In 1837 a 16-year-old orphan arrived in Paris by foot and started apprenticing for a successful trunk maker named Monsieur Maréchal. It was during the Industrial Revolution and horse-drawn carriages, trains, and boats were the main ways of travel. Because of this, baggage was handled roughly, and travelers relied upon skilled craftsmen to pack and protect their personal possessions.
The young apprentice learned quickly under the watchful eye of Monsieur Maréchal and after only a few years, he became one of the city’s premier practitioners of the craft to Paris’most fashionable class.
After the reestablishment of the French Empire under Napoleon III, the talented man was hired as the personal trunk maker and packer for the Empress of The French. This opened the door for him to other elite and royal clients who provided him with work throughout the rest of his career.
He stayed at the Parisian atelier of Monsieur Maréchal for 17 years before marrying a young bride and opening his own workshop in Paris. It is said his sign read: “Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specializing in packing fashions.”
Things were looking good for the trunk maker and in 1858, he introduced his revolutionary rectangular canvas trunks during a time when only rounded-top trunks were being marketed.
The demand for his durable and lightweight designs expanded his business into a larger workshop in Asniéres-sur-Seine. He named his original pattern of the shellac embedded canvas “Damier”.
However, trunk making would not be his only success. He would also later design the world’s first pick-proof lock to keep travelers’ possessions safe from burglary and theft. The young craftsman safely kept the lock patterns in his workrooms registered with the owner’s name so he could make another key in the event a duplicate was needed.
In 1872, the talented business owner introduced a new line that featured a monogrammed design with a red stripe. This would remain an iconic signature of his brand for many years after his death and well into the modern day.
In case you haven’t guess the famous trunk maker’s name by now, it is Louis Vuitton.
In 1996 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Monogram canvas, the brand, Louis Vuitton, invited select designers to create unique pieces of luggage. The resulting collection was later[ii] displayed in the world’s great capitals, honoring the legacy and spirit of the young 16-year-old orphan who arrived in Paris so many years ago.
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[i] Louis Vuitton. (2014, May 23). A legendary history. LOUIS VUITTON ®. https://us.louisvuitton.com/eng-us/magazine/articles/a-legendary-history#
[ii] Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, July 31). Louis Vuitton. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Vuitton-designer
[iii] Pardes, A. (2016, February 26). The hidden history of Louis Vuitton is revealed. Architectural Digest. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/hidden-history-louis-vuitton