16 October 2012

Louis Vuitton - innovative travel goods

Lovers of Louis Vuitton travel goods will remember that this remarkable man died in 1892. However the company's management passed to his son Georges who didn’t hang around idly watching the business look after itself. Within one year of taking over from dad, Georges Vuitton began a campaign to build the company into a worldwide corporation, exhibiting the company's products at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. To this day, the label is well known for its LV monogram which is featured on most products, starting with luxury trunks and leather goods.

Vuitton shoe trunk c1920, open and shut, Pullman Gallery

If we want to see how innovative and modern Georges Vuitton's designs were, examine an unusual piece of Louis Vuitton luggage that recently came onto the antiques market. A 1920 Malle Chaussures shoe trunk was being offered for sale by London's Pullman Gallery in Country Life magazine 23rd Nov 2011, at $70,000.

Jared Stern noted that the price of this very desirable collectible was high because the trunk embodied the glamour and sophistication of a more elegant era, when such items were de rigeur for wealthy travellers. Featuring the iconic LV monogram on its canvas-upholstered frame, the trunk was fully outfitted for most meticulous fashion plate. It contained compartments for 30 pairs of shoes in individual shoe boxes, with ancillary drawers and trays for a shoe-cleaning kit. Each of the padded drawers featured a leather pull tab and nameplate.

Mabel Normand's trunk with shoe shelf, 1922, Live Auctioneers.

I was wondering if a vertical trunk was a useful piece of equipment since it couldn't easily be stowed in a ship's cabin or hidden away underneath a bed. Then the blog Looking for Mabel Normand displayed Normand’s Louis Vuitton early 1920s steamer trunk that had at least one tier dedicated to shoes. This horizontal trunk was covered in Louis Vuitton’s trademark dark brown leather with gold “LV” pattern, with brass corner trims and lock. The felt-lined compartmental drawers had fabric handles.  Included inside was a pair of Normand’s black slip-on leather slippers with silver shoetrees and shoe horn. The trunk was stamped MN in black on one end, FRH – Shoe Trunk painted in red on the lid and had a White Star Line label on another end. 

Alas I didn't remember who Mabel Normand (1892–1930) was. She was an American silent film comedienne and actress. She was a popular star of Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, co-starring in dozens of successful films with Charlie Chaplin and Fattie Arbuckle. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company. In her short but fabulous career, she must have travelled in great comfort. The White Star shipping line, for example, has a record of Mabel sailing first class on the Aquitania in June 1922.

The ship Aquitania was the last-word in luxury with its Egyptian swimming pool, Elizabethan grill room, Louis XVI restaurant, Carolingian smoking room and Greek lounge. Louis Vuitton luggage would have felt right at home amongst all that luxury. But while the Pullman Gallery shoe trunk could hold 30 pairs of shoes, Mabel Normand's trunk seems as if it had dedicated space for only 6 pairs of shoes. Perhaps Hollywood stars couldn't command the same earning power back in the early 20s as they can today. In any case, how many pairs of shoes did a star need to take on a trip across the Atlantic?



columnist said...

The larger older pieces are wonderful connections to history of a bygone era. That LV adapted further, by making luggage suitable for today is a testament to good business practices.

The trunks would make wonderful pieces of furniture in a bedroom today.

Andrew said...

I saw a lot of Louis Vuitton products in Bangkok and Saigon. I bought an LV carry bag in Bangkok. It was a real LV as LV was all over it. It quickly fell apart. I felt sad about fine European craftsmanship.

columnist said...

Andrew - unless you bought your LV bag at an LV shop it was a fake. There are plenty of them.

Parnassus said...

Mabel Normand was a star of great magnitude, and is still enjoyed on dvd and at old film festivals. I am glad that she got to enjoy the high life for a period of time until her life fell apart.

I think that the inconvenience of excessive and elaborate luggage was in itself a status symbol, as well as indicative of the Victorian and post-Victorian material lifestyles. At any rate, the airlines now are sure doing their best to extinguish any remaining vestiges of that era.
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...


without a doubt, Louis made amazing travel cases eg lightweight, flat-bottom trunks; and cabin trunks with wheels to the base and metal handles to either end.

But Georges was the innovative one. He added hat boxes, beauty cases, shoe trunks, soft steamer bags, trunks for books etc etc. He was indeed a testament to forward thinking business practices.

Hels said...


LV’s graphic symbols, including quatrefoils, flowers and the LV monogram, were based on the design of the Orient in the late Victorian era. The patent was to prevent counterfeiting, and it was successful for quite a while. But clearly no longer, alas.

Hels said...


agreed. For those of us limited to 22 ks of luggage per person, the Victorians' excessive and elaborate luggage did truly look inconvenient. But since wealthy people didn't drag their own luggage on and off ships and trains, it hardly mattered.

Not only was the LV luggage a status symbol; so were the tags of the most luxurious cruise ships. A White Star Line label would never be pulled off at the end of a trip - it would stay glued onto the cabin trunk for ever.

Hels said...


I most have another look at Mabel Normand. My father remembers her because of her starring roles with Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Farry Arbuckle. But since she died in her 30s, it must have been a tragic waste of talent.

andrew1860 said...

I'm not big on fashion designers but I have always loved Louis Vuitton. It is so classic.

Hels said...


me too. I don't know the first thing about fashions. But some elements of this story are fascinating:

1. Louis Vuitton walked from a struggling rural family to Paris as a VERY young apprentice. He eventually made himself a household name, single handedly.

2. Good design grabs attention. Louis had a great eye and so did his son Georges.

3. Timing is everything. Had the luxury travel industry not got going then, the Vuittons wouldn't have had an avid market to sell to.

ChrisJ said...

As you point out, 22kg is the limit now (no matter who carries the luggage). Airline travel is good for many things, but using large luxury trunks is not one of them.

Hels said...


In Dec 2011 at Bonhams in Weybridge, an early C20th steamer trunk by Louis Vuitton realised a price of £5,750/USA 10,000. If I was spending that sort of money, I would put the trunk at the end of my Victorian bed, as a piece of furniture for holding spare blankets.