This year Louis Vuitton Company has just opened another private museum, La Galerie. But unlike the huge Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of Paris, La Galerie was established in Asnières-sur-Seine, on the NE edge of Paris. Le Vuitton Fondation and La Vuitton Galerie could not be more different.
family home, show rooms and museum
As I have described in earlier posts, Louis Vuitton moved the heart of his business from Paris where it opened for business in 1854 to Asnières in 1859; undoubtedly he was focusing his eye on expanding the business. It was a wise move. That decade became important in the Company’s success story because they participated in the fabulous Paris World Fair of 1867 and won the first international medal for excellence. If Vuitton had not burst onto the scene at a time of increasing luxury travel and of gorgeous World Fairs, would he have been as successful as he in fact became?
It always pays for the founding member of a business to have talented children and grandchildren who can take it over and make it grow. When Louis Vuitton died in 1892, the company's management passed to his son Georges. 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.
La Galerie, Asnières
La Galerie also includes the workshops where the Vuittons produced exclusive made-to-order items. Thus the historic site is a family home, cradle of craftsmanship, source of inspiration and creativity, museum and archive, all at the same time. Its ongoing mission is to reveal the treasures that fashioned (pun intended) Louis Vuitton’s extraordinary fortune. So the architectural context could not have been more apt.
The exhibition was curated by the Australian fashion scholar Judith Clark and includes samples of every Vuitton item from the family’s archives: 26,000 objects and 165,000 documents. The ground floor houses a selection of trunks and toiletry kits, alongside period product brochures, Vuitton correspondence and monogram designs. The designs of the hand-built box trunks were carefully considered, and it shows! They had to be carried on horse drawn carriages en route to the port and then had to transferred by valets into luxury ocean cruiseship cabins. Space and stability were the two important criteria.
Three generations of Vuitton men
Son Georges (left), Louis (centre) and grandson Gaston Louis (right)
La Galerie, Asnières
My personal favourites amongst the exhibition displays would have to be the stunning clothes from couturiers Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet and even Christian Dior. Clark included the fashion items because she felt there had long been a dialogue between fashion and Vuitton, even though the show remained essentially about the trunks.
I imagine the objects in the exhibition will change over time since archivists are constantly restoring Louis Vuitton objects bought from auction houses and from private owners. Only one part of the Vuitton history has remained difficult to reassemble – fire during the Paris Commune Revolution of 1871 destroyed all the customer records up to that date.
Louis Vuitton Foundation
Bois de Boulogne, Paris
art museum and cultural centre