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BRAND TIMELINE: History of Louis Vuitton

Humble Beginnings

Started as a leather goods company by Louis Vuitton (born in 1821) close to the swiss border. Parents both died young so he head off to Paris to find work at 13, made it to Paris at 16. Louis found a job under the trunk maker Monsieur Maréchal. Trunks were common at this time for wealthy Europeans as they travelled by horse and. Carriage. Louis became known for his trunkmaking in the higher echelons of Parisian society, and even had Empress Euginie, wife of Napoleon the 3rd and Napoleon Bonaparte and the court to patron him for his trunks. Louis opened his own shop in 1854 at Rue Neuve-des- Capucines and married 17 year old Clemence-Emilie Parriaux. At this point the steam boat had been newly invented and more and more wealthy Europeans were traveling by railroad. In 1857 the couple had their only child Georges Vuitton and a year later, Louis invented his signature steamer trunk. Louis’s trunk was made of a waterproof canvas named Trianon, possibly to reference the Grand Trianon or Petit Trianon columns in the garden of Versailles. Louis and the family then built an atelier in Asniéres, France. In the midst of a war with Prussia, the army took control of Paris, the Vuitton family was trapped in Paris for 4 months. When they could finally return to the atelier in Asniéres, Louis’s shop had been burned and all of his materials stolen. Louis quickly set up shop in rues clive and his son Georges was eager to help, developing an iconic lock for the trunks in 1886. Because the LV logo was one of luxury, it often attracted thieves, so George’s tumbler lock made it impossible to pick. George allegedly challenged esteem escape artist Harry Houdini to escape his tumbler lock, but he never accepted. George patented the lock, and it is still in use till this day. In 1888 the iconic damieré (checkerboard) motif was developed to distinguish LV from copycats. In 1892, Louis Vuitton passed away, leaving his son Georges in charge of the family business. A year after his fathers passing., he brought LV trunks to the Chicago World Fair, with plans to globalize LV. Then in 1896, four years after Louis’s death, Georges created one of the most iconic brand signatures for LV to this day. The Louis Vuitton monogram. Many believe George wanted to immortalize his father’s name, printing the LV intertwined monogram around what some say are flowers and symbols that have various possible inspirations.

More Than a Trunk

Around 1901 Georges launched the first LV bag, the steamer bag. It came in simple canvas and leather and was said to be inspired by American mail bags. Another iconic bag arrived in 1930 and still holds popularity to this day. The Keepall bag was introduced by George’s son, Gaston. Gaston recognized that travel needs had changed, adapting LV by making a luggage bag that was more supple and malleable. The speedy and Gaston’s squire bag, both featuring the damieré motif were also developed at this time (1934). The squire bag, now known as the Alma bag, had a rounded top and flat bottom, and was originally created for Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel and later gave her blessing for the bag to be mass produced. Georges passed away in 1936, leaving the company to his children, Gaston Louis, Jean, Pierre, and Marcel Vuitton. In 1966 LV introduced the Papillon bag, and in the 1980s LV expanded into the Asian market, leading to the creation of the epi leather in 1985. In French the word “epi” means a tuff, almost like a tuff of hair, which is seemingly the inspiration for the leathers texture. In 1977 Gaston’s Henry Vuitton son stepped down and his brother in-law Henry Racamier, a businessman married to Odile Vuitton, Louis’s great great grand-daughter, was asked to take over the family business. He decided to merge the company with Moet-Hennessy, two luxury alcohol companies that had previously merged. This convergence made the LVMH the most powerful leather goods conglomerate to ever emerge thust far as well as made it the 6th largest company in France.

The end of the small business era

Three years prior, business mogul Bernard Arnault had aquired the French ready to wear brand Christian Dior and began to set his sights on control of the entire LVMH brand, which had ownership of Dior’s perfume licenses, which made up a significant percentage of the Dior profits. Arenault wanted full control of Christian Dior, also meant taking control of LVMH. In 1987, there was infighting between Luis Vuitton’s Henry Racamier and Moët-Hennessy’s Alain Chevalier, and Racamier brought Arenault in to LV to invest, hoping the two could oust Alain Chevalier from LVMH. Racamier’s plan worked, but shortly after Arnault turned on Racamier and outed him from the board of directors, leaving him full control of the LVMH brand.

LVs dive into ready-to-wear

By 1997 Bernard Arenaut noticed he was losing ground to iconic fashion houses Prada and Gucci as both had released ready to wear collections under the creative direction of Miuccia Prada and Tom Ford respectfully. A then young Parson’s school of Design wild child Marc Jacobs began his creative direction at LVMH and released his first “Hidden Luxury” runway collection (1998) which included a minimal collection of tops, button-downs, sweaters and jackets paired with skirts and dresses. Only one white messenger LV bag opened the show and tiny buttons with the LV monogram engraved “whispered” luxury. This shocked Arenaut, as the bold LV monogram was such a signature for the brand.

Marc’s reign at Luis Vuitton

Marc began to spice things up at his Spring/Summer 1999 show (Insert title here) when a new take on the LV monogram was debuted on the runway. Thus the monogram vernis was born. Vernis, French for varnish and is a coated leather that shines and reflects as a gloss would. Marc’s Vernis bags would continue to span into the 2000s and still are in use today.

Artist Collaborations

His spring summer 2001 show was his first collaboration collection with stylist and artist Stephen Sprouse, where they would go on to unveil the graffitied Louis Vuitton logo. Marc was originally inspired serg gainsburg LV trunk that had been painted black, and he remembered that Sprouse’s graffiti had been a hit during with the downtown New York cultural scene in the 1980s. Neon colors spelling out Louis Vuitton on graffiti was described by Marc as

“Disrespectful and Respectful at the same time, and I think that’s why it worked.”

Taking the brand name and reworking it in a youthful way created one of LV’s most successful collections ever.

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