It’s the material that started it all for Louis Vuitton back in the 19th century. But now, the Parisian Maison’s iconic coated canvas faces a new set of challenges as the brand navigates the changing luxury landscape.
The rumor mill is swirling that Louis Vuitton is focusing on a strategy that encourages customers to invest in the label’s more expensive leather styles. For the first time in over 150 years, the future of Louis Vuitton’s canvas seems uncertain.
Against the backdrop of unparalleled price increases across the luxury fashion sector and Louis Vuitton prioritizing new leather bags each season, will the label’s beloved canvas prevail? And what is the potential impact of Louis Vuitton distancing itself from its signature material? Let’s discuss.
The History & Significance of Louis Vuitton’s Canvas
Canvas is so much more than a material for Louis Vuitton. Strong, innovative, and revolutionary, Louis Vuitton’s signature canvas encapsulates the brand’s entire essence. And without it, it’s unlikely that the trunk-making business would be the fashion powerhouse it’s known as today.
For as long as most luxury fanatics can remember, Louis Vuitton has been the canvas brand, and this reputation lies in the brand’s heritage. Louis Vuitton founded his famous Maison in Paris in 1854, but it wasn’t until a big invention that his brand began to change the worlds of travel and fashion forever.
As world travel took off for the most wealthy, Louis Vuitton understood the need for trunks that were flat, so they could be stacked on ships. Trunks of the time were rounded on top so that rain would fall off, so Vuitton covered his flat-top trunk in his other great invention – Gris Trianon, more commonly known as coated canvas. This waterproof material proved sturdy and reliable, becoming synonymous with the success of Vuitton’s revolutionary flat-top trunk design, the first ever of its kind.
In 1888, Louis Vuitton’s son Georges Vuitton invented the Damier print to be patterned onto coated canvas. And in 1896, the iconic monogram print was born, becoming forever associated with the house’s signature material and the possibilities it brought.
Louis Vuitton’s skill as a trunk maker made him a favorite amongst the European elite, but it was his coated canvas invention that set his brand on track to dominate the fashion industry.
In the years since coated canvas was introduced, it’s been at the center of the label’s handbag offering, most commonly in the monogram, Damier Ebene, and Damier Azur prints, and it has been reimagined season after season. From appearing on classics like the fan-favorite Speedy and Alma designs to being reinterpreted by artists such as Takashi Murakami and Stephen Sprouse in multicolor and graffiti-adorned iterations, coated canvas is a mainstay of Louis Vuitton. It’s endured changing trends, manufacturing processes, and attitudes for well over a century. So why now does it seem to be under threat?
Louis Vuitton’s Changing Price Point
For decades, Louis Vuitton has relied heavily on its canvas designs. But as prices at top luxury labels continue to soar and more brands attempt to align themselves with ultra exclusivity, canvas becomes less lucrative.
Louis Vuitton has long been regarded as a starter luxury label thanks to its prevalence of more affordable canvas styles, traditionally under $1,000. But brands can charge much more for leather styles than their canvas counterparts. There’s around a $1,000 difference between the prices of Louis Vuitton’s Speedy and Alma styles in canvas compared to leather. And so, lower-priced canvas bags are becoming less of a priority for the brand.
The dominance of ultra-exclusive and high-priced labels, such as Hermès, has caused the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton to increase prices and adopt strategies prioritizing exclusivity. The attainability of Louis Vuitton’s signature canvas handbags, thanks to their more affordable price tag, doesn’t align with this.
Over the last decade, the brand’s repeated price increases have affected canvas designs too. The price of classic canvas styles like the Speedy has risen by around 50% within the past 5 years, further alienating luxury shoppers on a budget.
Phasing Out Canvas
From 2023, it has been widely speculated that shoppers will no longer be able to buy canvas iterations of popular designs like the Mini Pochette Accessoires. And as sought-after styles like this are phased out, the brand continues to push its leather bags.
Over the past decade, there’s been an influx of new leather handbag options at the house. In addition to focusing on its classic Epi, Vernis, and Empreinte leather options, the brand has launched bags in a range of new leather variations. From quilted calfskin embroidered with a maxi iteration of the iconic monogram pattern to grained leather appearing on the likes of the Capucine and Pont 9 styles complete with hefty price tags.
The Future Of Louis Vuitton Canvas
The future of Louis Vuitton’s classic coated canvas seems uncertain. As some canvas styles are being discontinued and the remaining canvas options no longer offer the affordability that helped make them so popular, more and more leather designs are being introduced. So it looks like canvas may no longer be as central to the Louis Vuitton brand as it once was.
But the continued demand for Louis Vuitton canvas is undeniable. Despite significant price increases, canvas options of classic handbags are regularly sold out at Louis Vuitton boutiques and online. The secondary market boasts an insane demand for Louis Vuitton canvas Speedy, Alma and Noé designs. So perhaps the luxury powerhouse should be more hesitant before turning its back on the coated canvas material that’s been a hallmark of the brand’s identity for as long as the mighty trunk itself.