Louis Vuitton: From Necessary to Accessory

The account of my visit of Vuitton’s “Volez Voguez Voyagez” exhibit

at Grand Palais, Paris


Louis Vuitton’s exhibition at Grand Palais is a trip through the very essence of Luxury: it shows what Luxury really is, what it really means. It is also a trip through the 19th and 20th Centuries, allowing the visitor to gain a better understanding of the origin of many accessories that we use today, i.e the steamer bag – which I will tell you about later in this post.


As we all know, for Monsieur Louis Vuitton everything started with trunks. The 19th Century, when the saga of the French iconic brand began, was an era in which trips where a luxury experience that only few rich people could afford. Leaving for a distant Country was expensive in every respect: it took time, a specific gear made of trunks and garments that could easily follow their owners on boats, trains and cars, and, of course, money – low cost trips where a real mirage at the time!


In this scenario, the trunk maker Louis Vuitton succeeded in creating trunks, and then bags, that appealed to rich and noble parisian ladies like Eugénie de Montijo, Empress consort of the French, wife of Napoléon III. The secret of his success? A superb craftsmanship, attention to details, innovative ideas and a deep understanding of his clients’ needs. The same ingredients that today still make up any successful luxury business.


This quote by Mr. Louis Vuitton, taken from a trunk’s patent dated January 18th, 1867 illustrates the way the famous trunks were crafted:

«For a trunk to be really useful, it must be light and sturdy and its contents must be protected from shocks and, most importantly, from water. I use very dry wood and all the exterior sides of my trunk are overlaid with zinc metal sheets, sheets of copper or oil coated canvas, moreover, in order to prevent water from penetrating inside the trunk, I put a rubber piece along its edge … The lock is applied simply by means of rivets and I protect the lock piece with protruding battens, which makes my trunk yet more sophisticated».


Monogram canvas “Excelsior” cabin trunk, 1905 – Louis Vuitton’s private collection
Monogram canvas “Excelsior” cabin trunk, 1905 – Louis Vuitton’s private collection


Mr Vuitton customized these extraordinary trunks according to the kind of items his clients needed to carry with them – there are ancient Vuitton trunks for almost everything ranging from hats to shoes and dresses, from books to cosmetics and hairdressing tools, from pic-nic sets to typing machines.


typing machine                       pic-nic trunk


Since then, those early creations have evolved following the evolution of both means of transport and travel habits; their own evolution has led to the creation of today’s most famous Louis Vuitton’s bags. In other words, LV fashion icons such as the Speedy, the Noé and the likes are born from a need: they where not accessory at all at the time of their creation!… Yes, I give you my permission to use this argument the next time you will fall in love with an LV bag. You could even take the steamer bag as an example: it was invented by Louis Vuitton at the beginning of the 20th Century to serve as an additional bag to be carried folded inside a trunk and be used to store dirty linen during long sea journeys. It’s light fabric and its secure locking system brought a touch of novelty to luggage and it prefigured the creation of contemporary handbags which match leather and fabrics like nylon, cotton twill or cotton canvas, for a sporty chic mood.


Steamer Bag_Louis Vuitton_original
1. Cotton canvas steamer bag, 1954 – Louis Vuitton’s private collection 2. Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s cotton canvas steamer bag, 1901 approx. – Louis Vuitton’s private collection


But has Louis Vuitton succeeded in communicating its heritage to the public? My answer is that today we are witnessing a paradox: these iconic accessories and the enormous success that the House of Vuitton has experienced during the second half of the 20th Century – which has made it the most counterfeited brand in the world –, together with advertising campaigns starring international celebrities have somewhat shaded the real thing about Louis Vuitton’s items: their being pratical and virtually indestructible accessories handmade with extreme care using technologies – i.e. the coated canvas – that have been perfected since the 19th Century to customers’ advantage.


Today, people tend to crave more for Louis Vuitton’s items as a status symbol than for their inherent worth as luxury items, where “luxury” means dedication, attention to details, personalisation, mostly handcrafted, made to suit the needs of a consumer that really cares about quality rather than about logos. This exhibition gives the visitor an in-depth account of the time and care that lay behind authentic Louis Vuitton’s goods and implicitly makes clear how pointless buying a counterfeited luxury item is, since it has nothing of the value of the original.


To make this value yet more visible, the exhibition allows visitors to watch two workers of Louis Vuitton’s Asnières workshops cutting, working and painting calf leather by hand, live, in the last exhibition room. If you want to experience how it feels to be one of the selected craftsmen who create LV bags, you can have a try.


If, like me, you are passionate about Louis Vuitton, its history, its savoir-faire, its icons, “Volez Voguez Voyagez” is really worth a visit. I went to Paris specially for this exhibition and I am really happy to have seen it. It lasts until February 21th and the entrance is free.


And now, my anecdote about me&Louis Vuitton… In more than one occasion I was assigned the translation of Louis Vuitton-related contents, which has given me the opportunity to have a look backstage and to develop a passion for this brand. To tell you the truth, I get passionate about almost every brand I translate for. This helps me to imbue my texts with the same authentic entusiasm that the brand put into the original contents I receive for translation. Anyway, Louis Vuitton’s history and heritage immediately fascinated me, as well as its bags!

The problem with luxury translations is that you come to know products really well and most of the times by the end of the project you crave for buying something by the brand you now know by heart.

This is how I bought my Neverfull, 7 years ago… The joys of translating for the Luxury Industry!



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