The world-famous French fashion house has opened a new luxury destination, the first Louis Vuitton Island Maison, situated at the Marina Bay Sands shopping complex in Singapore. Surrounded entirely by water and accessible by a bridge and underground tunnel, the island features a complete collection of men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry and even a bookstore and art gallery. The striking building was designed by New York architect Peter Marino, known equally for his signature black leather biker look and having designed more high-fashion boutiques than any architect alive.
A Brief History
Louis Vuitton Malletier – commonly referred to as Louis Vuitton (or shortened to LV) – is a French fashion house founded in 1854 by Louis Vuitton. The label is well known for its LV monogram, which is featured on most of its products – which ranges from luxury travel trunks and leather goods to ready-to-wear, shoes, watches, jewellery, accessories, sunglasses, and books. Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s leading international fashion houses, selling its products through standalone boutiques and lease departments in high-end department stores
The label was founded by Vuitton in 1854 in Paris. Louis Vuitton had observed that the Osilite trunk, made by luxury leather goods maker HJ Cave, could be easily stacked and in 1858, Vuitton introduced his own flat-bottom trunks with trianon canvas, making them lightweight and airtight. Before the introduction of Vuitton’s trunks, rounded-top trunks were used, generally to promote water run-off, and could therefore not be stacked. It was Vuitton’s gray trianon canvas flat trunk that now allowed an ability to stack with ease for voyages. His success and prestige ensured it wasn’t long before other luggagemakers began to imitate LV’s style and design.
To protect against the duplication of his look, he changed the trianon design to beige and brown stripes in 1876. By 1885, the company had opened its first store in London, on Oxford Street. Soon thereafter, due to the continuing imitation of his look, he created the Damier Canvas pattern, bearing a logo that read “Marque L. Vuitton déposée”, which translates into “L. Vuitton registered trademark”. When Louis Vuitton died in 1892 the company’s management passed to his son Georges, who began a campaign to build the company into a worldwide corporation.
In 1896, the company launched the signature Monogram Canvas and made the worldwide patents on it. The now famous graphic symbols, including quatrefoils and flowers (as well as the LV monogram), were based on the trend of using Japanese and Oriental designs in the late Victorian era. The patents later proved to be somewhat successful in stopping counterfeiting.
By 1913, the Louis Vuitton Building opened on the Champs-Elysees. It was the largest travel-goods store in the world at the time. Stores also opened in New York, Bombay, Washington, London, Alexandria, and Buenos Aires, just at the outbreak of World War I. 1930, the Keepall bag was introduced and two years later, the Noé bag, which was originally made for champagne vintners to transport bottles. Soon thereafter, the Louis Vuitton Speedy bag was introduced (both are still manufactured today).
Between the end of the Second World War and 2000, Louis Vuitton incorporated its leather into most products, from small purses and wallets to larger pieces of luggage. In order to broaden its line, the company revamped its signature Monogram Canvas in 1959 to make it more supple, allowing it to be used for purses, bags, and wallets. In the 1920s, counterfeiting returned as a great concern, continuing to the present day.
In 1966, the Papillon was launched (a cylindrical bag that is still popular today) and ten years later the popularity of this innovative company producing novel luxury items had annual revenue of 70 million Francs (US$14,27 million). A year later, the label opened its first stores in Japan and in an ongoing effort to take the brand global it formed an alliance with The America’s Cup in 1983 to form the Louis Vuitton Cup, a preliminary competition (known as an eliminatory regatta) to the main yacht race.
1987 saw the creation of the now iconic LVMH brand. Moët et Chandon and Hennessy, leading manufacturers of champagne and cognac, merged with Louis Vuitton to form the luxury goods conglomerate. A year later profits were reported to be up by 49%, spurned on by the merger. By 1989, Louis Vuitton was operating 130 stores worldwide. Yves Carcelle was named president of LV at the start of the 90s and in an early move into the emerging and lucrative Chinese market, opened the first store in Beijing. Not content to sit back and ride on the success of traditional best-sellers, further products were introduced, such as the Taiga leather line in 1993, and the literature collection of Voyager Avec. To celebrate the centennial of the Monogram Canvas events were held in seven cities worldwide, a true acknowledgment of the entrenched global nature of the brand.
