“Show me your luggage and I will tell you who you are.” — 1921 Louis Vuitton ad.
Before it became the brand passed down through generations of super wealthy and toted by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna, the luxury accessories design house was famous for its well-crafted and high quality flat-bottom and round-topped trunks.
Since the 19th century, the manufacture and construction of Vuitton goods has been done by hand. Craftsmen line up the leather and canvas, tapping nails in one at a time, and securing the five-letter solid “pick-proof” brass locks with with an individual, handmade key. Each trunk’s wooden frames are made of 30-year-old poplar that has been set and aged for four years. Each trunk contains a serial number and can take from 15-60 hours to craft.
In the late 19th century, Vuitton was made revolutionary when he introduced his gray Trianon canvas flat trunk that allowed multiple similar trunks to be stacked with ease for voyages and long travels. Rival trunk makers attempted to imitate Vuitton’s style and design. He took measures to trademark his one-of-a-kind model and designed a beige and brown stripe motif in 1876, followed by another canvas pattern in 1888, which bore a logo and a statement that read, “Marque L.Vuitton deposee,” meaning, “L.Vuitton registered trademark.”
Vuitton died in 1892, passing the helm to his son, Georges, who introduced LV’s signature Monogram Canvas and made the global patents on the design, which used Japanese and Oriental quatrefoils and flowers surrounding the LV monogram. In 1901, Vuitton debuted the Steamer bag, a smaller piece of luggage designed to be held inside LV trunks.
Even in film, his luggage represents high-class international travel. The three brothers from a wealthy, globetrotting family in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited lugged their father’s custom Louis Vuitton steamer trunks across the Indian subcontinent. After getting tossed off the back of cross-country train, dragged up and down steps at various stations and overpacked with all their earthly possessions, one brother remarks, “Dad’s bags aren’t going to make it.” But, as Louis Vuitton would have it, they do.