The story of a luxury brand built on solving solutions and design thinking
It’s a crisp day in New York and my fellow fashion designers and I are on our way down to the financial district, to the old American Stock Exchange building to be precise. It’s the location and building that currently houses the new, and I have to say a rather spectacular Louis Vuitton exhibition “ Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton”
Curated by Olivier Saillard, the exhibition retraces the adventure of the House of Louis Vuitton from 1854 to the present. A story told through the portraits of its founders, as well as those who today are inventing the Louis Vuitton of tomorrow.
As we arrived, all guests are ushered into the ticket queue but alongside the queue is an installation and letters on the wall, that suggests you are in a subway. Suddenly the wall itself jumps to life, and as you pass by becomes a virtual train and have a projection of a branded LV subway train as it’s pulling into a station, and with virtual steam and appropriate brakes sounding, it certainly is a signal that you are about to go on a journey.
The beautiful beautifully laid out exhibition charts the story of Louis Vuitton, starting the story from his early days as an apprentice in box-maker/packer to Romain Marechal in Paris. It’s in this first job in a carpentry workshop at where he begins to make boxes and crates used to pack everything from everyday objects to large and difficult items.
In 1854 he founded his own company. It was from his very humble beginnings learning his trade as a carpenter that he began to understand the qualities of different woods, leathers and materials, and the intricacies of the handwork needed. He was going to leverage that expertise all the skills he’d mastered to create bespoke luggage. And so begins the exhibition.
The rooms are in chronological order, starting with his early days learning carpentry. What became evident as you wind your way through this majestic rooms around we began to realise that each room’s backdrop was focused on the theme, so the first room was panelled with wood. In the cabinets are displayed all the very early order books, advertising, and photos of his early workshops. The tools of the trade, all displayed begins to tell the story of a man curious and detailed who was obsessed with the highest quality of a product. He was aiming high from the start working for celebrities and the top of society providing them with his signature luggage such as the trunk (of 1906).
The following few rooms chart a departure from the classic trunk to all shapes and sizes of sophisticated luggage, all designed with incredible detail and through what I can only imagine was long periods of research.
The journey of his products and the success of the house is so beautifully evident in that it reflects the travel innovation of the time, or rather the new recreational pastimes of his clients. For instance the advent of motor vehicles, or aviation or sailing and cruises and trains. For every new trend, he had already thought through the ultimate travel solutions.
This man using all his craft and skill and entrepreneurial thinking invented a solution to customers problems before they know they had them. When you see the level of detail, the log webbing, the rivets, the locks, everything to keep the integrity of the brand noticeable and consistent. But it’s the sheer clever thinking that went on, that process of solving problems.
1. How to pack as much as possible into a small space?
2. How to make this case unfold to make the contents visible and convenient to use immediately?
3. How many blouses dresses, shoes would that customer need in that trunk?
4. How to keep the truck light but protective in transit?
Take for example the Aviation Bag: the Aero Trunk
“Holds 2 pieces of clothing, 1 overcoat, 10 shirts, 3 nightgowns, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 waistcoats, 6 pairs of socks, 12 handkerchiefs, 1 pair of shoes, 18 detachable collars, gloves ties, and hats – all weighing less than 57 pounds”
“It’s clear that when you see the finished products that LV and his team thought of everything. Each of these boxes or pieces of luggage unfold revealing magic inside. Incredibly intelligent use of space and skill full use of materials even down to the branded detailing to prevent copies and protect the brands IP.”
The journey continued to all the glorious room dedicated travel but also to the stars and celebrities that they served. Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, anyone who was anyone, travelled with his luggage, and it’s that early following that built the brand into its $28.4 billion business valuation today as reported by Forbes.
Despite the last room that finished on a flourish of new catwalk designs by recent designers Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones and numerous collaborations with Kasama and more recently with Jeff Koons, the thrill of the exhibition was that of seeing the history of the luggage so close up. The craftsmanship was and is, the ultimate level of bespoke, yet he exhibited innovative design thinking (read more about this in our previous articles Design Thinking and Gain Trust) from the start.
An extraordinary reminder of how many of today’s iconic fashion houses were built on intelligent solutions to customers needs. Even more clever to solve a problem they didn’t know they had.
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Joanne Yulan Jong a Creative Director, Fashion Writer, and Author of the bestselling book THE FASHION SWITCH ‘The new rules if the fashion business’. She has been invited to be a regular columnist for WWD magazine.