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Fashion History: Louis Vuitton

The French fashion house, Louis Vuitton, are known as leaders in luxury travel items. For over a century, the brand has been creating some of the most iconic bags in the fashion industry, with skilled and talented craftsmen and women working behind them. Before the brand could boast its array of luxury goods that they sell today such as ready-to-wear apparel, shoes, jewellery and watches, their brand was geared more in the industry of making bespoke trunks.

In fact, the founder himself, Louis Vuitton, revolutionised travelling trunks in France during the brand's inception in 1854. At the age of sixteen years old, Louis Vuitton had promised himself that he would not only change his own life, but the lives of his sons and generations to come by becoming the trunk-master.

In the year 1837, he arrived to Paris on foot at the age of sixteen and started apprenticing for Monsieur Marechal. The main modes of travel during this time period were horse-drawn carriages and boats; often the handling of luggage was quite rough, so there was quite a lot of dependency on craftsmen to create reliable, sturdy trunks for travellers.

Through the creation of custom-made boxes and trunks, Vuitton became a respected and talented craftsman at Monsieur Marechal’s Parisian atelier and 17 years later, opened his own workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendome.

In 1858, he introduced the Trianon canvas trunk, which was notable for its time as it was the first to have a flat-top and flat-bottom, making it easy to stack and transport. Previously, trunks of that age used to have a rounded top to let rain run off. In 1859, Vuitton opened up his atelier in Asnieres, just northeast of the centre of Paris. The workshop originally began with 20 employees and by 1900 employed nearly 100 people. By 1914, Louis Vuitton had 225 staff. Eventually, the atelier expanded over the years and even became the residence of the Vuitton family. In the present day, the Vuitton residence has been made into a private museum, whilst the atelier still has 170 craftsmen in the workshop, all working on unique pieces for clients around the world.

Pictured above: A pre-owned Louis Vuitton Red Textured Calfskin Leather Vintage Suitcase Pair, available at Xupes here

To protect from his designs being imitated, Vuitton eventually replaced the Trianon canvas with a red and white striped canvas in 1872 and then began playing with the brown and beige colour scheme in 1876. Both versions of this was called the Rayees or “Striped” canvas, which was used until it was replaced by the Damier canvas in 1888. Going the extra mile to protect his design, the Damier canvas came in two different colour schemes; red and dark brown, which were considered very rare, and then the common light and dark brown checkered effect. Vuitton also began placing “marque L. Vuitton desposee” inside the trunks, which loosely translates to “Louis Vuitton trademark”. The Damier canvas is still used to this day.

In 1886, Louis and his son, Georges, revolutionised locks in that era. After years of development, they created a single lock system with two spring buckles. After Georges patented the lock, he challenged the magician, Harry Houdini, in a newspaper to escape from a Vuitton box and lock. Even though Houdini never rose to the challenge, the lock system proved itself -- and is still used until this day.

After Louis Vuitton died in 1892, the brand was taken over by his son, Georges. Georges had big ambitions about the brand’s future and really establish it as a worldwide luxury corporation. In 1896, he introduced the brand’s Louis Vuitton monogram canvas. This new canvas is widely known to this day, with the graphic flower and quatrefoil design, echoing the Oriental influences in the late Victorian era.

corner of a custom louis vuitton monogram vintage luggage trunk

Pictured above: A pre-loved Louis Vuitton Brown Monogram Coated Canvas Vintage Custom Wardrobe Trunk, available at Xupes here.

It was no doubt that the Monogram is the most iconic Louis Vuitton canvas. During the 100th anniversary for the brand in 1996, Louis Vuitton invited select designers to design innovative luggage using the Monogram canvas.

Artist Helmut Lang designed a record case, whilst Sybilla designed a whimsical Louis Vuitton backpack with an integrated umbrella. Italian fashion designer Romeo Gigli designed a pointed hiking backpack, whereas Manolo Blahnik aptly created a shoe trunk case. Isaac Mizarahi had already envisioned the 2010’s, creating a vinyl and leather weekend bag with an Louis Vuitton Monogram purse inside. Iconic British designer Vivienne Westwood created a “bustle” bag, not far off from the newer “bumbag” counterpart, which could be worn in several ways.

In 1959, technology gave way for a more supple form of the Monogram canvas, allowing the material to be used for purses, wallets and bags. In 1930, they had launched the Keepall (also known as Tient-Tout, Hold-All). They adapted this into a new design called Speedy, a more portable version of the Keepall. It came in three sizes; 30, 35 and 40 but actress Audrey Hepburn had asked for an even smaller version, later titled Speedy 25. 

The Noe bucket-style bag was also particularly popular for carrying champagne in the 1930s. It was designed to carry four bottles standing up and a 5th bottle in the middle, upside-down.

louis vuitton white monogram petit noe bag

Pictured above: A pre-loved White Multicolore Monogram Coated Canvas Petit Noe, available at Xupes here. 

Louis Vuitton introduced its first leather line in 1985 when Epi leather was created. Epi leather is tanned with plant extracts and then deep-dyed. A specialised colouring job is applied afterwards which creates a two-tone effect. Epi leather is considered to be very durable amongst a variety of weather conditions. There two distinctive types of Epi leather that Louis Vuitton use, Classic Epi leather and Electric Epi leather. Whilst both types can withstand rain, they differ in appearance. Classic Epi has a matte, smooth appearance, whereas Electric Epi is a high-shine patent leather.

In 1997, Louis Vuitton introduced for the first time ever, ready-to-wear fashion, after Marc Jacobs became the creative director during the year. With Jacobs’ influence, the brand attracted the intrigue of many A-list celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Sean Connery, Scarlett Johansson and Madonna. Jacobs also collaborated with Takashi Murakami to make the multi-coloured Monogram bag.

louis vuitton white monogram courtney

Pictured above: A pre-owned Louis Vuitton White Multicolour Monogram Coated Canvas Courtney GM, available at Xupes here.

It is no surprise why Louis Vuitton was considered to be the most valuable brand between 2006 and 2012. Their bags are known to be extremely durable and age well over the years. As the brand is known for making its bags for travel usage, the canvas is sturdy and can take most impact. Due to the history of skilled craftsmanship and high-value around the brand, Louis Vuitton handbags are considered a smart investment choice. Despite being notably cheaper than other luxury brands like Chanel and Dior, Louis Vuitton bags stand the test of time. Elle Magazine this year named Louis Vuitton’s ‘Neverfull’ bag one of the best investment choices, due to its sturdy design. supposedly test the bags by filling them with 3.5kg weight and dropping it from a half metre height. Additionally, in 2017 you could recuperate over 80% of the retail price.

Evidently, if you are gearing up for a short weekend away to Prague or a long-haul trip to a distant exotic land, Louis Vuitton is a trusty companion for your travels through its innovative craftsmanship, quintessential design and long durability. Not only are the bags durable, but also continue to look brand spanking new for many years.

Discover our full collection of pre-loved Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage online at Xupes now.