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Louis Vuitton is a French fashion house founded in 1854 by Louis Vuitton. The label’s LV monogram appears on most of its products, ranging from luxury trunks and leather goods to ready-to-wear, shoes, watches, jewelery, accessories, sunglasses and books. Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s leading international fashion houses; it sells its products through standalone boutiques, lease departments in high-end department stores, and through the e-commerce section of its website. For six consecutive years (2006–2012), Louis Vuitton was named the world’s most valuable luxury brand. 2012 valuation was US$25.9 billion. Year 2013 valuation of the brand was US$28.4 billion with a sales of US$9.4 billion. The company operates in 50 countries with more than 460 stores worldwide.
The Louis Vuitton label was founded by Vuitton in 1854 on Rue Neuve des Capucines in Paris, France. Louis Vuitton had observed that the HJ Cave Osilite trunk could be easily stacked and in 1858, Vuitton introduced his flat-bottom trunks with trianon canvas, making them lightweight and airtight. Before the introduction of Vuitton’s trunks, rounded-top trunks were used, generally to promote water run off, and thus could not be stacked. It was Vuitton’s gray Trianon canvas flat trunk that allowed the ability to stack with ease for voyages. Many other luggage makers imitated LV’s style and design.
In 1857, the company participated in the universal exhibition in Paris. To protect against the duplication of his look, Vuitton changed the Trianon design to a beige and brown stripes design in 1876. By 1885, the company opened its first store in London on Oxford Street. Soon thereafter, due to the continuing imitation of his look, in 1888, Vuitton created the Damier Canvas pattern, which bore a logo that reads “marque L. Vuitton déposée“, which translates into “L. Vuitton registered trademark”. In 1892, Louis Vuitton died, and the company’s management passed to his son.
After the death of his father, Georges Vuitton began a campaign to build the company into a worldwide corporation, exhibiting the company’s products at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In 1896, the company launched the signature Monogram Canvas and made the worldwide patents on it. Its graphic symbols were based on the trend of using Japanese and Oriental designs in the late Victorian era. The patents later proved to be successful in stopping counterfeiting. In this same year, Georges traveled to the United States, where he toured cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, selling Vuitton products. In 1901, the Louis Vuitton Company introduced the Steamer Bag, a smaller piece of luggage designed to be kept inside Vuitton luggage trunks.
By 1913, the Louis Vuitton Building opened on the Champs-Elysees. It was the largest travel-goods store in the world at the time. Stores also opened in New York, Bombay, Washington, London, Alexandria, and Buenos Airesas World War I began. Afterwards, in 1930, the Keepall bag was introduced. During 1932, LV introduced the Noé bag. This bag was originally made for champagne vintners to transport bottles. Soon thereafter, the Louis Vuitton Speedy bag was introduced (both are still manufactured today). In 1936 Georges Vuitton died, and his son, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, assumed control of the company.
In 1938 the writer Eric Newby bought a Louis Vuitton trunk from a railway lost property shop in London’s East India Dock Road, to take with him on board when he shipped as an apprentice on the four-masted square-rigged sailing ship Moshulu, on what turned out to be the last Grain Race between Australia and Europe. He went out in 1938 and sailed back in 1939. He tells of his adventures in his autobiographical book The Last Grain Race.
During World War II, Louis Vuitton collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France. The French book Louis Vuitton, A French Saga, authored by French journalist Stephanie Bonvicini and published by Paris-based Editions Fayard tells how members of the Vuitton family actively aided the puppet government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain and increased their wealth from their business affairs with the Germans. The family set up a factory dedicated to producing artifacts glorifying Pétain, including more than 2,500 busts.
Caroline Babulle, a spokeswoman for the publisher, Fayard, said: “They have not contested anything in the book, but they are trying to bury it by pretending it doesn’t exist.” Responding to the book’s release in 2004, a spokesman for LVMH said: “This is ancient history. The book covers a period when it was family-run and long before it became part of LVMH. We are diverse, tolerant and all the things a modern company should be.” An LVMH spokesman told the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchainé: “We don’t deny the facts, but regrettably the author has exaggerated the Vichy episode. We haven’t put any pressure on anyone. If the journalists want to censor themselves, then that suits us fine.” That publication was the only French periodical to mention the book, LVMH is the country’s biggest advertiser in the press.
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1945 through 2000
During this period, Louis Vuitton began to incorporate leather into most of its products, which ranged from small purses and wallets to larger pieces of luggage. In order to broaden its line, the company revamped its signature Monogram Canvas in 1959 to make it more supple, allowing it to be used for purses, bags, and wallets. It is believed that in the 1920s, counterfeiting returned as a greater issue to continue on into the 21st century. In 1966, the Papillon was launched (a cylindrical bag that is still popular today).
2001 to 2011
By 2001, Stephen Sprouse, in collaboration with Marc Jacobs, designed a limited-edition line of Vuitton bags that featured graffiti written over the monogram pattern. The graffiti read Louis Vuitton and, on certain bags, the name of the bag (such as Keepall and Speedy). Certain pieces, which featured the graffiti without the Monogram Canvas background, were only available on Louis Vuitton’s V.I.P. customer list. Jacobs also created the charm bracelet, the first ever piece of jewellery from LV, within the same year.
