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.
Empress Eugénie granted royal patronage to young Louis Vuitton.
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.
Working as a box-making apprentice to Monsieur Marechal, the young Vuitton gained key skills in packaging and preserving. It was not long before he built a reputation for himself as a master craftsman and started to earn a cult following among the Parisian elite. By the time he was 30, his client list had extended into the very pinnacle of French royalty, when 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.
Louis Vuitton opened a workshop in Paris.
In 1854, Vuitton opened his own custom box-making shop, along with a packing workshop, on Rue Neuve-des-Capucines in Paris.
Before Louis Vuitton, chests usually had domed lids that allowed rainwater to run off - they were often nailed and covered with leather
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, which to this day are considered the birth of modern luggage. Why? This innovative and elegant trunk was much lighter, resistant to odor and water, and rectangular in shape, which was perfect for stacking.
The middle of the 19th century also witnessed a transportation boom following the invention of the steam engine, which meant that travelers required a new kind of luxurious baggage, further increasing demand for Vuitton’s creations.
The revolutionary flat trunk in Trianon gray that Louis presented in 1858 was the first luggage of the modern era - its flat shape enabled it to be stacked in a train’s baggage car or in the hold of a ship, and its poplar (wood) frame was covered in canvas
Louis Vuitton opened a large factory in Asnières.
With sales through the roof and orders coming in from all over the world – even the Khedive of Egypt was a customer – Vuitton needed to move to a larger workspace. He settled in Asnières, a village in the French countryside that was only a mile away from the gates of Paris.
To meet the growing success of his trunks, in 1859, Louis Vuitton founded new workshops in Asnières, northwest of Paris. The factory’s innovative metal and glass construction, built similarly to the Eiffel Tower, marked the same standards of quality and comfort as did all Louis Vuitton products, and bathed the workspace in light.
The heart of the Asnières workshops, circa 1888, when the company employed 30 people
Louis Vuitton developed an elite clientele including royalty.
Louis Vuitton’s exceptional articles won him an elite following. 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.
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, before the expedition to the Congo by Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza
The company recovered from the Franco-Prussian war.
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war led to the destruction of Louis Vuitton’s beloved workspace in Asnières. Determined, steadfast, and not one to let obstacles get in his way, he rebuilt a new shop in the ritzy 1, Rue Scribe. With this new store in its aristocratic location came a new focus on luxury luggage.
With a specific mention that English is spoken, a handbill advertises the shop’s change of address, showing an early outreach to foreign clientele
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.
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 (shown opposite in 1924)
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 canvas.
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
The tumbler lock was invented.
Louis Vuitton introduced the tumbler lock, which essentially transformed his creations into safes. He devised each lock with a unique numbered key, and even publicly challenged Houdini to open one.
A poster advertising Vuitton’s historic challenge to the infamous illusionist, Houdini
Georges Vuitton inherited his father's company.
Louis’ son, Georges Vuitton, takes control of the company after his father’s death.
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. The monogram canvas remains a lasting symbol of modern luxury to this day.
The 4 Historic Canvases
Clockwise from top left
The Monogram canvas (1896), the Damier canvas (1888), the Trianon gray canvas (1854), and the striped canvas (1872).
Architectural detail of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, with the quatertfoil in stone - the monogram motif appears in many civilizations, which accounts for its amazingly timeless and universal appeal
Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the son of Georges and grandson of Louis, joins the company.
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.
The store bears an amusing resemblance to Louis Vuitton’s shoe trunk.
The brand launched three perfumes.
The first Louis Vuitton perfume, ‘Heures d’Absence’, launches in 1926. ‘Je, Tu, Il’, ‘Reminiscences’, and ‘Sur la Route’ will later follow.
The brand introduced a variety of bag shapes.
A variety of bag shapes were introduced during the 1900s – from the Steamer bag 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.
The Keepall, which soon became one of the most popular Louis Vuitton articles, was one of the first pieces of light, supple luggage and symbolized a new way of traveling
Henry Racamier took over the company after Gaston-Louis's death.
Gaston-Louis Vuitton (pictured) – 3rd generation of Vuitton – dies. 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 70s from having two exclusive stores and 11 million euros in sale to 125 stores generating 600 million euros by 1989.
Louis Vuitton began working with Jean Larivière.
Louis Vuitton began its collaboration with renowned photographer Jean Larivière. For more than 30 years, Jean Larivière traveled the globe, capturing “the spirit of travel” on film and creating campaigns for the brand.
Camel caravan in Pushkar, India, 1988
In the Ladakh Mountains, 1987
A moonlit vision of the Asnières workshop,1984
A merger between Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy gives birth to the LVMH Luxury Conglomerate.
Introduction of the Louis Vuitton Classic car show and competition.
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.
Marc Jacobs became Creative Director.
Marc Jacobs is named Louis Vuitton’s creative director and is tasked with creating a ready-to-wear collection.
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.
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 designs limited-edition graffiti logo bags for the house, which sell out instantly.
Spearheaded by Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton begins several collaborations with prominent artists and designers.
Pictured: Messenger Bag Fees Tale from 2002, by the English illustrator Julie Verhoeven
Storefront Louis Vuitton concept realized by Robert Wilson for Christmas 2002
The brand turned 150 years old.
Louis Vuitton celebrates its 150th birthday. To mark the occasion, the brand fashions elaborate displays, such as the recreation of a gigantic travel trunk with gold initials on the Champs-élysées.
A Louis Vuitton boutique opens on the Red Square in Moscow in 2004. This year was also a time of global expansion for the company, including the opening of stores in Bombay, Shanghai, and South Africa.
The house hires Kim Jones as its menswear Style Director.
Louis Vuitton collaborated with Yayoi Kusama
In one of its most famous collaborations to date, Louis Vuitton teams up with conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama.
Louis Vuitton opened a flagship store in the Middle East.
Louis Vuitton continues 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 is available, offering women a dedicated made-to-order leather goods service in the Kuwait store.
This Kuwait opening also marks 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.
Louis Vuitton collaborates with Tunisian artist eL Seed.
Everyone is Wearing Louis Vuitton
More than 150 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, a look at a few of our favourite icons - past and present - wearing Louis Vuitton.
Be in the know.
Every day, receive Savoir Flair's top articles straight to your computer or smartphone. It's never been easier to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stories.