom and lack of structure dominated.

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1932

The brand introduced a variety of bag shapes.

The Keepall, one of the earliest pieces of lightweight and flexible luggage, quickly gained popularity and came to symbolize a new approach to travel, making it one of Louis Vuitton's most sought-after items.

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1970

Henry Racamier took over the company after Gaston-Louis' death.

Gaston-Louis Vuitton – third generation of Vuittons – passed away in 1970. In 1977, Henry Racamier, his son-in-law, assumes the presidency. The 1970s were a period of re-launch and rapid development for Louis Vuitton. The house grew in the early 1970s from having two exclusive stores and 11 million euros in sale to 125 stores generating 600 million Euros by 1989.

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1978

Louis Vuitton began working with Jean Larivière.

Louis Vuitton initiated its collaboration with the renowned photographer Jean Larivière. Over the course of more than 30 years, Jean Larivière traveled the globe, capturing "the spirit of travel" on film and creating campaigns for the brand. Some of his notable works include a photograph of a camel caravan in Pushkar, India from 1988, scenes from the Ladakh Mountains in 1987, and a moonlit view of the Asnières workshop dating back to 1984.

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1987

Louis Vuitton merges with Moët Hennessy.

The merger between Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy marked a significant milestone in the luxury industry, resulting in the formation of the LVMH Luxury Conglomerate. This conglomerate is renowned for its vast portfolio of prestigious brands encompassing fashion, wine, spirits, and cosmetics. With a rich heritage and a global presence, LVMH has consistently set industry standards for luxury and craftsmanship. It has continued to expand its reach and influence in the world of high-end consumer goods, making it one of the most prominent players in the luxury sector.

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1989

Introduction of the Louis Vuitton Classic car show and competition.

The introduction of the Louis Vuitton Classic car show and competition in 1989 marked a unique fusion of luxury fashion and automotive craftsmanship. This prestigious event celebrated the world's most exceptional vintage automobiles, attracting collectors, enthusiasts, and automotive aficionados from around the globe. Over the years, it evolved into a showcase of not only classic cars but also a platform for innovation and design within the automotive industry. 

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1992

The Alma City bag was created.

Inspired by the design of the house’s luggage during the 1930s, the Alma City bag is born and quickly becomes one of the brand’s most iconic pieces. 

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1997

Marc Jacobs became Creative Director.

Marc Jacobs was appointed as Louis Vuitton's Creative Director in 1997 and was tasked with creating a ready-to-wear collection. His tenure at the fashion house lasted until 2014, during which he left a significant imprint on Louis Vuitton's fashion legacy, blending the brand's traditional craftsmanship with contemporary trends.

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1998

Louis Vuitton began producing ready-to-wear and shoes.

The first Louis Vuitton ready-to-wear and shoe collections, designed by Marc Jacobs, are produced. The process of creation for a Louis Vuitton shoe requires six to eight months of meticulous work from the first design to the finished product.

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2001

Louis Vuitton collaborated with artists and designers.

With a commitment to becoming a global luxury brand, Louis Vuitton branches out into watches, jewelry, sunglasses, and fashion accessories. Fashion designer and artist Stephen Sprouse designed limited-edition graffiti logo bags for the house, which sold out instantly.

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2004

The brand turned 150 years old.

In 2004, Louis Vuitton commemorated its 150th anniversary with grand celebrations and remarkable displays. To mark this milestone, the brand crafted elaborate installations, including the recreation of a colossal travel trunk adorned with gold initials, prominently displayed on the iconic Champs-Élysées in Paris. Simultaneously, Louis Vuitton expanded its global presence, opening a boutique on the historic Red Square in Moscow. This marked a significant moment in the company's international expansion efforts, with new stores springing up in key locations like Bombay, Shanghai, and South Africa, solidifying Louis Vuitton's status as a renowned luxury fashion house with a worldwide reach.

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2011

The house hired Kim Jones as its menswear Style Director.

In a strategic move to enhance its menswear division, Louis Vuitton hired Kim Jones as its menswear Style Director. Kim Jones made a significant impact during his tenure, bringing fresh perspectives and modern aesthetics to Louis Vuitton's menswear collections. His collaborations, like the one with Supreme, gained widespread acclaim and attracted a younger, fashion-forward audience. Kim Jones served in this role until 2018.

