Louis Vuitton (1821–1892) was born in Anchay, France to a farmer and milliner. Leaving home at the age of thirteen, Vuitton arrived in Paris at sixteen and found work as an layetier (boxmaker) and emballeur (packer) for seventeen years. Louis opened his eponymous trunk making outlet in 1854, and in 1858 designed a trailblazing flat-lidded, waterproof trunk, encased in canvas and glue. Empress Eugénie of France was one of his earliest clients.
Georges Vuitton devised the brown and beige Louis Vuitton (LV) Monogram pattern canvas to deter zealous counterfeiters in 1896; the canvas featured a repeat pattern of the initials “LV,” as well as diamond, flower, and encircled flower insignias. In 1914, the Vuitton building on the Champs-Élysées became the world’s largest travel goods store. Gaston-Louis Vuitton, of the third generation of Vuittons, collaborated with artists such as Lalique, Conversat, and Rulance on LV luggage fashions in the 1920s. In 1959, Henry-Louis Vuitton produced Monogram bags composed of suppler leather and canvas, rather than the customary canvas and Pegamoid varnish. From 1959 to 1965, Henry-Louis designed approximately 150 new luggage styles.
After the death of Gaston-Louis Vuitton in 1970, two sons-in-law from the Vuitton clan, Henry Racamier and Jean Ogliastro, were charged with reinvigorating sluggish business. Racamier was offered the presidency of Vuitton in 1977. Sales grew from 11 million euros to 600 million euros by 1989. In an effort to diversify the company’s holdings in this period, LV purchased the champagne company Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, as well as fashion companies Givenchy and Loewe International. In 1987, LV merged with luxury wine and spirit company Moët Hennessy. Bernard Arnault, a French businessman who had acquired Dior in 1984, became chairman of what was now know as the LVMH group in 1989. Arnault elected to produce an LV clothing line in 1997 and named Yves Carcelle CEO of Louis Vuitton to aid in this transition. That year, Marc Jacobs was entrusted as the art director of LV, masterminding the debut of their first ready-to-wear and footwear lines.
In 2001, Stephen Sprouse collaborated with Jacobs, writing “Louis Vuitton Paris” graffiti-style on Monogram canvas. Beginning in 2003, and for many years after, Jacobs collaborated with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who recolored and reimagined LV bags. For the centennial celebration of the Monogram canvas in 1996, LV collaborated with seven designers, including Vivienne Westwood and Helmut Lang. LV released its Tambour and Speedy lines of watches in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Jewelry and sunglasses were also added in the same decade.
By 2005, the company had over 300 stores in fifty countries internationally. Each store is highly curated, from its customer service to its arrangement of goods. Nicolas Ghesquière, former creative director at Balenciaga, succeeded Marc Jacobs as artistic director of Louis Vuitton in 2013.
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Find in Library . Louis Vuitton: The Birth of Modern Luxury . New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2005.
Find in Library . Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre . London : Allen Lane, 2007.