Icons & Innovations: Louis Vuitton: Special Deliveries

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2006
  • Laurie Kahle

Special Deliveries
Louis Vuitton’s first trip was a personal mission. The then-14-year-old, who descended from a family of millers and carpenters, left his hometown of Anchay, in the remote French Jura mountains near the Swiss border, and set off for Paris to make a new life. He spent two years walking the 250-mile route, stopping along the way to earn money by performing woodworking tasks. The experience shaped his life, and travel became his passion and his calling.

By 1859, having achieved success as a trunk maker in Paris, Vuitton prepared to expand his company, which had outgrown its city atelier. He moved his manufacturing operation to nearby Asnières, the quiet rural town located on the banks of the Seine. In the 1870s, he built near the workshop a charming house, which five generations of his descendants inhabited until 1984. The ground floor still retains a residential ambience; its dining room and living room are decorated in Art Nouveau style, with period furnishings and personal touches such as Vuitton family portraits. 
The top floor of the residence houses a museum dedicated to luggage. Here, the company displays the travel-oriented collection of Louis’ grandson, Gaston-Louis Vuitton. His assemblage of international treasures includes antique trunks, jewelry boxes, and portable desks—some of which predate Louis Vuitton by centuries. The museum also exhibits some of the company’s most prized special-order pieces.

Custom commissions have been a cornerstone at Louis Vuitton since the early days of Louis’ career, when Empress Eugénie tapped him to construct her travel accoutrements. The explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza—who in 1883 founded Brazzaville, the capital of the Congo—commissioned a trunk containing a fold-out cot for his African expeditions. Vuitton used zinc in the crafting of the trunk to protect its contents from temperature extremes, sand, rain, and humidity. The interior employed camphor wood to repel insects.

This tradition of special orders continues to thrive in Asnières, where Patrick-Louis Vuitton, a fifth-generation family member, supervises the custom workshop. Tastes have changed since silent-film stars such as Douglas Fairbanks placed orders for toiletry cases replete with an array of crystal bottles and tortoiseshell combs. One celebrity recently commissioned a case that is designed to house an iPod docking station and a collection of 20 iPods. Of course, the department still handles more routine projects, including gigantic watch trunks with watch winders, travel bars appointed with Baccarat crystal, and elaborate wardrobe cases, including one designed to hold 30 shirts, 60 coordinating ties, and an assortment of cuff links.

Nothing is out of the question as long as the request adheres to Vuitton ground rules: “We are in the business of movement,” says Patrick-Louis. “Nothing is made by our master craftsmen that cannot be easily transported.” Furniture is out of the question.  —laurie kahle 

From Around the Web...
From white pants to a dusty pink suit, these are the five pieces to add to your wardrobe this...
Santoni Colours-to-Order customization process
Design your own pair of custom Santoni monk straps at the Colours-to-Order trunk show in NYC…
Slowear Montedoro ($825)
Round out your blazer collection with an expertly tailored wrinkle- and stain-resistant sport coat…
P. Johnson
The new collection from P. Johnson brings the Land Down Under’s laid-back attitude to bespoke...
Corthay Arca Shoes ($1,750)
The ultimate guide to keeping your shoes looking like new from the footwear fanatic behind Leffot…
Form meets function with five high-design windbreakers from brands like Prada and Ralph Lauren…
From small boutiques to stylish restaurants, discover what these fashion capitals have to offer…
The men’s Spring Summer 2017 looks included tawny leather jackets, ocean-blue separates, and pops of sunny yellow
The iconic French fashion house debuted a range of refreshing new designs in the City of Angels…
Mykita
These must-know eyewear brands are taking spring style seriously…
From sporty Velcro styles to classic leather designs, these five sandals are perfect for spring…