I never thought of Louis Vuitton as an actual person. It was always just a bag in my mind, though I never particularly wanted to own one myself. But this bag has a story to tell!
As its name, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” suggests, the Louis Vuitton exhibition at the old New York Stock Exchange building was a sort of traveling experience.
At the entrance, a life-size New York City subway car, branded with the LV pattern, was projected on the wall and sped off toward the exhibition – much faster than an actual MTA train. There, we started a walk alongside Louis Vuitton’s journey, which began in 1853. Vuitton was just 14 when he became an apprentice box maker in Paris. Eventually he founded his own company in 1854.
Vuitton perfected the flat trunk, the origin of luggage as we know it, and went on to invent new forms of the object to fit changing traveling methods. Each time, it was evident to me that he did so with heart, curiosity and perfection in mind. He embraced innovation, along with the art of travel, continuing to evolve himself and his products for a specific clientele. He took inspiration from many of his own trips. For example, the four-leafed floral motif that is part of the famous LV pattern came from a decoration on an old Japanese chest he acquired. (It was also on display.)
Throughout the exhibition we found ourselves in old trains, planes, a sailboat and other fantastic scenarios, beautifully designed to bring to life a place and time long gone. Walking through the various rooms was like following an expedition in the golden age of travel. The luggage pieces ranged widely – from shoe containers to picnic trunks and writing sets. Each was exquisite and handmade with special attention to quality and detail.
When we got to the contemporary section with more familiar handbags, I felt a little less inspired. Perhaps the past always seems more romantic. Or perhaps global corporations today, with their need to prioritize the bottom line and appeal to the masses, can’t quite speak the same language as one small individual with a genuine heart and vision. (Profit doesn’t count as vision; it’s often a result of it.) Some of the new handbags made in collaboration with renowned artists are experimental, and some are outrageous. Imposing the famous Mona Lisa directly on a handbag? Love it or hate it, would you really hang a replica of the Mona Lisa on your wall?
What would Louis Vuitton himself say about the bags today?
Despite my personal dislike toward overly branded, strange luxury bags, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and learning about the person behind the name Louis Vuitton. In the end, I decided that he was a true artist:
He who works with his hand is a laborer.
He who works with his hand and his mind is a craftsman.
He who works with his hand and his mind and his heart is an artist.
― Francis of Assisi
This fall at ThoughtMatter, we’re ending every week with a “Get Out Fridays” discussion. During each session, a different studio member will tell us about a recent event they went to that has inspired them, and can in turn inspire each of us here at ThoughtMatter. It can be any event—as long as it involves getting out of the office and thinking in a different space.