After introducing a pen collection in 1997, Marc Jacobs became art director of the brand and introduced the company’s first “prêt-à-porter” line of clothing for men and women.
The Monogram Vernis line of bags and wallets, developed by Jacobs, took some criticism for the sensitive nature of the leather, which stained easily and was discoloured easily from sunlight, hence the darker colours we see today.
Aware that the LV brand had potential to work well as other coveted items they introduced the LV scrapbook, a luxury leather inspiration pad as well as a foray into publishing, with the Louis Vuitton City Guides (presented in box sets of course).
In 2004, Louis Vuitton celebrated its 150th anniversary. The brand also inaugurated stores in New York City (on Fifth Avenue), São Paulo, Mexico City, Cancun and Johannesburg. By 2005, Louis Vuitton reopened its Champs-Élysées store in Paris designed by the American Architect Eric Carlson (reputed to be the largest and most successful LV store in the world).
Now firmly entrenched in the belief that a luxury brand could expand into a host of other complimentary goods, it released the Speedy watch collection with the appointment of Albert Bensoussan, aptly given the tile ‘Director of Watch Production.’ In 2010, Louis Vuitton opened what it described as, “their most luxurious store” in London.
The Louis Vuitton brand and the famous LV monogram are now among the world’s most valuable brands. According to a Millward Brown 2010 study, Louis Vuitton is the world’s 29th most valuable brand, after Gillette and before Wells Fargo. The brand itself is estimated to be worth over US$19 billion. For the sixth consecutive year, Louis Vuitton is still at number one among the ten most powerful brands. It’s also one of the most counterfeited brands in the fashion world due to its image as a status symbol. Ironically, the signature Monogram Canvas was originally created to prevent counterfeiting. In 2004, Louis Vuitton fakes accounted for around 18% of counterfeit accessories seized in the European Union.
The company takes counterfeiting seriously, and employs a team of lawyers and special investigation agencies, who actively pursue offenders through courts worldwide. Half of its communications budget is allocated towards fighting the counterfeiting of its goods. LVMH (Vuitton’s parent company) has further stated that “some 60 people at various levels of responsibility working full time on anti-counterfeiting in collaboration with a wide network of outside investigators and a team of lawyers.”
Today, products are primarily available at authentic Louis Vuitton boutiques, with a small number of exceptions. These boutiques are commonly found in upscale shopping districts or inside luxury department stores which operate independently from the store and have their own LV managers and employees. They have also embraced e-commerce with an online store, accessed through their main website, as another channel to market its products in a controlled environment.
The Louis Vuitton company carefully cultivates a celebrity following as part of its marketing strategy and has used famous models, musicians, and actors such as Keith Richards, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Hayden Christensen and most recently Angelina Jolie in its marketing campaigns. Breaking from their usual traditions of employing supermodels and celebrities to advertise their products, in 2007, the company announced that the former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev would appear in an ad campaign along with Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, and Catherine Deneuve. Many rappers, most notably Kanye West and Juicy J have mentioned the company in certain songs.
The company commonly uses print ads in magazines and billboards in cosmopolitan cities. It previously relied on selected press for its advertising campaigns, frequently involving prestigious stars shot by Annie Leibovitz. However, Antoine Arnault, director of the communication department, has recently decided to enter the world of television and cinema: The 90 seconds commercial is exploring the theme “Where will life take you?” and is translated into 13 different languages. This is the first Vuitton commercial ad ever and was directed by renowned French director Bruno Aveillan.
However, when a celebrity takes the liberty of using the LV brand without permission, the company takes a completely different stance. In November 2007 Louis Vuitton, in further efforts to prevent counterfeiting, successfully sued Britney Spears for violating counterfeiting laws. A part of the music video for the song Do Somethin’ shows fingers tapping on the dashboard of a hot pink Hummer with what looks like Louis Vuitton’s Cherry Blossom design bearing the LV logo. Britney Spears herself was not found guilty, but a civil court in Paris ordered Sony BMG and MTV Online to stop showing the video. They were also fined €80,000 to each group. An anonymous spokesperson for LVMH stated that the video constituted an “attack” on the brands luxury image. Could Louis Vuitton himself, back in 1854, ever have imagined his new take on luxury travel suitcases would ever reach such fascinating heights?