On display at beginning of the nine-room showcase at the Grand Palais is the company’s first breakthrough product: an unadorned, perfectly rectangular grey trunk.
After observing that the traveling trunk’s traditionally domed lid made it unwieldy to stack and transport, founder Louis Vuitton introduced a flat-top model, engineering an airtight box made of lightweight material and covering it in his signature grey canvas. Before Vuitton’s design innovation in 1858, the trunks’ curved domes were thought necessary to repel water that might otherwise seep in when loaded in the cargo of ships or trains.
His service was in high demand by travelers eager to explore newly established shipping and train routes at the time, and his business boomed after the empress of France, Eugenie de Montijo, appointed Vuitton as her personal packer and trunk-maker.
Vuitton’s vertical steamer trunks were particularly popular. Designed like portable pieces of furniture equipped with drawers, compartments, and hangers, they allowed travelers to transport their wardrobes without needing to unpack.
Cases for all occasions
From a round, oversized chauffeur’s case to house a spare tire and a change of clothes, to a handsome tea service set ordered by the Maharaja de Baroda, among the most fascinating objects in the exhibit are the one-of-a-kind Vuitton leather-clad branded boxes specially designed to conform to the needs of their clients. For the traveling reader who didn’t want to delay progress on Proust’s lengthy opus In Search of Lost Time, Vuitton made a small, monogram leather box to house all the volumes of the world’s longest novel.
Ironically enough, the monogram pattern has become one of the most replicated branding insignias today from cheap iPhone cases to waffle makers to body tattoos as a graphic shortcut for luxury and wealth.
The World Customs Organisation ranks Louis Vuitton as the sixth-most counterfeited brand in the world, but with the availability of fake Louies in so many markets and street vendors worldwide, including peddlers online, it would seem much higher. For discerning but budget-strapped buyers, there are even classes of replica Louie Vuitton with the “most authentic fakes,” (aka Class A bags) commanding higher prices.
LVMH,Conceivably, a tenth room exploring the counterfeiting phenomena so core to the brand from the start could have elevated curator Olivier Saillard’s excellently staged exhibition from a worthwhile, yet unsurprising, showroom experience to one that explores Louis Vuitton’s rooted cultural resonance across economic and ethnic boundaries.