The other day my boyfriend and I were watching Pawn Stars on the History Channel. (Yes, Pawn Stars. That's a whole separate post.) If you're not familiar with the show, essentially people come into this Las Vegas pawn shop trying to hawk their treasures. I've seen everything from a quilt made of over 200 patches of celebrity autographs, to a faux Renaissance jousting lance. The employees then decide if they'll buy, and how much they'll pay. (The guys that work there totally play up to the reality TV of it all... they'll crack a joke and give a sideways glance to the camera, and you just wait for the "Did ya get that?") There's a grumpy grandpa that owns it that never says anything nice. And there's this guy named-- Arthur-- or something? But they call him "Chum Lee." Because he's of Asian descent. Really?)
But I digress.
On one episode, a guy brings in a gorgeous, weathered, and very antique Louis Vuitton traveling trunk. He had apparently bought it for next to nothing at an estate sale, where he said it was in the basement to be thrown away. That trunk encompassed all that I love about antiques-- you can let your imagination run wild with scenarios and stories where your piece is a character. For this particular trunk, I picture its owner as a Gibson Girl-esque shipping merchant's daughter, who wears long gloves, and hats with feathers, and smells like lavender and soap.
The trunk was covered in LV's signature monogram canvas, and the corners and lock were protected by beautifully patina-ed leather. The best thing about it, in my opinion, were the faded stickers from cargo holds around the world. Oh the tales it could tell.
I found this to be a great opportunity to educate my boyfriend on the history of Louis Vuitton. As his eyes started to gloss over, I told him that:
LV was originally a high-end luggage line and began in the mid-19th century.
And, Did you know that the famous monogram canvas design was inspired by Japanese art?
ANDDDD, That it is the most counterfeited brand in fashion history? (He proudly stated that he knew all about Louie-vee-tie-wans. Sigh.)
Then he cut me off. So I will take the rest of this little lesson on Louis Vuitton here, to my happy place. Because to me, Louis Vuitton is the epitome of timeless style and luxury; deserving of so much more than to a sad plastic hook in a van on Canal Street... or worse, this.
The real Mr. Louis Vuitton was born in 1821 in Jura, France. At the age of 14, he literally walked 200 miles-- on foot-- to Paris, where he became an apprentice of a luggage maker. By 1854 he opened his own high-end luggage shop, and gained international recognition after winning at multiple World Fairs. (Fun fact: Vuitton made some of the first flat-topped trunks; prior to this, trunks were rounded and thus could not be stacked on top of one another.)
It was for one such exhibition that Vuitton created a beige and brown stripe design, to hinder counterfeiting... which was already becoming a thorn in the LV brand's side. After the death of Louis, son Georges Vuitton took the company worldwide; by 1896 the monogram canvas as we know it today had evolved, and the Louis Vuitton Company soon saw stores everywhere from Buenos Ares to New York.
By the 1930s Gaston-Louis Vuitton, grandson of Louis, was heading a company that was broadening its product line. In the 1950s the canvas leather was revamped in order to better accommodate production of smaller leather goods such as wallets and handbags. Audrey Hepburn was a fan-- and there's really no more powerful definition of chic than that.
In 1987, the Louis Vuitton of my generation was formed: LVMH. Moet et Chandon (champagne) and Hennessy (cognac) merged with Louis Vuitton to form the luxury goods conglomerate. Purses & cocktails... rhythm & blues... Fred and Ginger.... they just go together.
The Louis Vuitton brand has managed to stay afloat in the ever-changing drifts of fashion trends. It has been translated into the languages of fashion geniuses such as Marc Jacobs and Takashi Murakami, resulting in cherry blossoms patterns and Crayola-splashed graffiti. But underneath the sparkle of Amarante, Pomme de Amour, and Perle Vernis lies the same simplistic brown symbol that covers the trunk owned by my Gibson Girl.
Thank you, Mr. Vuitton, for making that 200-mile hike to Paris. We sure are glad you did.