Born in 1821, in the small eastern French village of Anchay, Louis Vuitton got tired of the countryside life at age 13 and set out for Paris, taking him 2 years to reach his destination. Once settled, he set on becoming a master trunk maker. He apprenticed with Monsieur Maréchal, a boxmaker and a packer.
In 1854, Vuitton opened his workshop in the heart of Paris, 4 Rue des Capucines. Soon after, Vuitton, who branded himself as a specialist packer, introduced an inspiring concept to the industry. His trunk was stackable, lighter and more resistant to wear and tear. The birth of modern luggage, with compartments and shelves, elastic bands on the top interior for securing documents, some even acting as full wardrobes once opened to the side.
After 17 years of apprenticeship under M. Maréchal, marking the beginning of his career in an artisanal industry, Louis Vuitton opened his atelier and expanded 4 years later in Asnières, making it both a family residence and the core of the House, where products are still crafted today by 200 highly skilled artisans, in the most pristine working conditions: abundance of natural light, top of the line lighting, electrical systems, tools and much more.
Durability is key when it comes to the LV trunks and is found in every component from the Poplar wood structure to the zinc sheeting for the insulated bottom. The corners and edges of the trunk, most susceptible to weathering are protected by LV exclusive fibre, known as lozine.
Every item is finished by hand, with utmost precision, requiring hundreds of methodical operations. A trunk today takes a year to make, with working shifts around the clock, 24 h. Back in the 19th century, it took Louis 4 years to make only one trunk.
The major milestones for the evolution of the Louis Vuitton trunk:
1858: simple, grey Trianon canvas, without many signature motifs or traits, flat top and bottom
1872: introduced red striped cloth interior, called Rayée
1876: clients could choose from marron or beige Rayée options
1886: revolutionary locks introduced- single lock with two spring buckles. Harry Houdini was challenged to escape from an LV lock and box but he declined.
1888: classic checkered Damier pattern is introduced, in either black or brown
1896: classic LV monogram is introduced by Louis’s son in an effort to make the trunks counterfeit-proof
1900: introduction of the Vuittonite canvas in colours of yellow, brown, orange and black
Late 1900’s: use of specialty materials such as copper, zinc, wood, various leathers(calf, crocodile, elephant, walrus, etc.) in a variety of LV treatments( Grained, Morocco, Nomade, Taiga & Suhali Leathers )
Louis Vuitton still sells trunks and boxes for various goods such as hats, jewelry, tea, shoes, etc. with a modern twist.- a packer for all your high end needs.
However, the steamer trunk is now a highly sought after collectors item, available at auctions around the world as they are timeless and functional.
In Nov 2020, Christie’s Hong Kong is set to auction off several vintage pieces as well as more modern creations.
e.g The Zinc Exploer Trunk, manufactured in 1886 featuring zinc, copper, aluminium and brass pieces, estimated auction price 39,000-52,000 USD