Louis Vuitton is known worldwide for its ubiquitous Monogram canvas and classic handbags such as the iconic Speedy, Alma, Noé and more. But most handbag lovers know that the brand’s storied history began with its travel goods. This year, Monsieur Louis Vuitton himself would have been 200, and in celebration of Vuitton’s 200th birthday, we’re looking back at the brand’s humble beginnings and highlighting the evolution of its travel pieces, which are at the core of the brand’s DNA.

The Early Days

Louis Vuitton was born in 1821 in Anchay, France, which is not far from the border of Switzerland. Vuitton left home when he was just 13 years old, reaching Paris two years later on foot, where he then apprenticed with a renowned trunk maker for 17 years before he founded his own Maison in 1854 at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines.

An 1872 photograph of Louis Vuitton’s store on 1 rue Scribe in Paris

Louis Vuitton had many connections within the Parisian Haute Couture world, and he was able to identify and understand the revolution that was taking place within the world of travel. He was able to foresee a need for products to take people from place to place and thus, the visionary that is Louis Vuitton completely reinvented fashion packing, inventing Gris Trianon, more commonly known as coated canvas.

This new material made luggage waterproof, becoming an early trademark for the house, earning the name ‘Vuittonite’. Soon after, the entrepreneur took a visionary leap by inventing the first-ever flat-topped trunk, which allowed for luggage to be easily stacked in a ship’s baggage car.

The Evolution

A historic flat-top Louis Vuitton trunk

A historic flat-top trunk made in 1879 in the Gris Trianon canvas

The Louis Vuitton effect was apparent from the brand’s beginning, and it was only a few short years after the House’s founding that Louis Vuitton began to outgrow his Parisian headquarters. In 1859 the workshop was relocated to Asnières, which is a village located northwest of Paris. The Asnières atelier is the core of the brand, and in over a century and a half, that very atelier has created a plethora of exceptional, made-to-order pieces. Key pieces and hard-sided luggage special orders are still created there to this very day and it would be remiss not to mention the Asnières atelier when discussing the evolution of Vuitton and his trunks.

Following the move, a red-striped version of the brand’s renowned canvas was created in 1872, which paved the way for what we now know as the brand’s iconic Damier canvas. Damier was created in 1888, partially as a way to combat the highly imitated striped canvas. Though the brand is now widely known for its Monogram, Monogram canvas was not copyrighted until 1896, when it was invented by Vuitton’s son Georges. The now-instantly recognizable canvas combined Louis Vuitton’s initials with abstract floral shapes. What now seems commonplace in the handbag world was considered a radical move back then, as any initials typically seen on a trunk were usually the carrier’s own.

Vintage Louis Vuitton Ad

An advertisement from 1910 for Louis Vuitton’s Wardrobe Trunk

At the very end of the 19th century, the brand created and began producing its first supple bags, many of which were the very basis for the icons we know and love today. In fact, as early as 1906, the brand began producing trunks that are nearly identical to the same hard-sided versions that are still made. And from the refined, elegant constructions of the early aughts that were designed to hold dresses, suits or toiletries an international powerhouse was formed.

Vuitton and Beyond

Forever an innovator and visionary, Louis Vuitton died in 1892, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy that is known and evolved upon to this day. He has passed on a priceless savoir-faire to future generations, and that is seen in everything that the brand does today. Much like the brand’s beginnings, when Louis Vuitton himself anticipated the age of modern travel and its ever-changing needs, collaborations and partnerships with iconic creative minds continue to push boundaries.

Vintage Louis Vuitton Luggage

A vintage image of Louis Vuitton luggage

A Celebration: 200 Louis

In celebration of Vuitton’s 200th birthday, the House has unveiled 200 Louis, which tapped 200 visionaries to create celebratory windows around the world in honor of Louis Vuitton’s birth. The windows debuted on August 4th, and all began with a box measuring 50x50x100cm, which is an ode to the the original trunk that Louis developed in the 1850s. 200 Louis is meant to be a homage to the man behind the trunk, which is the most emblematic object from the House.

The box serves as a starting point for creativity and innovation, much like the humble beginnings of the House itself. From the box, each visionary was given free rein to explore their own innovations and creativity, and the results can be seen around the world. This collaborative project is meant to extend beyond Louis’ bicentennial, serving as an exploration of the past while looking towards the future, keeping in mind the Maison’s iconic heritage.

LV 200 Visionary Trunk

LV 200 Visionary trunk by Mr. Flower Fantastic

All images courtesy of Louis Vuitton

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