For the first time in the United States, you can experience the world of Louis Vuitton free of charge. The storied fashion house is opening up its archives for a special look inside its historic collection of trunks, handbags, red carpet gowns, and much more. You can see it all at Louis Vuitton’s extraordinary new exhibit, “Volez, Voguez, and Voyagez.” It chronicles the story of the Louis Vuitton brand since its inception in 1854, and through the lens of the esteemed curator Olivier Saillard.
It is only natural that the exhibit begins with the iconic Louis Vuitton trunks, the heart of Louis Vuitton’s humble beginnings in France as a box-maker in Franche-Comté. From the beginning, the young Louis was very serious about his “boxes,” or trunks as we know them today, making sure they were each of the highest quality. “You always think about the importance of leather when explaining Louis Vuitton, but at the very beginning of the story, it was all about the wood,” Saillard shares with Yahoo Lifestyle. Interestingly, Saillard himself distinguishes wood as an important element in his own work — so much so that he pulled out a piece of wood during the interview, to show a wooden block attached to his keys.
This passion for wood appears throughout the exhibit, starting with the craftsmanship on each trunk. Louis Vuitton used beechwood to reinforce the inner frames of the trunks, used camphor tree wood to keep pests away, and even incorporated rosewood, for its pleasant fragrance. To this day, many special-order trunks still produced to these specifications, at the original Vuitton workshop located in Asnières-sur-Seine, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris.
The trunks remain a central theme throughout the exhibit and help tell the story of how the Louis Vuitton brand became a household name for travelers around the globe.
It wasn’t until 1997, when Marc Jacobs became creative director, that the brand segued into producing ready-to-wear. For 140 years, it was focused on handbags and travel luggage. The exhibit is broken up into 10 rooms focused on the different modes of travel and phases of the Vuitton story — from yachts to aviation, automobiles, and trains. As you travel through the exhibit, you discover how the Vuitton label evolved as passengers’ needs for luggage changed with each mode of transportation.
For example, Louis Vuitton developed a large, cotton canvas bag called the “steamer bag” that was to be stored inside trunks to separate out dirty laundry — an early version of the hamper. These were heavy-duty bags that bear no resemblance to the plastic or wooden boxes in which we keep our dirty laundry today.
Although the steamer bags were fairly simple, curator Saillard tells Yahoo Lifestyle that one steamer bag on display from 1901, however lowly, is a “must see.”
Other standout items include the trunk specifically designed for the Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited, in 2006, which replaces the “LV” monogram with playful prints of palm trees, zebras, and giraffes.
Additional favorites include an exquisite hat box from 1937 once owned by the former editor in chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, as well as an old book trunk from 1964 that belonged to the designer Yves Saint Laurent.
There is also a room dedicated to the multitude of special collaborations from artists and other designers with Louis Vuitton, such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Stephen Sprouse, Supreme, and more recently, Jeff Koons.
Due to Louis Vuitton’s significant impact on American fashion, especially with dressing the red carpet, there is a special room at the end dedicated to the iconic gowns designed by former and current Louis Vuitton creative directors Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière. One standout on display is the stunning strapless yellow, hand-beaded gown worn by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander in 2016.
The exhibit is beautifully crafted from start to finish. Saillard says that he would love to “invite visitors to appreciate every decade” of the Louis Vuitton story and the many people from Louis Vuitton’s family tree who helped make the brand what it is today.
Remember, admission is free — so gather your colleagues, friends, and family to enter the world of Louis Vuitton like you’ve never seen it before. “Vogez, Voguez, and Voyagez” will be on display at 86 Trinity Place through Jan. 7, 2018. You can find more information at louisvuitton.com.
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