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2012

Louis Vuitton collaborated with Yayoi Kusama.

In one of its most famous collaborations to date, Louis Vuitton teams up with conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama. The collaboration, initially launched in 2012 and later relaunched in 2020, showcases Kusama's iconic polka dots and vibrant artistic elements in the collection, creating a striking fusion of fashion and art.

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2013

Louis Vuitton opened a flagship store in the Middle East.

Louis Vuitton continued its journey in the Middle East with the opening of a flagship store in Kuwait, at The Avenues, in May 2013. For the first time in the Middle East, the exclusive Haute Maroquinerie salon was available, offering women a dedicated made-to-order leather goods service in the Kuwait store. This Kuwait opening also marked the 30th year of Louis Vuitton’s presence in the Middle East. In addition to Kuwait, Louis Vuitton can now be found in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, and Qatar.

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2013

Louis Vuitton collaborated with Tunisian artist eL Seed.

In 2013, Louis Vuitton made history by collaborating with the Tunisian artist eL Seed for the first time. This partnership was part of Louis Vuitton's Foulard d'Artistes project, featuring eL Seed's design on its iconic silk square. eL Seed's rendition of the Louis Vuitton scarf included verses from a poem called "Venice Carnival" by Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, paying tribute to Venice's historical openness to the Eastern world. The scarf blended eL Seed's art with the Louis Vuitton Monogram pattern, with one half in fuchsia and the other revealing the iconic motif through a delicate filigree. 

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2014

Louis Vuitton appointed Nicolas Ghesquière as Artistic Director.

In 2014, Nicolas Ghesquière was appointed as the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton's women's collections, succeeding Marc Jacobs. In his role, Ghesquière has been instrumental in reinvigorating Louis Vuitton's womenwear collections, bringing a contemporary and innovative vision to the brand's iconic designs.

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2018

Virgil Abloh was appointed as Men's Artistic Director.

Virgil Abloh was appointed as the Men's Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton in March 2018, making history as one of the few Black designers at the helm of a major luxury fashion house. His innovative approach and collaborations with other artists significantly influenced Louis Vuitton's menswear collections. Tragically, Virgil Abloh passed away in November 2021, leaving behind a profound impact on the fashion world.

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2023

Louis Vuitton appointed Pharrell Williams as its new Men’s Creative Director.

Pharrell Williams was named the new Men's Creative Director in February 2023, a major move in the fashion world. Louis Vuitton praised Williams as a visionary with a multi-faceted creative background encompassing music, art, and fashion. Williams debuted his first Louis Vuitton collection in June during Men's Fashion Week in Paris. The American musician and entrepreneur has a history of collaborations with fashion brands, including Louis Vuitton, adidas, Moncler, and Chanel, as well as his own ventures like Billionaire Boys Club and Humanrace skincare. This appointment follows the passing of Virgil Abloh, a pioneer in luxury streetwear and diversity in fashion.

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Everyone is Wearing Louis Vuitton

Around 170 years ago, Louis Vuitton founded a company that would revolutionize the art of travel and fashion. Today, it is one of the world’s most embraced luxury brands. Below, take a look at a few of our favorite icons — past and present — wearing Louis Vuitton.

article LOUIS VUITTON

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gallery Lily Pons with Alzer in Monogram, 1938 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Audrey Hepburn with a Monogram Trunk in the movie 'Love Afternoon,' 1957 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim with a Speedy and a President in Monogram, 1969 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Princess Diana with a Poche toilette in Monogram, 1996 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Naomi Campbell with the Keepall, Boite Chapeaux, and other pieces, 1998 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Sarah Jessica Parker with the Pochette, 2000 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Mariah Carey with the Montsouris Backpack, 1999 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Kate Moss with a Keepall in Monogram, 2006 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Angelina Jolie with a Noè in Monogram, 2013 | LOUIS VUITTON
gallery Reese Witherspoon with the Neverfull, 2014 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Jennifer Aniston with a Petite Malle clutch, 2017 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Hailey Bieber with the Multi-Pochette Accessories, 2019 | SPLASHNEWS.COM
gallery Boyband BTS with Louis Vuitton bags, 2021 | GETTY IMAGES
gallery Rihanna spotted with a Louis Vuitton clutch in Los Angeles, 2023 | GETTY IMAGES
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