Louis Vuitton was born on 4 August 1821 in Anchay, a rural village in the Jura region of Eastern France. His father, Xavier Vuitton, was a farmer, his mother, Coronne Gaillard, a milliner.
From humble beginnings, Louis Vuitton laid the foundations for a luggage enterprise that would serve the upper echelons of 19th-century society. His son, Georges, expanded on his father’s work through the 20th century.
At age 13, Vuitton leaves his home in rural France to seek his fortune in Paris. It takes him two years, alone and on foot, to complete his 300-mile journey to the capital.
Vuitton is taken on as an apprentice by a Monsieur Marechal. Marechal is a layetier – a maker of wooden boxes and cases for transporting travellers’ possessions. Vuitton rises through the ranks quickly at Marechal’s workshop.
Vuitton is selected as the personal layetier to Empress Eugénie de Montijo, a Spanish Countess and wife of Napoleon III. The experience introduced him to the elite classes of Parisian society.
Louis Vuitton opens his first shop at 4 Rue Neuve de Capucines, Paris. His storefront reads “Louis Vuitton, Layetier-Emballeur (luggage maker and packer).”
Vuitton begins producing flat-topped trunks in grey Trianon canvas at a workshop on the Rue de Rocher, Paris. Vuitton’s new designs were perfect for shipping on railroads and steamships, the latest developments in trans-continental travel.
As demand for his trunks increases, Vuitton opens expanded workshops in the Parisian suburb of Asnières, including a private residence for Vuitton and his family. The company workshop and archives remain here to this day.
A rounded Vuitton trunk in grey Trianon is commissioned by Empress Eugénie. Word soon spreads of the layetier amongst Parisian nobility; Vuitton’s client list expands rapidly as trans-continental travel becomes a reality.
A second Parisian store opens at 1, Rue Scribe, in the months following the Siege of Paris.
Striped “Rayée” canvas is introduced in red.
The first Vuitton Wardrobe Trunk is introduced.
A second maroon and beige option of the Rayée canvas is introduced and is well received.
Louis dispatches his son, Georges Vuitton, to open the brand’s first London store at 289, Oxford Street.
A Rayée trunk with drawers is commissioned for Abdülhamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Damier canvas is introduced for the first time in an effort to combat growing imitation of Vuitton luggage. The luggage bears a logo reading “Marque L. Vuitton Déposée” – L.Vuitton Registered Trademark.
London store moves to 454, The Strand, directly opposite Charing Cross Station.
Georges introduces the five-tumbler lock, a design so secure that it still features on Vuitton luggage today. The challenge of escaping from a newly fitted trunk is offered to Harry Houdini – he declines!
Louis Vuitton passes away, leaving the business to his son, Georges.
Continue reading the story in Pt.2: 1893–1987
Du Cadeau ou La Bonne Manière – 1924 Edition
Louis Vuitton ‘Extrait de la Revue Mobilier et Decoration’ – circa 1925
‘100 Legendary Trunks – Louis Vuitton’ – Pierre Leonforte and Eric Pujalet-Plaa. Abrams, 2010.