Born in 1821 in Anchay, a small hamlet in eastern France, Louis Vuitton set off for Paris on foot, aged just 13. It would take him more than two years to arrive. At the age of 16 Vuitton became an apprentice to a box manufacturer before opening his own store and earning a reputation as the leading craftsman in the field. Hired as the personal box-maker and packer to Eugenie de Montijo, Empress of France, Vuitton became the travel goods manufacturer of choice among the aristocracy.
In 1858 he designed a flat-topped trunk that could be stacked—a radical innovation as trunks previously featured curved lids. Today, the brand boasts one of the world’s most exceptional collections of antique trunks, many of which are displayed in its stores around the world. Passed from father to son Georges, Vuitton’s business grew to include clothing, shoes, jewelry, and, of course, handbags. Its iconic offerings have included: the Keepall, released in 1930; the Noé, from 1932; the Alma, from 1934; Stephen Sprouse’s 2001 Graffiti collection; Takashi Murakami’s 2003 Monogram Multicolore; the Neverfull tote, released in 2007; and the Capucines, from 2013. Loyal customers have ranged from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Kim Kardashian; collaborators have included industrial designer Marc Newson, architect Frank Gehry, and photographer Cindy Sherman.
The market for rare and unusual Louis Vuitton trunks achieved a peak last year when Christie’s set a world record for a trunk at auction with the sale of the aluminum Explorer trunk. The Explorer trunks were produced in zinc, copper, and brass throughout the 1890s, but aluminum models were by far the most luxurious. Aluminum is today relatively inexpensive due to its abundance, but affordable mass production methods were not developed until the 1920s. When this trunk was made, aluminum was considered a very precious metal in France. Napoleon III had a tableware service made from the metal, and for a period aluminum was even worth more than gold. Louis Vuitton’s early adoption of new materials and technologies helped assert his dominance in the travel trunk market. Vuitton was a genius inventor, filing patents for special hinges and clasps, and exhibiting his radical innovations at world fairs.
Season after season the market for rare travel trunks from the historic house increases. This season on June 11 2019 Christie’s offered 10 rare examples, including a Monogram Canvas Desk Trunk. When closed, the secrets are hidden within, but on opening this special piece, the trunk is transformed into a functional piece of furniture. Our advice to collectors is to utilize these historical artefacts as design items. A shirt trunk makes for an interesting table and a wardrobe steamer makes a centerpiece.
The strength of the Louis Vuitton brand lies in its ability to constantly reinvent classic models and look to its archive for inspiration. Some models have been produced for over 100 years, while new styles incorporate traditional models and motifs to show the evolution of the brand. As technology and social media have amplified Vuitton’s reach, the lines between art, fashion, and street culture have become blurred. The trunkmaker for European aristocracy now collaborates with the hip skateboard brand Supreme, a mainstay of New York City streetwear and one of the most coveted brands in the world.
The latest Supreme X Louis Vuitton trunk is the perfect blend of New York’s street style and French savoir faire. The first partnership between Louis Vuitton and Supreme was launched in 2017 in selected pop-up shops—with the ensuing popularity resulting in stocks running out faster than anticipated. The collaboration continues to be of great interest at auction with a limited edition red and white Monogram Malle Courrier 90 Trunk with Silver Hardware by Supreme with Louis Vuitton selling for HK$1,375,000 ($175,935) in May 2019, after a pre-sale estimate of HK$400,000-$500,000 ($51,197-$63,996).
Christies.com June 12, 2019