As a Fashion Stylist and self-confessed bag hag, I can tell you that there are few luxury brands that have had quite the impact on the luxury goods market as Louis Vuitton, which is by far one of the most recognisable luxury brands in the world. The Louis Vuitton brand has to be one of the greatest success stories of our time, but how has Louis Vuitton gone from humble suitcases to a luxury powerhouse?
A BRIEF HISTORY
Louis Vuitton Malletier, commonly known as Louis Vuitton, was founded in 1854 on Rue Neuve des Capucines in Paris, when Mr Vuitton introduced a flat-topped trunk with Trianon canvas, making them lightweight and airtight. It was Vuitton’s grey Trianon canvas flat trunk that allowed for the trunks to stack one on top of another with ease for voyages. By 1855, the company had opened a store on Oxford Street in London. After the death of his father, Georges Vuitton began a campaign to build the company into a worldwide corporation, exhibiting the company’s products at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In 1896, the company launched the signature Monogram Canvas and made worldwide patents on it. Its graphic symbols, including quatrefoils and flowers alongside the LV monogram, were based on the trend of using Japanese Mon designs in the late Victorian era.
THE WAR YEARS
By 1913, which saw the onset of World War I, the Louis Vuitton Building opened on the Champs-Elysees. It was the largest travel goods store in the world at the time. Stores also opened in New York, Bombay, Washington, Alexandria and Buenos Aires. Louis Vuitton introduced the Keepall bag in 1930 and in 1932, LV introduced the Noé bag. This bag was originally made for champagne Vintners to transport bottles. Soon thereafter, the Louis Vuitton Speedy bag was introduced, which is still manufactured today.
In 1936 Georges Vuitton died, and his son, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, assumed control of the company during the period Nazi era, when many European fashion houses including Chanel and Hugo Boss, collaborated with the Nazis. Following World War II, Louis Vuitton began to incorporate leather into most of its products, which ranged from small purses and wallets to larger pieces of luggage. In order to broaden its line, the company revamped its signature Monogram Canvas in 1959 to make it more supple, allowing it to be used for purses, bags, and wallets.
It was in 1987 that Louis Vuitton merged with luxury champagne brand Moët et Chandon and Hennessy Cognac, to form the LVMH group, which is today the world’s largest luxury brand conglomerate. LVMH controls around 60 subsidiaries that manage around 75 luxury brands, including Tiffany & Co., Fendi, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Princess Yachts, TAG Heuer and Bulgari, to name a few.
In 1997, Louis Vuitton appointed the super-talented Marc Jacobs as Artistic director, and this is probably one of the best moves this epic fashion house could have made, as Mark Jacobs reinvented Louis Vuitton, making it appeal to a younger market. It was the 2001 collaboration between Marc Jacobs and Stephen Sprouse that really upped the game for Louis Vuitton when they designed a limited edition line of Keepall and Speedy bags that featured the name Louis Vuitton written in graffiti over the monogram pattern. Recognising the value of appointing edgy yet super talented Artistic Directors, this legendary fashion house has been steered by Kim Jones (now Artistic Director of Fendi, taking over from the late Karl Lagerfeld) and Virgil Abloh. Virgil Abloh was the first African-American artistic director and one of the few black designers of a major European fashion house. Taking a page out of Marc Jacob’s book, Virgil Abloh’s time at Louis Vuitton, saw the brand crossing the boundaries from the stuffy French fashion house to funky, luxury street style apparel, bringing Louis Vuitton to the forefront of modern fashion and opening the brand to a larger demographic. Following on from a private two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, Virgil Abloh tragically passed on 28 November 2021. Wishing to continue in the fashion revolution inspired by Virgil Abloh, Pharrell Williams was named creative director of men’s wear for Louis Vuitton on 14 February 2023.
The true genius of Louis Vuitton has been its consistent branding, with the label’s LV monogram appearing on most of its products, ranging from luxury bags and leather goods to shoes, perfume, watches, jewels, sunglasses, scarves and ready-to-wear items, making their apparel instantly recognisable and coveted. Louis Vuitton continues to inspire fashionistas and stylists the world over with its luxurious creative renderings and is one of the world’s leading fashion houses operating in 50 countries, with more than 460 stores worldwide, and boasting a whopping 466.2 billion dollar net worth as of June 2023.