Traveling and making art have much in common: Both require faith that you will get from one point to another, although the real pleasure often comes from connecting the dots along the way. A love of the unknown and trust in yourself are also very useful. These characteristics propelled Louis Vuitton, after he opened his trunk-making business in Paris in 1854, to discover and invent new options and ways of helping people get “there,” wherever “there” may be. Creating a new philosophy of travel while charming and seducing an entire era’s elite with your work is no small feat.
Was Vuitton a tailor of sculptures? An upholsterer of forms? An architect of patterns? He was all of those and more; he was a modern artist. Modern art is the celebration of design. The pure and noble lines of a well-designed building, airplane, or drawing usually are taken for granted by those of us who are lucky enough to be surrounded by such beautiful things. A piece of Vuitton luggage is a sculpture in that it is not only a finely crafted form, but also, with pattern repetition on its surface, a graphic work of art.
In both art and business, strong doses of practicality and ingenuity are essential to attracting others to your way of thinking. Vuitton seemed to understand that if you make people’s lives easier and improve their quality and enjoyment of life, they will want to join your club, and millions have joined the Louis Vuitton travel club through the decades. We cannot deny, in this day and age of logo-mania, that there is still a magical equation within that specific pattern created with Vuitton’s initials—the world-famous monogram designed in 1896 by Louis’ son Georges. These strategic embellishments placed upon masterfully constructed bags, trunks, and other marvelous devices for storing our goodies are not unlike a talisman that helps us fearlessly navigate our crossings.
The collision of industry and art can lead to great things when both sides trust each other. The antenna of art is the highest and the very first to catch a signal of what is coming next. Art is the fearless pioneer, the brave explorer ready to set sail for the next unknown territory. This is the real purpose of art, to lead and guide us into the “next.”
The company that carries on Mr. Vuitton’s legacy today is keenly aware that behind those famous LV initials is the soul of an artist. Louis Vuitton, the entity, understands this instinctively, forging collaborations with artists such as myself, Murakami, and Marc Jacobs, who creates the brand’s fashion collection.
The leap from luggage to apparel is a natural one. Fashion loves to travel, to change the scenery, while changing costumes frequently along the way. Whether you prefer going incognito behind large, dark sunglasses so as not to be recognized or being packed to the nines with a tower of luggage so as not to be missed, fashion and travel grant the liberating opportunity to transport yourself both physically and mentally.
While fashion’s whims may seem fickle on the surface, visionary designers are quick to recognize and stick with a good thing. Vuitton’s connection to the fashion world dates to the company’s inception. Charles Worth, the first officially recognized couturier in Paris, was a great friend and contemporary of Mr. Vuitton. Vionett, Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga, and a host of other fashion luminaries also flocked to Vuitton for assistance with storing and transporting their treasures. These arbiters of taste and innovators of design understood and appreciated the high quality and extreme care that goes into the making of Vuitton products. They intuitively sensed the aura of the LV symbols and understood the timeless quality inherent in something so well made that also had a soul. These are the qualities that any great work of art, or fashion, or architecture must possess, if it is to make a difference in the world and survive the passing of time. The ability to morph with each new generation and evolve into each new era is what defines longevity. One can only dream of what is yet to come from Louis Vuitton: One day, we all may be propelled off into the sunset, riding on our Vuitton luggage.
Ruben Toledo’s work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the textile museum at the Louvre, and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Toledo’s ongoing relationship with Louis Vuitton began in 1999, when he illustrated its book New York Carnet de Voyage, which celebrates New York City. He is married to fashion designer Isabel Toledo.