2012 to present
As of September 2013, the company hired Darren Spaziani to lead its accessory collection.
On 4 November 2013, the company confirmed that Nicolas Ghesquière had been hired to replace Marc Jacobs as artistic director of women’s collections. Ghesquière’s first line for the company was shown in Paris in March 2014.
On 7 April 2014, Edouard Schneider became the head of press and public relations at Louis Vuitton under Frédéric Winckler, who is Vuitton’s communications and events director.
The Louis Vuitton brand and the LV monogram are among the world’s most valuable brands. According to a Millward Brown 2010 study, Louis Vuitton is the world’s 29th most valuable brand, right after Gillette and before Wells Fargo. The brand itself is estimated to be worth over US$19 billion. For six consecutive years, Louis Vuitton was number one of the ten most powerful brands list published by the Millward Brown Optimor’s 2011 BrandZ study with value of $24.3 billion. It was more than double the value of the second ranking brand.
Louis Vuitton is one of the most counterfeited brands in the fashion world due to its image as a status symbol. Ironically, the signature Monogram Canvas was created to prevent counterfeiting. In 2004, Louis Vuitton fakes accounted for 18% of counterfeit accessories seized in the European Union.
The company actively seeks to tackle counterfeiting, and employs a team of lawyers and special investigation agencies to pursue offenders through the courts worldwide. The company allocates approximately half of its communications budget to counteract counterfeiting of its goods. LVMH (Vuitton’s parent company) further confirmed this by stating: “Some 60 people at various levels of responsibility working full-time on anti-counterfeiting in collaboration with a wide network of outside investigators and a team of lawyers.” The company closely controls the distribution of its products. Until the 1980s, Vuitton products were widely sold in department stores (e.g., Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue). Today, Vuitton products are primarily available at authentic Louis Vuitton boutiques, with a small number of exceptions. These boutiques are commonly found in upscale shopping districts or inside luxury department stores. The boutiques within department stores operate independently from the department and have their own LV managers and employees. LV has an online store, through its main website, as an authorized channel to market its products.
Since the 19th century, Louis Vuitton trunks have been made by hand. Contemporary Fashion gives a preview of the creation of the LV trunks: “The craftsmen line up the leather and canvas, tapping in the tiny nails one by one and securing the five-letter solid pick-proof brass locks with an individual handmade key, designed to allow the traveler to have only one key for all of his or her luggage. The wooden frames of each trunk are made of 30-year-old poplar that has been allowed to dry for at least four years. Each trunk has a serial number and can take up to 60 hours to make, and a suitcase as many as 15 hours.”
Iconic bags of Louis Vuitton include the Speedy bag and Neverfull bags. Each season Louis Vuitton produces rare, limited edition bags that are generally only available by reservation through larger Louis Vuitton stores.
Many of the company’s products utilize the brown Damier and Monogram Canvas materials, both of which were first used in the late 19th century. All of the company’s products exhibit the eponymous LV initials. The company markets its product through its own stores located throughout the world, which allows it to control product quality and pricing. It also allows LV to prevent counterfeit products entering its distribution channels.
The Louis Vuitton company seeks to cultivate a celebrity following and has used famous models, musicians, and actors such as Keith Richards, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Sean Connery, Hayden Christensen, Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bündchen and most recently David Bowie in its marketing campaigns. On 2 August 2007, the company announced that the former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev would appear in an ad campaign along with Steffi Graf, Selena Gomez, and Catherine Deneuve. Many rappers, most notably Kanye West, Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa have mentioned the company in certain songs.
The company commonly uses print ads in magazines and billboards in cosmopolitan cities. Louis Vuitton Posters by Razzia were popular in the 1980s. It previously relied on selected press for its advertising campaigns (frequently involving prestigious stars like Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Catherine Deneuve) shot by Annie Leibovitz. However, Antoine Arnault, director of the communication department, has recently decided to enter the world of television and cinema: The commercial (90 seconds) is exploring the theme “Where will life take you?” and is translated into 13 different languages. This is the first Vuitton commercial ad ever and was directed by renowned French ad director Bruno Aveillan.
Louis Vuitton has had many collaborations with prominent artists and designers. Takashi Murakami created special edition collections, such as the Monogramouflage Collection, which debuted in 2008, and a previous collection, released in 2002, which featured some of his artwork. The creations were “painted” over the traditional monogram canvas, which brought a radical new twist to the timeless design. Marc Jacobs also commemorated a previous collaboration, designed by Stephen Sprouse. This collection, originally released in 2001, featured bold print that looked like graffiti, over the traditional canvas. The recreation of the collab used the same idea, but gave it a new twist using bold colors, like hot pink, neon green, and orange, that also glow in the dark. This recreated version of the graffiti collection was finally released in 2009 to much fanfare. Most recently, Jacobs teamed up with Yayoi Kusama to create the “Infitinetly Kusama” Collection, which features bold colors of dots over the vernis leather or the monogram canvas. These pieces come in black with white dots, red with white dots, and yellow with black dots. It was released in July 2012.