In 1926, the maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, came across a drawing in a magazine that featured a leather tea case. Enamoured by the compact and functional design—“perfect for tiger hunts”—he expressed an interest in buying one from its maker: Louis Vuitton. It was delivered from Paris by the early 1930s; the king remained a lifelong patron of the design house.
Since its inception in 1854, Louis Vuitton, a brand of trunks that has metamorphosed into a fashion and accessories powerhouse, has garnered a global following—from the Russian aristocracy to Indian royalty and celebrities. The French group LVMH Moët Hennessy-owned brand, with its serif LV monogram, is synonymous with a kind of opulence that brings together past and present.
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Yet so little is known about Louis Vuitton, the man. The maison is trying to change that on the bicentennial anniversary of his birth—celebrations started in August, with showcases and announcements of book, film and video-game launches.
Author Caroline Bongrand has penned Louis Vuitton, telling the tale of the talented French carpenter who left his home in Jura for Paris at the age of 14, to escape his stepmother, and went on to create his own maison at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines.
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In an interview with Lounge, she describes him as a “stubborn, serious young man who was inspired by travel, fashion and knew the two would remain very important for decades to come”.
His entrepreneurial journey started with an apprenticeship at a box maker-packer, Monsieur Maréchal. Over 17 years, he became a valued craftsperson at the atelier, developing a waterproof canvas and conceiving trunks with flat lids to replace the old bulbous soft lids. “Empress Eugénie de Montijo (Napoleon III’s wife) hired him as her personal box maker and packer. She really pushed him to start his own brand. So did his wife Emilie,” says Bongrand.
For the Louis 200 project, LV store windows across cities are showcasing 200 trunks, each 50x50x100cm, re-imagined by 200 people from different walks of life, like astrologer Susan Miller and music stars BTS.
“We wanted to celebrate Louis the man, not the brand. And his spirit, in terms of the spirit he had when he started his company as a 33-year-old. And what better way to do it than using the trunk as the canvas. It was an innovation at that time,” says Faye McLeod, Louis Vuitton’s visual image director.
She’s hoping to turn the 200 trunks into a travelling exhibition. “We would like people to experience these trunks in person and hopefully inspire to be creative,” she adds. “And try to come to India; it’s an important country for us.”
While Louis Vuitton is keeping its cards close to its chest on its India plans, sources suggest it’s planning a fourth store in India.
Here's a look at the journey of the Louis Vuitton, the man and the brand, in photographs.