Tori takes on the Louis Vuitton exhibit as it lands in New York City.
A subway train rushes through a station on a gigantic video wall, emblazoned with colorful graffiti from the Louis Vuitton x Stephen Spouse era. I pause for a picture against a Louis Vuitton subway tiled wall and begin the journey through the Volez, Voguez, Voyagez exhibit.
At the beginning a wall of text shares the story of a rural boy who evolved into a highly recognizable brand. At the age of 14, Louis left his home in Anchay and walked to Paris. I repeat, walked. It took him two years. Upon arriving in Paris, Vuitton was immediately hired as a box-maker/packer apprentice by Romain Maréchal, a man whose business manufactured boxes that were used to pack everyday objects and clothing.
Before moving to the first room, I pause to let the gravity of that journey sink in. Voyagez, indeed.
In 1854, Louis Vuitton founded his own eponymous business, wardrobe trunks with intentional design. With his background in box making, these trunks were ergonomically crafted and tailored for strength and lightness. Louis Vuitton’s use of canvas and patterns protected him against counterfeits. As I learn this, I think about Canal Street and the irony of this motive. His designs captivated the fashionable and elite across Europe. Vuitton’s son and grandson would continue his legacy, crafting the tumbler lock and designing the famous Monogram to honor their founding father, who passed in 1892.
Walking through the exhibit rooms, it’s clear that the trunk is the star of the show. It was the dawn of modern luggage and it forever changed the way our belongings travel with us. As the transportation industry advanced to yachts, planes, cars and trains, Louis Vuitton’s sphere of influence did as well. Through this rapid brand expansion it’s clear to me that three pillars were maintained; their work must be functional, mobile, and beautiful.
In the Expeditions and Yachting room—a room tall enough to fit an enormous main sail—I meet a lovely gallery assistant who talked about the Steamer Bag. Originally intended to exist as an extra bag, it was a canvas or leather bag that could be folded and packed within a trunk. It’s modern size, lightness, and convenience was a precursor to the modern gym bag.
In the Automobile room I learn that when the car was invented it had no roof and women took shelter under veils, thick goggles, and gloves. If a fashionable passenger must have these items readily available then one must have a fashionable bag to hold them all. Whether the brand realized it at the time or not, the modern handbag was born.
While the Vuitton brand took great strides forward it always remembered to preserve it’s heritage by pulling older style elements into modern interpretations. A perfect example of this takes shape on a brown leather jacket. It hangs with its back facing me, a bold V bounded by blue and red triangles. This personal emblem originally belonged to Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of Louis, and any items that were specially made for Gaston-Louis were emblazoned with his logo. The jacket on the hanger was from a recent collection yet this hundred year old graphic logo on the back felt extremely modern.
The brand’s story is also told through the designers crafting the future of Louis Vuitton. Collaborations are at the heart of today’s vision, one room in the exhibit is full of contemporary interpretations from great minds such as Manolo Blanik, Rei Kawakubo, and Jeff Koons. My personal favorite sits in the center of the room elevated on a rotating platform, a Cindy Sherman themed Studio-in-a-Trunk.
The exhibit’s finale opens to a room with walls covered in the same Louis Vuitton x Stephen Spouse graffiti found on the subway cars at the beginning. The elite will always love Louis Vuitton and this room showcases famous dresses worn by famous people. Sidenote: As a Taylor Swift stan, Mackenzie was very happy to see the inclusion of her Met Gala 2016 dress.
There is an app specifically for the exhibit full of Louis Vuitton filters and virtual reality experiences to enhance the journey. I neglected to use this and I blame it on the exhibit’s impeccable curation along with the smiling gallery assistants who enthusiastically share knowledge. Despite this I walked away from the exhibit with a deeper understanding of the man behind the iconic logo. Louis Vuitton’s innovative history is amazing and this exhibit is truly a celebration of that. (I would also like to mention that at the end of the exhibit they give you a free, adorable and commemorative pin.)
Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton is on view at the American Stock Exchange Building in New York City through January 7, 2018.