We are in 1854, in Paris. For a few weeks now, Louis Vuitton, a young trunk maker, has opened, with the means at hand, his first store at 4, rue Neuve des Capucines, in the center of the capital. The room is cramped, and there isn’t even a chair to welcome customers. Imagine the pleasure of Louis Vuitton when the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie in person, shows up in front of her store, dressed in a sumptuous dress, accompanied by two ladies of the company and a guard.
The Empress came to give her her schedule for the weeks to come, because she insisted that it be him, and him alone, who took care of packing her things for her next trips. When the sovereign emerges from the store, a crowd has formed outside. The name of Louis Vuitton is soon on everyone’s lips. It is a packager of great prestige, and of perfect reliability. From the upper middle class to the nobility, everyone wants their things packed by Louis Vuitton. And it still lasts today.
But back to the origins. Louis Vuitton, born just 200 years ago, in 1821, was only 13 when he left, alone, without a crumb of bread, but with the determination to sell, the family mill to escape his mother-in-law. who mistreats him. On foot, he travels the hundreds of kilometers that separate him from Paris, where he enters as an apprentice in the workshop of Monsieur Maréchal, a packer-trunk maker.
At the time, horse-drawn carriages, boats or trains were the main modes of transport, and luggage was often abused. Well-off travelers therefore call on the services of a packager to protect their personal belongings. Louis Vuitton becomes one of these noble craftsmen. He spends his days and nights perfecting his art in the studio and never allows himself the slightest entertainment.
He only lives for his work, which allows him to become the trunk-maker of a certain Eugenie de Montijo, future wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. The young woman appreciates Louis Vuitton a lot, whom she considers almost a friend. She is one of the first to advise him to open his own store. Louis Vuitton saves every penny earned to buy the materials needed to get started. He stores everything in his room. It is also in the midst of around thirty tools of all kinds that his young wife Emilie spends her wedding night. Enthused by her husband’s ambition, she will support him throughout his life in his business.
The first thing to do is choose the location of the store. Louis Vuitton is studying the plans of the Prefect Georges Eugène Haussmann to whom Napoleon III has just entrusted a mission of the utmost importance: to carry out a series of major works intended to make Paris a city of prestige. Some suburbs were completely destroyed, others were redesigned and major roads were created. Louis Vuitton is establishing itself in the new Opera district, which is under construction. The young entrepreneur himself repaints the storefront in a beautiful brown color and affixes his name in beige letters: Louis Vuitton.
The trunk maker specializes in fashion packaging and particularly the spectacular crinoline dresses in vogue under the Second Empire. The bust is tight, but some ladies’ skirts are so wide that they can measure up to nine meters in circumference. Underneath, to give even more dimension, we wear six or seven petticoats on top of each other. To transport these bulky outfits, Louis Vuitton is developing a new case size and folding technique that prevents the dress from wrinkling, even after a long trip.
Six months after settling in, its order book is already full. Louis Vuitton is hardworking, but also inventive. For his elite customers, he developed clever flat trunks that stacked more easily than the old models, with their domed lids. For the wealthy, Louis Vuitton creates personalized luggage. When Ismaïl Pasha, the regent of Egypt is passing through Paris, Louis Vuitton invents at his request a baggage allowing to transport fruits without them spoiling, even at the full sun…