This is the incredible story of French malletier and entrepreneur Louis Vuitton and the iconic luxury brand that bears his name.
Craftsman-turned-entrepreneur, Louis Vuitton's decisions would later serve as best practices for an entire industry, and his ingenuity would lay the foundation for Louis Vuitton to become the most valuable brand in the world.
With over 160 years of history, the Louis Vuitton brand offers quintessential lessons of how to create a luxury brand.
Who Was Louis Vuitton?
Louis Vuitton was born to modest means in Anchay in the remote region of Jura, France.
His father and mother, a carpenter and a hatmaker, respectively, were perhaps the first influences for the craft that would later define Vuitton's legacy.
Long before monogrammed trunks, as a teenager, Vuitton left his hometown in the green mountains of Jura at age thirteen.
The mountainous region of Jura is known for wine-making and today still has no industrialized cities and is home to approximately the same population as during Louis Vuitton's childhood.
He embarked on foot, and the journey lasted two years.
The decision would forever change his life.
Arrival In Paris, The Capital Of Global Luxury
With the support of a robust banking system, Paris was in the midst of a slow but certain industrial transformation, on its way to becoming the world center for luxury craftsmanship.
Arriving in Paris in 1837, Louis left behind a life of poverty for a city of possibilities.
He would become a master of elegance and craft, and later innovation and entrepreneurship.
The brand that would bear his name also shares his spirit, often evoking the same ennobling spirit of Louis Vuitton's rags-to-riches journey.
Louis Vuitton Becomes A Royal Malletier
In Paris's colorful city, the young Vuitton apprenticed as a malletier (or trunkmaker) for Monsieur Maréchal at one of the finest box-making and packing workshops in the city.
The work of a malletier was a highly respected craft.
The opportunity allowed him to hone his skills and garner attention among an elite clientele whose needs for a more secure approach to fragile and valuable items would later inspire his brand.
In 1852, Napoleon III assumed the title of Emperor of the French.
His wife, Empress Eugénie de Montijo, chose none other than the now 31-year old Louis Vuitton as her personal box-maker and packer.
Her royal endorsement gave Vuitton a gilded stamp of approval and the confidence to go out independently.
The Entrepreneurship Journey Of Louis Vuitton
With two decades of experience in his trade, performing at the highest levels, it was time to create a path of his own, so he opened a small shop under the Louis Vuitton brand.
Outside his shop was a sign, "Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specializing in packing fashions."
Joining The Luxury Travel Boom
Ocean liners, trains, and carriages now connected people from all over the world.
Mobility was a new kind of status, and it sparked an interest in travel for an explosive leisure class.
However, the more people traveled, the more impractical costs and headaches began to surface.
From Problems To Innovations
When Louis Vuitton began, existing trunk designs were flawed, and he saw this as an opportunity to create a better product.
Trunks at the time were not flat but rounded to encourage water runoff.
But this attempt to keep your belongings dry made the trunks impossible to stack, ultimately limiting how much you could take with you.
The Flat Louis Vuitton Trunk
Louis Vuitton's trunks solved two critical problems for passengers: they kept your belongings dry and allowed you to pack more.
Louis Vuitton trunks were waterproof, rectangular, and stackable.
When it came time to reinvent, it was an innovation in the locking mechanism that set the brand apart.
The Tumbler Lock
The Tumbler Lock created a safer traveling experience.
Louis's only son, Georges Vuitton, who would later lead the company, developed its design.
As burglars began to recognize the trunk's design coming to associate them with their affluent owners, the world's first pick-proof lock solved another problem for travelers: theft.
The brand consistently sought to offer customers pleasant travel experiences as alternatives to unpredictable ones.
It's Time For A New Chapter: The Global Luxury Brand
Now a decade into his entrepreneurial journey and in his mid-forties, it was time for Louis Vuitton to grow.
LVMH celebrates Louis Vuitton as 'the soul of travel since 1854'.
With over a century of history, the brand has aligned itself with every new age of exploration, adapting to the time's vehicles and fashion - celebrating the journey itself.
In 1867, Louis Vuitton exhibited his trunks at Exposition Universelle, the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
It was a global event that brought together over fifty thousand vendors from France and its colonies, Great Britain and Ireland, the United States, and Canada.
Nine million people visited the six-month-long exhibition, including leaders and royals from Russia, Japan, Prussia, Egypt, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire.
Louis Vuitton trunks were on display for an international crowd for the first time.
It marked a new chapter for the luxury brand.