Few things in life are as ex­cit­ing as the idea of trav­el­ling some­where else—with a be­spoke Louis Vuit­ton trunk, writes Steven Crane

Hong Kong Tatler - - Style | Fashion -

About 30 min­utes from Paris, in its spe­cial-or­der work­shop at As­nières-sur-seine, lies the heart and soul of Louis Vuit­ton. This is where LV trans­forms the de­sires of its travel-lov­ing clients into re­al­ity—ex­plorer Pierre Sa­vorgnan de Brazza’s fa­mous bed trunk, the Ma­hara­jah of Bar­oda’s tea trunk, Ernest Hem­ing­way’s li­brary trunk, Greta Garbo’s shoe trunk…

To this day, key pieces are cre­ated in this shrine to the art of travel: rigid trunks, de­signs in rare or ex­otic leathers, as well as spe­cial or­ders such as skate­board trunks, ipad trunks or even one-off vi­olin trunks. What­ever the form, it is here that the savoir faire of the As­nières ar­ti­sans is stamped on his­tory.

And what a sto­ried his­tory. Louis Vuit­ton’s lug­gage com­pany was founded in the right place at the right time— when the 19th cen­tury en­thu­si­asm for im­pe­ri­al­ist ex­pan­sion con­verged with the birth of the steam age. The new­fan­gled rail­ways and steamships en­abled more Euro­peans to travel to far-flung des­ti­na­tions than ever be­fore—and these well-todo glo­be­trot­ters wanted a prac­ti­cal yet glam­orous means to trans­port their be­long­ings.

The house’s epony­mous founder recog­nised the ne­ces­sity for a new de­sign and pro­vided it. Vuit­ton was the first trunk­maker to pro­duce flat-top trunks, the bet­ter for stack­ing, and he also made them lighter—and im­per­vi­ous to in­clement weather—with flex­i­ble poplar-wood frames and wa­ter­proofed can­vas sides.

As an aes­thete, Louis Vuit­ton had a very recog­nis­able sig­na­ture style. His brand’s ar­ti­sanal trunks have dif­fer­ent kinds of fin­ishes: solid Tri­anon grey hemp oil, red-striped cloth, che­quered Damier can­vas, and the clas­sic mono­gram can­vas. Very pop­u­lar with so­phis­ti­cated trav­ellers, Louis Vuit­ton prod­ucts have been copied for cen­turies, and the dif­fer­ent fin­ishes were de­vel­oped mainly as a way to dis­cour­age coun­ter­feit­ers.


In ad­di­tion, all Louis Vuit­ton trunks, what­ever the vin­tage, come with two iden­ti­fiers that will help to au­then­ti­cate them—a se­rial num­ber and an of­fi­cial la­bel. These days, coun­ter­feit­ers fo­cus on pro­duc­ing fake LV purses and other small prod­ucts, but it is still not out of the ques­tion to find a coun­ter­feit trunk.

The sad­dlers, car­pen­ters and lock­smiths who cre­ated some of Vuit­ton’s ear­li­est trunks—wardrobe trunks, bed trunks for ex­plor­ers, sec­re­tary trunks, streamer trunks, car trunks, aero trunks, and even a trunk for car­ry­ing paint­ings, like one made for Henri Matisse—were not only mas­ters of their craft; they were able to ap­ply their skills to any re­quest. Their mod­ern coun­ter­parts are equally adept.

A fifth-gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the Vuit­ton fam­ily—pa­trick-louis Vuit­ton— over­sees the As­nières work­shop, where he’s in charge of spe­cial or­ders and com­mis­sions. LV em­ploys about 200 crafts­men in the work­shop, cut­ting wood (poplar, which Louis favoured for its light­ness and flex­i­bil­ity) and sewing hides (from lamb, goat and calf to st­ingray and python). Other ar­ti­sans as­sem­ble and fin­ish the trunks, al­ways ad­her­ing to the rules—the logo must al­ways be cen­tred, the mono­gram must never be cut, the flow­ers must cor­re­spond per­fectly from one edge to an­other, and so on.

The fi­nal step is putting the sig­na­ture Louis Vuit­ton tum­bler lock in place. Since the found­ing of the com­pany in 1854, ev­ery trunk has been given a unique reg­is­tered lock num­ber, which records when it was made, by whom and where it was pur­chased.

Louis Vuit­ton re­ceives about 450 spe­cial or­ders per year, some of which the founder’s great-great-grand­son de­signs him­self. If cer­tain de­signs evoke some of the leg­endary trunks, such as the thin leather trunk crafted for vi­o­lin­ist and con­duc­tor Pierre Sechiari’s Stradi­var­ius, oth­ers dis­play rare or tech­ni­cal fab­rics, in mink, or Plex­i­glas.

In­deed, the his­toric spe­cial made-to-or­der ser­vice is well at­tuned to mod­ern times. One client, Karl Lager­feld of ri­val brand Chanel, com­mis­sioned Pa­trick-louis to cre­ate a car­ry­ing trunk of black Taiga leather with LV’S trade­mark brass fit­tings and a red interior for his 40 ipods.

Pre­vi­ous com­mis­sions filled by the ate­lier range from one by a Chi­nese cus­tomer who asked for a trunk that would al­low him to watch TV and serve cof­fee ab­so­lutely any­where, to five Malle Pléni­tude trunks, each hold­ing 23 bot­tles of the finest vin­tages from Dom Pérignon. For un­der­age im­bibers, Pa­trick-louis has cre­ated a trunk that holds baby’s bot­tles. Other re­cent ren­di­tions of the Louis Vuit­ton trunk have in­cluded the “Jour­ney of Tea” trunk, which was de­signed by Hong Kong’s very own Alan Chan in 2016, as well as a trunk to house a two-turntable DJ deck.

“I have three key­words for the work I do— qual­ity, tra­di­tion, in­no­va­tion,” Pa­trick-louis says, adding that “Louis Vuit­ton’s spe­cial made-to-or­der ser­vice is a per­fect ex­am­ple of our savoir faire and pi­o­neer­ing spirit.”

Clients should note that the As­nières ate­lier is gen­er­ally not open to the pub­lic. How­ever, a cus­tomised trunk can be or­dered from any Louis Vuit­ton re­tail store in the world, from Panama to Paris, and from Amman to Ulaan­baatar.

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