Our story begins in France in the middle of the 19th century. Napoleon III, then the Emperor of France, wanted his empire to be synonymous with quality and riches. Meanwhile, his wife, Empress Eugenie, strove to match the excesses and luxury of the court of Marie Antoinette. In this peculiar environment, a young luggage-maker named Louis Vuitton began making waves among local suppliers.
That said, Louis Vuitton’s signature chests were met with resistance from some. At first glance, they appeared like any other chest made for travel. However, upon further inspection, wealthy buyers seeking luxury goods discovered that Louis Vuitton had done away with the old methods of chest-making. His new design featured a lightweight, durable frame wrapped in a water-repellent canvas. Its innovative flat lid also made it easier to stack multiple trunks on top of one another, saving time and space.
Louis Vuitton’s company, which opened in 1854, quickly grew in popularity. In just a few years, the traveling elite of France and much of Europe were all using his signature chests and trunks. Soon after, his products would even cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach the shores of the United States.
While it’s pretty easy to see why Louis Vuitton became popular, it’s a little more difficult to understand how it achieved cult-like status. Oddly enough, the history of the brand’s cult following begins with the war against counterfeiters. Even during Louis’s lifetime, low-quality imitations of his travel accessories started to crop up throughout Europe. So, in 1886, Louis’s son, Georges, drew the now-famous design composed of flowers and four-pointed stars. Georges was inspired by the Japanese Mon (coat of arms) design. When combined with the LV monogram, this design became a visual cue associated with wealth and luxury.
Thus, one of the first instances of logomania arose almost a hundred years before we even knew about the term! The frenzy among the wealthy grew, forcing the brand to expand its horizons. By the turn of the 20th Century, Louis Vuitton had moved beyond chests to create suitcases, bags, and hat boxes.
In the 1930s, the company took its next big step with the iconic Speedy and Alma handbags for women. Roomy and lightweight — these designs set the standard for virtually all handbags from then on. Nonetheless, Louis Vuitton continued to update and evolve. Its products appealed to the overt femininity of the 1950s, as well as the more liberated ideals of the 1960s. Louis Vuitton’s handbags were even used by some of the biggest celebrities of the mid-20th Century, including Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn! Talk about some high-class endorsements!
The company reached its heyday in the late 80s, becoming part of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH under the leadership of Bernard Arnault. The line of handbags has been replenished with new models every year since. In 1997, the brand even launched luxury ready-to-wear clothes, shoes, and accessories designed by the talented Marc Jacobs.
As you can see, Louis Vuitton never chose to rest on its laurels or depend on its cult status to succeed. To this day, Louis Vuitton continues to innovate, looking for new means of expression in an ever-changing world. Onlookers were amazed at the boldness of a deconstructed bag for Rei Kawakubo, as well as the extravagance of a bustle bag for models like Vivienne Westwood. Moreover, collaborations with contemporary artists (such as Stephen Sprouse or Takashi Murakami) are a dream for fashion collectors!
Whew, that was a lot of information! In just a few minutes, we went over the entire history of Louis Vuitton! Thanks to international recognition and constant evolution, Louis Vuitton remains one of the best luxury brands of all time.