The History Of Louis Vuitton: The Man That Shaped The Luxury Fashion Industry

Exquisite tailoring impregnated with the spirit of travel, instantly recognizable monograms, and the fascinating story of a homeless young boy who managed to take the entire luxury fashion sphere by storm. This is the legendary history of Louis Vuitton, the Parisian luggage maker who shaped the meaning of luxury as we know it. It comes as no surprise that LV is the second oldest luxury brand that is still flourishing today.

The early years of Louis Vuitton

On August 4th, 1821, Louis Vuitton was born in Anchay, Eastern France.  His father was a farmer, and his mother was a hat maker; a typical working-class family in the 19th century. Louis Vuitton spent most of his early years on the farm. Sadly, with the passing of his mother at the age of 10, his father quickly remarried a woman who was uncaring of him. 

In the Spring of 1935, after the passing of his father, Vuitton started his two years-long journey on a mission to start a new life in Paris. With no shelter or money, he traveled 470 kilometers (293 miles) by foot and worked dozens of different jobs along the way to keep himself alive. It was 1937 when he finally arrived in Paris and soon got the opportunity to score an apprentice at Monsieur Maréchal’s box-making and packing workshop. 

The beginning of Louis Vuitton’s career in an artisanal industry

Vuitton’s passion for awe-inspiring craftsmanship quickly set him apart from the crowd, and soon ended up becoming the personal box-maker of the Empress of France, Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III. Monsieur Maréchal’s workshop was his creative home for nearly 17 years.

 In 1854, Vuitton got married to Clemence-Emilie Parriaux and right after his marriage, the first LV shop was opened. By then, we had already mastered the art of working with metal, stone, fabrics, and wood.

Louis Vuitton’s unique canvas boxes 

LV was evidently a visionaire. With an arsenal filled with coveted skills and an eye for details, Vuitton set his mind to reinventing traditional luggage boxes. Till then, they were made from leather, and they had a round top. Vuitton set his mind to introduce never-seen-before unique canvas boxes that were designed with a flat top and a tumbler lock to prevent theft.

In less than two years, Vuitton’s workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendome was thriving and his box became a must-have item amongst the people.

With an elite clientele, Vuitton decided to expand his business by introducing beautifully-crafted modern handbags in 1867.

Taking London, one handbag at a time

LV’s reputation was only growing larger, but The Franco-Prussian War from 1870-1872  destroyed his flourishing business. Vuitton managed to get back up and set up a new workshop on 1 Rue Scribe, in central Paris. In 1885, Louis Vuitton opened its first shop outside of France, on Oxford Street in London, the world’s richest city. royals, American millionaires, and explorers were part of his ever-growing clientele. 

 In 1888, the “Damier Canvas” pattern was created, featuring the trademarked logo reading “marque L. Vuitton déposée”.

Sadly, in 1892, VuittonVuitton passed away from an unknown cause at the age of seventy-two.

Shaping the luxury travel industry

It was time for Georges Ferréol Vuitton, the only child of Louis Vuitton and Clemence-Emilie Vuitton, to lead the LV business.  

Georges’ partnership with Wanamaker introduced LV to New York department stores. By 1896, Georges has already created a monogram; the first floral pattern with an L and a V that interlocked to pay homage to his father’s memory.

Not long after,  the “Le Voyage”-book series, and the instantly recognizable VIP trunks were created.  Georges opened the “Louis Vuitton building” on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, in 1914. Its massive success soon turned it into the largest travel-goods store in the world. 

Introducing Louis Vuitton’s iconic bags

In the 1900s, LV’s reputation for excellence was known all over the world. The French luxury fashion house started introducing bags and items next to their coveted trunks. From the iconic big travel bag; the Keepall in 1930, to the smaller version of the Speedy in 1932 (LV’s first handbag for everyday use) and popular silhouettes like the Noé, Alma, and Papillon are prominent to this day.

Between 1945 and 2000 Louis Vuitton gradually introduced several new categories ranging from small purses and wallets to accessories. 

A brand new single lock system & a challenge to Houdini

However, Georges’s innovative thinking was certainly at its peak. In 1886 a new single lock system with two spring buckles was introduced to the market. This astonishing idea took several years of development, so George decided to test it in the most unexpected way. He challenged Harry Houdini, the great American escape artist, in a public newspaper to escape from a Vuitton box and lock. Sadly, Houdini didn’t accept the challenge, but the lock’s safety was undeniable – in fact, It is still used today.

 LVMH

Following the tremendous success of the brand, in 1987 Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon, and Hennessy joined forces to create an even bigger powerhouse; they merged to form the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) which is still the home to 75 distinguished Houses rooted in six different sectors.

LV’s first creative director

The brand was growing rapidly, and LV needed fresh, new ideas to dazzle its customers. So in 1997, Louis Vuitton appointed their first-ever Creative Director; the American fashion designer, Marc Jacobs, (known for his work with Balenciaga). The end goal? To create highly-coveted men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections.

Jacobs took LV to new heights. Some of the most memorable projects included the first piece of jewelry in 2001 followed by a watch collection in 2002. He was the one who introduced the Monogram Multicolor canvas range ( a statement piece for celebrities) as well as the Monogram Vernis and Damier Graphite collections. 

Louis Vuitton’s iconic graffiti bags & celebrity endorsements 

Stephen Sprouse worked with Jacobs to create a graffiti version of Vuitton’s monogram. “Louis Vuitton” and LV” were plastered across the house’s traditional brown-on-brown print— and the newly reinvented bags became a pop culture sensation.

Marc formed several successful collaborations with other designers and A-list celebrities like  Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Keith Richards, and Scarlett Johansson who have all been associated with Louis Vuitton. 

Louis Vuitton’s recipe for success 

Louis Vuitton’s success was rooted in raw creative talent, innovative thinking, and its ability to adapt to the ever-changing world of fashion. LV never shied away from introducing new creative directors to the team following Marc Jacob’s departure. 

Nicolas Ghesquière, Kim Jones, and Darren Spaziani were LV’s strongest fashion players. This was when Vuitton’s new Petite Malle bag, styled after its iconic trunks were introduced during the 2015 Paris Fashion Week. American fashion designer Virgil Abloh became the new artistic director of menswear in 2018 creating sought-after items drenched in forward-thinking and rich colors and striking new silhouettes.

160th anniversary of Louis Vuitton

To celebrate the 160th anniversary of Louis Vuitton’s founding, six prominent designers joined forces to create bags in classic monogram colors. Karl Lagerfeld, Frank Gehry, Cindy Sherman, Marc Newson, Christian Louboutin, and Rei Kawakubo showcased their own versions of the purse with their own, unique signature touch.  

The History Of Louis Vuitton: creativity, innovation & craftsmanship 

At the end of the day, quality is what continues to set LV apart from other luxury designer brands. Over the years, Louis Vuitton has consistently created the most popular and most recognizable bags in the world. To put it simply, Louis Vuitton is synonymous with impeccable craftsmanship, quality, and revolutionary patterns. To own a leather product branded with the LV logo is to own something special that will not get affected by the passing fads. 

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