In 1835, a 14-year-old boy set out on foot for what would be a two-year journey to the French capital. The young Louis Vuitton departed from the Jura, a rugged woodland on the Swiss border, and arrived in Paris at 16 with the wisdom of someone twice his age.
He quickly found work with a trunk maker/packer by the name of Romaine Maréchal and learned the trade. In 1854, Vuitton opened his first store in Paris, which was devoted to luggage. He created a sensation with his invention: a flat-lidded trunk (previous versions were curved) that could be stacked on trains and boats. Thus was launched not only a travel innovation but one of the world’s most successful and enduring luxury houses.
This month, the brand Vuitton is launching Louis 200, a celebration of the bicentennial birthday of its founder. To mark the occasion, 200 creatives—including artists, designers, architects, and even an astronaut—were invited to design trunks (some physical, some digital) based on the original.
Among them: a kitschy trunk collaged with travel stickers by Milanese architect Hannes Peer; a minimalist monochromatic version by architect Sou Fujimoto; and a Cubist sidecar by PLAYLAB, an artistic design practice with a Pop Art sensibility. The trunks will be displayed this fall in Louis Vuitton shop windows around the world. In tandem, each collaborator has chosen a nonprofit to which Vuitton will donate a total of 2 million euros.
And that’s just the beginning of the global birthday festivities. The brand commissioned writer Caroline Bongrand to compose a fictionalized biography of its founder, available from Gallimard in French and English this fall. In December, Looking for Louis, a documentary about the designer’s young life, debuts on Apple TV.
In a sense, Louis 200 completes a full circle—providing a synthesis of a brand that links history to contemporary innovation. Louis Vuitton was in every way ahead of his time: He was a friend of fashion (a contemporary of the father of haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth) and had a celebrity clientele (including Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III).
His successors later designed book-filled mobile library trunks for Françoise Sagan and trunks fitted with beds for the intrepid Italian explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. Today, the brand continues in its founder’s tradition, collaborating with the brightest artists of our time. Cheers to the next 200 years.
This story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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