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Louis Vuitton’s Spirit of Travel


Life & Style

The journey is an apt metaphor for Louis Vuitton. The iconic luxury brand’s origins are rooted in notions of travel, beginning with Louis Vuitton himself (the son of a miller) setting off for 19th-century Paris from the alpine hamlet of Anchay as a teenager. He apprenticed under Mr. Maréchal, a box maker and packer, for 17 years, until he decided to embark on his own again — this time as a master packer, “specializing in securely packing fashions,” as he characterized it. By the late 1860s, he had already revolutionized the concept of modern luggage with his finely crafted flat-top trunks for France’s wealthiest and most fashionable, who were finding it necessary to transport their lavish-yet-voluminous garments to various locations as transportation models expanded. Fast-forward to today, and the Louis Vuitton name has made its own voyage, becoming synonymous with French elegance, style and luxury around the globe.

A new book by Patrick Mauriès, “The Spirit of Travel,” published by Rizzoli, seeks to capture Louis Vuitton’s travel heritage. Tracing the maison’s history from the Second French Empire pageantry to the brand’s Far East launch, the 170-page volume offers a journey into the Louis Vuitton universe, exploring the exotic places and glamorous clients who came to eventually define the brand. Mauriès, a Paris-based fashion and decorative arts writer, was commissioned to draft a biography on the famed fashion house and was given rare access to the private Vuitton archives.

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“Everyone knows the Louis Vuitton of today, but not many people know the details behind the history,” says Mauriès. “From the evolutions in technology and design to its fantastic custom creations, Louis Vuitton wanted to show the deeper aspects of the brand’s craftsmanship and art, as well as the full range of its production.” 

We recently asked Mauriès about the genesis of his book, and the evolving design inspiration that moved the brand from luggage to ready-to-wear fashion, shoes, watches, jewelry and all other aspects of fashion.

Previews Inside Out Why is the book called “The Spirit of Travel”?

Patrick Mauriès The concept of travel was part of the main axis of the house and encompassed collections intended for all categories of travel – automobile, train, boat and airplane. At the same time, one of the obsessions of the house was centered around this idea of going elsewhere and exploring other cultures and people. Louis Vuitton came to represent the best in travel and gave the world a precept for how to travel your very best by carrying “your world” in a small space [such as a trunk]. It’s not just the physical act of travelling, but also the idea of transporting the mind and spirit to another place.

Previews Inside Out How long did it take you to write and research the book?

Patrick Mauriès At least six months. I read a lot of literature, covering different aspects of the house. I had to digest all of these books and write a relatively short book in terms of the history and detail covered.

Previews Inside Out Did you know what you wanted to write from the very beginning? Or did it evolve and change as you discovered more about the brand and its history?

Patrick Mauriès I didn’t know the Vuitton story. Louis Vuitton came to me and asked me to write a brief history as “a fashion adventure.” I really had to discover every story behind the legendary name, and make a choice in all of these stories to have a concentrated view of Vuitton for the general reader. It was meant to be a companion for the brand’s exhibition [“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” at the Grand Palais in Paris], big catalog and publicity campaign [launched last year], which tells the visual story of the Vuitton spirit.

Previews Inside Out Was there a major turning point in the brand’s evolving design inspiration?

Patrick Mauriès The big turning point came during the 1980s, with the Moët Hennessy Group merger and the formation of LVMH, when Bernard Arnault took the head of the house. He really accelerated the power and impact of the Louis Vuitton name, and remade the house. This was especially true on the fashion side, which is rather important for the brand, because it became a way of exposing the luggage production and giving it an even more glamorous image than before.

Previews Inside Out After reviewing the Louis Vuitton archives, what pieces of information were you most surprised to learn about?

Patrick Mauriès It’s difficult to say. What really impressed me were the origins of the house. It’s like a Victorian novel. In fact, Louis Vuitton insists, he came from a modest background, coming to Paris at the end of the 19th century, and through hard work, sheer will and energy, he built this enormous house that operated at the top echelons of society, even serving the French royal family. It’s a touching story.

For me, as a collector myself, I was interested in the third generation — Gaston-Louis, the grandson of Louis Vuitton, who was an art collector and collector of travel artifacts. His collections, which are maddeningly extensive, range from suitcases to toiletry kits and are on display in a private exhibition space, which I was fortunate to see. That was very impressive to me. His appreciation for art inspired the brand’s current art collections in stores and maisons, and later collaborations with artists like the Takashi Marakami’s reinterpretation of the Monogram canvas. In this same vein, the brand has also opened La Galerie, a permanent exhibition space at the Vuitton family home in Asnières, which displays many of Gaston-Louis’ letters, as well as luggage, objects and clothing created by the label. It was important to show the brand’s commitment to the arts in the book.

Previews Inside Out What story from Louis Vuitton’s history embodies the essence of the brand for you?

Patrick Mauriès An important turning point came during the Croisière Noire [“Black Journey” in English], a well-known exploration mission in the French states of Africa. There were two big missions — one in Africa during the 1920s and one in Asia during the 1930s — and they had very impactful consequences for decorative arts collections. Louis Vuitton supplied most of the travel luggage and furniture for these expeditions. He had to invent a new way to build luggage that could withstand the conditions and climatic contrasts. It was rather expensive to produce, but he used special woods that were resistant to insects and special materials. Louis Vuitton has always catered to the wealthy, but there is a practical side to the brand. The brand sought to be challenged by the pursuit of innovation, while exploring new land. The combination of technology and luxury has always been at the essence of the house.



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Louis Vuitton’s Spirit of Travel

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