Get Inspired With Over 1,000 Pieces of Travel History Seen at the Louis Vuitton Exhibit in Shanghai
After Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, and New York, Maison Louis Vuitton brought its Volez, Voguez, Voyagez exhibition to the Shanghai Exhibition Center. We were part of an exclusive group of journalists from Asia that were given the privilege to preview the exhibition in Shanghai that retraces Louis Vuitton’s history from its founding in 1854 to today.
The exhibition boasts 1,000 works that span from the House’s inception to some of Louis Vuitton’s most recent pieces, and was curated by Olivier Saillard. It retraces Louis Vuitton’s great journey from 1854 until now, through archives of the House’s founding family members, to those who create the Louis Vuitton of today. The exhibition begins with the portrait of Louis Vuitton as a young man by Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming, greeting each and every visitor as they travel through the many salons of the exhibition.
In 1906, a reference catalogue precisely inventories items and luggage from Louis Vuitton. The trunks that would make the House a success were already there. Distinctive elements, such as canvas motifs, locks, ribbon tufting, etc., were also featured. Flat trunks, cabin trunks, car trunks, and Aero or Restrictive trunks uphold the mode of transport from which they derive, exalting the art of travel.
The Steamer Bag was associated with the sea travel craze. From the 1910s, aboard floating palaces, people would change their clothing according to the time of the day. In the 1930s, the rise of summer dresses beckoned the sun on the deck.
The ever-present strong links between Louis Vuitton and China are featured throughout the exhibition with custom pieces, specially made for renowned explorers and artists. From early creations such as French philanthropist Albert Khan’s 1929 photographer’s trunk, used to accompany the benefactor and his photographer as they photo-documented daily life in China, to Chinese artist Ding Yi’s cocktail and cigar trunk, created for the celebrated Shanghai native in 2018.
“Louis Vuitton has always been at the forefront of creation and innovation, today and over a century ago. Constantly taking inspiration from our past, we craft the trends of today. Olivier Saillard has immersed himself in the Louis Vuitton archives to decode its secrets. He delivers a fresh vision of our past, present, and future,” says Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton.
A history of beauty, function, and mobility
In 1835, at the age of 14, Louis Vuitton left Anchay, his native village in the Jura Mountains of eastern France, close to the Swiss border. He traveled on foot, reaching Paris two years later. He was immediately hired as a box-maker/packer apprentice by Romain Maréchal, whose business consisted in manufacturing boxes and crates used to pack everyday objects and voluminous wardrobes. A contemporary of Charles Frederick Worth, the inventor of haute couture, Louis Vuitton founded his own company in 1854 on rue Neuve-des-Capucines and began to win the favor of important people, such as Empress Eugénie. Ergonomically designed, his creations were tailored for strength and lightness. He perfected the flat trunk, now considered the beginning of modern luggage. The use of canvas and patterns set his creations apart, as well as protecting against counterfeits.
In the early twentieth century, Louis Vuitton closely followed innovators who, from the airship
to the aeroplane, blazed new trails in the air. Louis Vuitton has never stopped using ingenuity to design increasingly lightweight and functional luggage.The twins Jean and Pierre Vuitton (sons of Georges and grandsons of Louis), were also passionate about aviation. After the J.P.V. car, they invented prototypes of a helicopter and an aeroplane that were shownin 1909 and 1910 at the Air and Automobile Travel Exhibition of Paris at the Grand Palais.
In 1875, the first vertical wardrobe trunk, with both parts thoughtfully fitted out, guaranteed the success of a company already specialized in travel. The rest of the story would be written by his son, Georges and his grandson, Gaston-Louis. In 1890, the tumbler lock was a major invention that allowed the same customer to open each piece of luggage with a single key. In 1896, the famous Monogram canvas proudly honored the founding father, who had died in 1892. The success of the Maison Louis Vuitton is based on the principles of French style, recognizing the beauty of an object in its function and mobility.
In the nineteenth century, the evolution of transportation reduced distances.Steam vessels were put into service in the 1830s, linking Europe to the Americas. Railways in 1848, the invention of the automobile in the 1890s, and the advent of commercial airlines in the 1900s ushered the world towards new habits and life experiences. Technical inventions favouring the traveller’s comfort were developed.
Since the founding of the House of Louis Vuitton, exacting customers have been able to place unique special orders to fulfil their personal purposes and dreams. There is no fantasy or extravagance that cannot be packed. Secretary trunks, library trunks, writing desks, mobile offices, Grimoire cases: The House of Louis Vuitton accompanied those for whom writing was a necessity and a pleasure, before any means of modern telecommunication existed. Fragile musical instruments are probably some of the most vulnerable items to pack. Whether a violin, a guitar, or the conductor’s baton, cases were expertly designed by the trunkmaker to safeguard the instruments.
A journey in 15 chapters
This thematic journey designed by artistic director and set designer Robert Carsen, is divided into 15 chapters, opening with the most symbolic object of the House: An antique trunk fashioned with contemporary flair while embodying the iconic hallmarks and bold spirit of Louis Vuitton. The final room is specifically dedicated to red carpet dressing, displaying some of the most emblematic custom-made dresses in a space decorated in neon works of art by Chinese artist He An. The exhibition features objects and documents from the Louis Vuitton heritage archives, select articles on loan from the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition ends with a section dedicated to the savoir-faire of the artisans who work daily in the Louis Vuitton workshops. The exhibit chapters are:
1. The Trunk Of 1906
3. Classic Trunks
5. The Rise Of Yachting
6. The Automobile
9. Writing & Music
10. Sophisticated Dandies
11. The Painting Trunk
12. Curio Trunks
13. Artistic Collaborations
14. Feminine Elegance
15. Stars In Louis Vuitton
After the launch, Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke hosted an intimate dinner and after party at the “cinema wing” of the exhibition center for VIPs, celebrities, and selected members of the international press. Joe Jonas, Sophie Turner, and Alicia Vikander were among the many stars in attendance.
See galery for more photos from the Louis Vuitton Exhibit:
This article was originally published in Metro Society February 2019 issue and slightly modified to fit the medium.
Photographs courtesy of Louis Vuiton/ other photographs by Raul Manzano