French luxury retailer and part of LVMH
Founded: by Louis Vuitton (1811-92) in Paris, 1854. Company History: Vuitton was apprenticed to several luggage makers; began designing flat luggage for use on new railways, diverging from traditional iron hooped trunks used on horse-drawn coaches; LV monogram introduced, 1896; opened stores in England, then in the U.S., 1897-1900; Henry Racamier became director, 1977; merged
On LOUIS VUITTON:
Lartigue, Jacques-Henri, 125 Years of Louis Vuitton, Paris, 1980.
A Journey Through Time: A Louis Vuitton Retrospective Exhibition, Paris, 1983.
Louis Vuitton, Traveling Through Time, Paris, 1984, 1996.
Vuitton, Henry L., La malle aux souvenirs [A Trunkful of Memories], Paris, 1984, 1989.
Forestier, Nadége, The Taste of Luxury: Bernard Arnault and the Moët-Hennessy Louis Vuitton Story, London, 1992.
Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh, Kings on the Catwalk: The Louis Vuitton and Moët-Hennessy Affair, Chapmans 1992.
"French Capital Markets: Bags of Bubbly," in Euromoney, January 1987.
"Fashionable Takeover," in the Economist, 16 July 1988.
Toy, Stewart, "Avant le Deluge at Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton," in Business Week, 24 April 1989.
Carson-Parker, John, "Dese, Doms and Diors," in Chief Executive, November/December 1989.
Toy, Stewart, "Meet Monsieur Luxury," in Business Week, 30 July 1990.
Berman, Phyllis, and Zina Sawaya, "Life Begins at 77," in Forbes, 27May 1991.
Caulkin, Simon, "A Case of Incompatibility," in Management Today, February 1993.
"Vuitton's 100-Year Dash," in WWD, 22 January 1996.
Singer, Natasha, "The Rush to Russia," in WWD, 20 January 1998.
Raper, Sarah, and Katherine Weisman, "Vuitton's Big Adventure," in WWD, 19 February 1998.
Barrett, Amy, "Vuitton Aims Makeover at Youth: Leather House Launches Megastores," in the Wall Street Journal, 10 March 1998.
"First Look at Louis Vuitton Menswear," in DNR, 23 March 1998.
Edelson, Sharon, "Vuitton: Upscale Downtown," in WWD, 15 September 1998.
Lloyd, Simon, "Louis Vuitton Breezes Along in an Expansive Mood," in Business Review Weekly, 29 October 1999.
Hammond, Teena, "On Rodeo: A Bigger, Better Vuitton," in WWD, 23 December 1999.
Daswani, Kavita, "Louis Vuitton's Asian Rise," in WWD, 29 March 2000.
The French firm of Louis Vuitton, making prestigious luggage and leather accessories since the middle of the 19th century, has been much overshadowed by its merger with Moët-Hennessey to become Moët-Hennessey Louis Vuitton (LVMH). Yet long before the merging of like-minded luxury companies, Louis Vuitton had established itself as an enduring purveyor of quality goods for the most discerning clientéle.
Young Louis Vuitton first came to Paris in 1837, in the year in which stage and mail coach travel was to be transformed by the opening of the first railway line in France, from Paris to St. Germain, to passenger traffic. Vuitton became an apprentice layetier, or luggage packer, to the prominent households of Paris at a time when journeys could take many months and require endless changes of wardrobe. He established such a reputation in this work that he was appointed by the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, as official layetier to his wife, the Empress Eugenie.
Vuitton acquired expert knowledge of what made a good traveling case and started to design luggage, opening his workshops to the general public in 1854 to provide luggage suitable for a new age of travel. Vuitton designed the first flat trunks that could be easily stacked in railway carriages and in the holds of ocean liners. Made of wood and covered in a new distinctive canvas called "Trianon Grey," this particular traveling trunk superseded the dome-shaped, cumbersome trunks originally designed for the stage coach.
So successful and prestigious was this luggage that other trunk makers began to copy Vuitton's style and designs, a problem the firm bearing his name was still dealing with over a century later. In 1876 Vuitton responded to the imitators by changing the Trianon Grey canvas to a striped design in beige and brown. The problem, however, persisted and in 1888, Vuitton adopted another canvas—a checkerboard pattern with the words "Marque deposée Louis Vuitton" interwoven through the material.
When George Vuitton took over the family firm on his father's death in 1892, imitation of company products was still a major problem, and four years later he designed and took out worldwide patents on the now legendary Louis Vuitton canvas featuring his father's initials against background motifs of stars and flowers. This innovative design had the effect of stopping all imitations until the 1960s, when counterfeiting became a serious problem once again. The firm launched an offensive, employing a team of lawyers and special investigation agencies to actively pursue offenders through law courts all over the world, which continues to this day.
Methods of manufacture have changed little since the 19th century. Suitcases are still made by hand; the craftsmen line up the leather and canvas, tapping in the tiny nails one by one and securing the five-lever solid pick-proof brass locks with an individual handmade key, designed to allow the traveler to have only one key for all his or her luggage. The wooden frames of each trunk are made of 30-year-old poplar dried for at least four years. Each trunk has a serial number and can take up to 60 hours to make, and a suitcase as many as 15 hours.
Although the luggage collection has always offered extensive choice, Louis Vuitton has been creating special made-to-order hard-sided luggage since 1854. Congo explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852-1905) commissioned a combined trunk and bed from the company, and in 1936 for American conductor Leopold Stokowski's travels, Gaston Vuitton designed a traveling secrétaire. When opened, the extraordinary design revealed two shelves for books, three drawers for documents and musical scores, and a vertical compartment to store a typewriter. The gate-legged table which completed the instant workstation folded into the door.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louis Vuitton logo, the founder's son George invited a who's who of designers to create items from its trademarked striped fabric. Azzedine Alaïa, Manolo Blahnik, Helmut Lang, Isaac Mizrahi, Romeo Gigli, Vivienne Westwood, and Sybilla all fashioned limited edition carry-alls, from small cases to large bags for sale at select Vuitton stores, as well as other items.
In the 21st century some 200 Louis Vuitton boutiques in the major cities of Europe, the U.S., and Far East supplied prestigious luggage, elegant apparel, and a wide range of accessories to its distinguished clientéle. As part of the LVMH empire, the Vuitton brand was nestled among an ever-expanding number of design houses including Christian Lacroix, Givenchy, Emilio Pucci, Kenzo, Fendi, Michael Kors, and Donna Karan.