Today, Louis Vuitton is recognized as one of the most prolific creators of high-end purses and handbags. His name is coveted across the globe by the world’s elite. People from all walks of life flock to designer stores and retailers to purchase his bags, shoes, and other accessories. Under the new leadership of Marc Jacobs, the prestigious fashion house expanded to offer clothing in addition to its famed leather products. It’s quite a legacy for a man who started out as a French box-maker and packer in the mid-1800s. Never a produce of purses himself, the original Louis Vuitton made his fortune selling the finest canvas travel bags the world had ever seen. It was his sons after him who recognized their father’s reputation and worked to continue it with the times. Here are the facts you didn’t know about the epic history of Louis Vuitton.
AN IMPASSIONED TEENAGER
Born to a farmer and a miller in a small working-class village, young Louis Vuitton was raised a country boy. Yet, he always had his sights set on something greater. At the age of 13, he decided he’d had enough of provincial life and left his little hometown for Paris. This journey took more ambition than it seems. The 292-mile trip took Vuitton two years on foot with stops to earn money so he could support himself along the way. Finally, in 1837, he made it to the capital city.
A REPUTABLE APPRENTICE
Like most men his age, Louis Vuitton became an apprentice upon his arrival in Paris. He worked for one of the city’s most illustrious box-making and packing shops, a highly-respected position back in the day. Unlike most amateurs of his status, Vuitton forged a reputable name for himself as one of the finest in the field during his training. He even caught the eye of Napoleon’s wife and in 1853 became her personal packer. This new position exposed him to the heights of French society and paved the way for his luxury label.
A PRESTIGIOUS BOX-MAKER
With the queen’s endorsement, Vuitton finally felt ready to open his own box-making and packing workshop in Paris. The change gave him a chance to experiment with some ideas he’d been wanting to try since his arrival in Paris years earlier. This new shop marked the first notable designs in the history of the Louis Vuitton brand. First, all the changes came in the form of large travel cases. Replacing style with function, Vuitton created stackable rectangular trunks made of canvas to replace the classic leather designs which had rounded tops. Other fresh products soon followed and before long, Louis Vuitton was the most sought after box-maker in the world.
A NEW AESTHETIC
After the original Vuitton’s death, the iconic company passed on to his son Georges. It was under Georges watch that Louis Vuitton became synonymous with luxury handbags and high-end fashion. In 1896, the now famous LV monogram was designed and by the early 1900s many of the label’s staple bags – Steamer bags, Keepall bags, the Noé bag – were starting to build sizable reputations. The history of Louis Vuitton wouldn’t be complete without remembering the box-making years, but by the 20th-century that business was dying away. With machines like the automobile and eventually the airplane, people could travel further faster and didn’t need to take their entire lives with them every trip. Georges refined the famous LV monogram canvas for bags and wallets and the packaging arm of Louis Vuitton faded into the distance.
A CREATIVE DIRECTOR
After establishing themselves as a luxury brand, a new chapter in the history of Louis Vuitton began when Marc Jacobs was appointed creative director and charged with creating men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections in the late 90s. Drawing from Vuitton’s travel roots and his personal sense of style, Jacobs ushered the brand into the 21st-century as a handbag giant and high-end fashion classic.
The history of Louis Vuitton is an expansive one. From Napoleon’s wife to J-Lo and Bono, the brand has served an impressive variety of patrons and impacted dozens of cultures along the way. Not too bad for a boy with a dream who trudged on foot to Paris.
— Timothy Vest