There is a special exhibit at the Musee Carnavalet in Paris, featuring Louis Vuitton. It is clear that Louis Vuitton had made his mark worldwide, so I was intrigued to discover what exactly it was that made his brand such a phenomenal success.
Louis Vuitton's remarkable success can be summarized in three factors: innovation, timing, and aesthetics.
Innovation and Timing
Louis Vuitton was a trunk maker. He was commissioned to make trunks for Parisian women with some of the puffiest, most exquisite dresses and garments. Louis Vuitton designed the trunks to fit what would be inside--complex outfits of Parisian women on the move. The concept of specially making a trunk to fit what would be inside was a novel concept.
However, Louis Vuitton happened to be a trunk maker during the development of holiday resorts and travel by train and steamer. The timing was perfect. He revolutionized the trunk by eliminating the rounded top, making it lighter, and adding a waterproof canvas. The flat top allowed the trunks to be stacked. The lightness made them easier to transport. The waterproof canvas protected the precious garments inside.
Louis Vuitton again modified the trunk so that it could easily slide under a bed on a steamer. The new trunk was shorter and longer. Also, because these trunks were specially made for clients, they were monogrammed with the client's initials.
Louis Vuitton's trunks were imitated from the start. The damier canvas was patented in the late 1800s, but it continued to be easily reproduced. Louis Vuitton's son and then-head of Louis Vuitton designed a monogram that would be much more difficult to counterfeit.
George Vuitton was inspired by motifs in Japanese scarves and paintings. He decorated these motifs around the letters LV, creating the classic Louis Vuitton monogram that is still used today. At the time, this monogram was much more difficult to counterfeit than the Damier canvas.
Louis Vuitton also relied on celebrities and the uber-rich, as most of their items were custom-made pieces.
Today, celebrities continue to assist the brand by using it. Kimora Lee Simmons uses one of the rare wardrobe trunks when she travels.
I recall an episode of Cribs where the celebrity had the interior of his car in custom Louis Vuitton.
Expansion from Trunks to Purses and other Leather Goods
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the monogram was revamped so that it could be used on purses and other leather goods. Again, counterfeiting was (and still is) a major problem. The relatively affordable bags, wallets and other ready-made items helped the brand expand from something that only the uber-rich could afford, to something that many working people can enjoy.
The Papillon bag made its debut in 1966, and is still incredibly popular. Like the Damier and LV Monogram design, this bag shows the timelessness of these pieces.