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Louis Vuitton Exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris

20 November 2015

Discover the Luxury House’s History During a Five-Star Stay at Hotel Balzac

Valued at $24.7 billion, named the most valuable luxury brand in the world for the 10th year in a row and the 14th most valuable brand in the world according to Forbes, Louis Vuitton is a fashion force in to be reckoned with. Its founder, though not as fashion centric, was also an agent of power, working tirelessly over decades to hone his skills, please his high-standing customers and transform his career trajectory from farmer’s son to owner of a luxury luggage empire. This winter, the Grand Palais is offering the chance to discover more about the entrepreneur and the house he created at a comprehensive exhibition that’ll have fashion fans thinking Christmas has come early…

From Luggage Supplier to Luxury Design House

Louis Vuitton’s story is a rags to riches tale of pure determination, hard work and awe-inspiring skill. Vuitton was born in 1821 to a farmer and miller in Anchay; a town to the east of the country near to the Swiss border. However, following his mother’s death when he was just 10 years old, the introduction of a strict stepmother and a wish to escape provincial life, at just 13 years old he set off on a two year journey by foot to Paris; located over 400km away. Upon arrival at aged 16, Vuitton was employed as an apprentice at a successful box-making and packing workshop by Monsieur Maréchal. Within just a few years, Vuitton had gained a reputation throughout the capital for his work and in 1853, he was appointed personal box-maker and packer to Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife and Empress of France, Eugenie de Montijo.

However, in 1854 he launched his own rival business, switching from leather to a hardwearing and waterproof canvas, and launched the ‘slat trunk’ in 1858; its stackable, rectangular shape was ideal for train travel, especially in comparison to the rounded designs that were already on the market. Having won the Bronze Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867 and launching more luxurious designs in 1872, he once again attracted attention from the world’s royalty and elite; becoming the luggage supplier for the likes of King Alfonso XII of Spain and the future Czar Nicholas II of Russia. He went on to win the Gold Medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle with a new brown and beige chequerboard design known as Damier, while his son Georges, who took over the business upon his death in 1892, invented a theft-proof tumbler lock in 1890 that’s still in use today.

Over the years, the company went from strength to strength by moving with the times, ensuring its designs were in keeping with the luggage needs of its customers; from trunks especially for spare tyres following the widespread introduction of the automobile, to iceboxes, typewriter cases and, following technological advances in the fifties, purses, bags and wallets made from a new supple canvas. The famous monogram design that features diamonds, circles and flowers came about as early as 1896 to tackle the issues of copies and to honour the company’s founder, and by 1914, the company boasted the largest travel-goods store in the world, located on the Champs-Élysées just 15 minutes from our five-star hotel in Paris.

However it wasn’t until 1997 that the luxury house ventured into clothing, launching both men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections under the guidance of its first Creative Director, Marc Jacobs. Jacobs stayed true to the brand’s roots, offering ranges that were ‘…deluxe but that you can also throw into a bag and escape town with, because Louis Vuitton has a heritage in travel’, while French designer Nicholas Ghesquière introduced petite malles in a nod to its history after taking over the position in 2013. From the blossoming business of a provincial farmer’s son to the most valuable luxury brand in the world, the house’s history suceeds in rivalling the sense of excitement evoked by its seasonal offerings.

‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ Exhibition

This winter, the Grand Palais is offering the chance to delve a little deeper into this fascinating story using the house’s archived objects and documents. The exhibition ‘Volez, Voguez, Voyagez’ translates into ‘Fly, Sail, Journey’ and will launch on the 4th December to offer an all-encompassing insight into the house’s offerings between 1854 and the present day. Its nine sections will offer a comprehensive look into the range of different styles, products and the needs they addressed; from trunks made exclusively with adventures on yachts, motor cars and trains in mind, to specific special orders that will showcase the exquisite level of craftsmanship achieved, and even fine fragrances.

The setting for this exhibition is particularly significant as Georges Vuitton was actually put in charge of the entire ‘travel and leather goods’ section for the 1900 Universal Exhibition that the Grand Palais was initially built to house. 48 million visitors descended on the newly opened architectural feat to see the finest inventions and creations, however the Louis Vuitton showcase fittingly stole the show, with piles of luxury luggage centred underneath the big top of a merry-go-round; framed using draped curtains at various entrance points. In the words of Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke, the exhibition’s curator Olivier Saillard will offer the chance to see a ‘…fresh vision of our past, present and future’… and with seven different guided tours available including those themed around art and modernrity, as well as free* entry, this will be an unmissable event for fashion fans enjoying a luxury stay at Hotel Balzac in Paris before the 21st of February.

*€1 booking fee applies online


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