What comes to your mind when you hear the name, Louis Vuitton? Perhaps it's adjectives such as luxury, designer, fashion, etc. Maybe you immediately think of the French fashion house’s iconic monogram, which combines the initials LV with flowers and is instantly recognizable worldwide on the brand’s coveted handbags, sunglasses, scarves and more. Have you ever wondered where this incredibly successful, widely revered brand came from, who Louis Vuitton was, and how the backstory behind this fashion house goes? We've done the heavy lifting for you, and are pleased to bring you the story of Louis Vuitton and his world-famous luxury wares.
His parents couldn't possibly have known it at the time, but on August 4th, 1821 in Eastern France (in the Jura region, to be precise), a legend by the name of Louis Vuitton was born. Vuitton spent his early years with his father, Xavier, a farmer, and his mother, Corrine, a milliner. Tragically, when he was just ten, Vuitton’s mother died. When his father passed away shortly thereafter, young Vuitton was left orphaned.
A few years later, when Vuitton was thirteen years old,Vuitton headed on foot to Paris. Spanning 292 miles, the journey took more than two years to complete. Vuitton worked odd jobs throughout his travels, doing any work he could find to secure shelter and avoid starvation. He finally arrived in Paris in 1837. He was sixteen years of age by this time.
Upon arrival, Vuitton discovered a city deeply stricken by poverty. Fortunately for Vuitton, he was able to attain work as an apprentice for a master box-maker by the name of Monsieur Marechal. If box-making and packing sounds less than glamorous, consider that at this point in history, this was indeed a highly respectable skill and vocation. Why? Because in this time period, methods of transportation were mainly limited to trains, boats and carriages helmed by horses. Since luggage was subjected to rough handling and even rougher travels, special packing and sturdy luggage were of the utmost importance to wealthy travelers. People were serious about keeping their expensive clothing and goods in good shape throughout their travels, and so they turned to trusted professionals to pack their travel essentials.
Within a few years of working in his chosen profession, Vuitton had built a solid reputation for himself as one of the moist sought-after box-makers and packers in all of Paris. In fact, in 1853 Vuitton was commissioned to be the exclusive box-maker and packer to the Empress of France, Eugenie de Montijo, who was married to none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. The empress entrusted only Vuitton with her fine clothing when travelling. Thanks to this stroke of luck, Vuitton’s work was put on the radar of the rich and elite, which afforded him many career opportunities.
Vuitton married Clemence-Emilie Parriaux in 1854, and two major milestones occurred shortly after their marriage. One was the birth of the couple’s only son, Georges, who would become instrumental in the success of the house of Vuitton. The other was that Vuitton took a substantial leap of faith in terms of business. After seventeen years of work with Maréchal, Vuitton entered the world of entrepreneurialism, opening up his own workshop for box-making and packing in Paris. Unsurprisingly, given the evolution of the brand, Vuitton specialized in packing high end clothing.
It was at this workshop that Vuitton’s first legendary work - rectangular, stackable trunks - came to fruition in 1858. This was game-changing at the time, since previous to this, only trunks with rounded tops were available. Vuitton’s trunks were also waterproof and lightweight, thanks to the unique inclusion of Trianon canvas.
The trunks became an instant sensation. Demand was so high, in fact, that Vuitton was unprepared and ill equipped to keep up in his workshop. Subsequently, he was forced to expand his horizons. Vuitton moved his business to a larger space, opening an atelier in Asnières (northeast of Paris) in 1859.
The next few years were steady for Vuitton and his young family. The specialized trunks continued to sell and word continued to spread about Vuitton’s craftsmanship and capabilities. Things were going inarguably well and business was booming. Vuitton was even awarded a bronze medal at Napoleon’s Exposition Universelle in 1867. This offered him even more recognition, and thus, even more sales.
But it wasn't a perfect picture for long. In 1870-71, the workshop was looted and left in shambles as a result of the Franco-Prussian war. However, being the savvy businessman he was, Vuitton soon got back on his feet with a new workshop in central Paris.
In fact, Vuitton did better than simply getting back on his feet. He came back with a vengeance, with a beige and red striped canvas trunk released in 1872. Wealthy Parisians adored the design and this cemented Vuitton’s status as a luxury designer. Having won the bronze previously, in 1889 Vuitton took home the gold medal grand prize from the Exposition Universelle- another huge boost for the house of Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton continued selling his exquisite luggage (each piece came with its own pick-proof lock and key- and the validity of the pick-proof claim was tested by none other than Houdini, who was challenged to escape from a locked Louis Vuitton box, and couldn't do it.) Vuitton worked until his death on February 27th, 1892. The company was left to his son, Georges.
Georges maintained the integrity and reputation of his father’s company, but made some major impactful changes.
The iconic interlocking L and V with floral pattern was designed by Georges Vuitton, in 1896 as a method of stopping the many copycats who tried to ride on the brand’s coat tails and duplicate their offerings. Since copying a monogram was illegal, this ensured protection and was a very smart move, as the monogram is still an instantly recognizable status symbol today.
Georges did his father proud, smoothly running the company and introducing products that would elevate the house of Vuitton to legendary heights. In 1914, The Louis Vuitton building opened its doors
on the Champs-Élysées. This was the largest travel goods store worldwide, and among its many elite customers was none other than Coco Chanel.
The brand began to shift into more fashionable territory in the 1900s with bags that maintain popularity today. For example, the Keepall bag (1930), the Steamer bag (1901) and the cylinder shaped Pappillon bag (1966) are still favorited by fashionistas worldwide.
Today, Louis Vuitton is one of the most celebrated luxury fashion houses in the world, purveying of course the iconic luggage and bags but also shoes, jewelry, and fashions that span jackets and coats, dresses and tops, denim and swimwear and more. Marc Jacobs has been the house of Vuitton's creative director since 1997, and the brand has continued to flourish under his direction. Celebrities who have endorsed Vuitton include Jennifer Lopez, Bono, Scarlett Johanssen, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and more.
As of 2018, Forbes has named Louis Vuitton as the world’s most valuable luxury brand, valued at a whopping $33.6 billion. Countless people, celebrities and otherwise, count Louis Vuitton among their favorite designers. And with such a rich history, a commitment to quality, and products that deliver luxury and unmistakable recognizability, the future of Louis Vuitton will undoubtedly be a bright one.