Sunday, September 16, 2012
Louis Vuitton piece...
Here is a piece of mine that ran in SUNDAY magazine a couple of weeks ago..
I’m not sure quite when the moment was that I discovered in myself a desire for a piece of luggage that just wasn’t just any piece of luggage. It had to be able to be carried onto a plane, be able to hold enough for two days wear, it had to be monogrammed, and it had to be Louis Vuitton.
So I walked into Louis Vuitton Queen Street and asked to speak with someone. Ronnie sat me down at a desk, poured me a glass of sparkling water (on a L.V. napkin) and commenced a consultation. I ordered a bag with the mon-monogram W.L.C (you can have three letters) and chose rouge and iviore as my colours. An artisan would hand paint them onto my bag in a town just outside Paris, it would all would be sewn together, and eight weeks later my Keepall bag, a soft bag developed in the 1920’s for ‘chic weekending’, would arrive in Auckland. Unmistakeably mine.
Some people thought I was crazy spending the price of a return trip to New York on a bag. But I saw it as eminently sensible and fairly obvious. A purchase that I’d have for ever, a rather sustainable purchase in fact, and an item that went against the tide of the ever changing seasonal churn of fashion.
As I sat in the store, I wondered what Louis Vuitton himself would have made of all the fuss of his eponymous label today? Would Louis have liked the shouty graffiti style of Stephen Sprouse? Or the blaring pop references in some of the Marc Jacobs collaborations with Takashi Murakami? Would he have known that his company renowned for stackable travelling boxes good for easy storage would become, as it has, the biggest selling luxury category on earth?
Some people love my keepall travelling bag, and some think it’s a wee bit over the top. Strangers on the plane have commented that it’s a beautiful piece of heritage luggage that I will be able to hand to my grandchildren, while a friend, on first sighting exclaimed How Kim Kardashian! “ But with the W.L.C blazoned across it, no one thinks it’s from a stall in Thailand.
The arrival of a 16-year-old Louis into Paris in 1837, neatly coincided with the advent of train travel. France’s first railway line was also inaugurated that year, while a year later a European steamer would make the first Atlantic crossing unaided by the wind. People were on the move, trunk makers were in demand - for Louis, exciting times to be alive. Ingenuity, and a response to technology and travel, would always be foremost with Louis Vuitton. With the age of the luxury liner came the ‘cabin trunk’, slim enough to be stowed under the bed. In 1905, in time for the Model T automobile, there came the ‘driver bag’ designed to fit in the centre of the spare tire. And there was the ‘nacelle trunk’, accompanying the early aviation experiments. This trunk, yes, believe it - was designed to keep balloonists afloat if they crash landed into water.
A defining moment however, would arrive in 1896. Louis Vuitton’s son Georges spent weeks searching for a motif that would differentiate Louis Vuitton from the rest. At the time, Japonisme (the craze for all things Japanese) was sweeping the continent and it is thought that this inspired George’s eventual designs. A circle around four petals, a four point star, a diamond with concave sides with the same four point star in negative and finally the initials L.V. The design was registered in 1897, and with it, the Louis Vuitton legend was sealed. It’s the same 115-year-old design you see on the arm of Paris Hilton. There is history and imagination attached to Vuitton. Mary Pickford, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall – all would carry LV luggage. In 1905 Louis Vuitton designs a trunk bed for Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza’s expedition to the Congo; in 1939 a ‘portable secretary’ for King Farouk of Egypt.
The Louis Vuitton brand has been the biggest selling luxury brand in the world for a consecutive seven years. Hermes and Rolex are second and third respectively. The question begs, why does it still have such resonance with people? What is it about Louis Vuitton that has held its allure for the past 150 years? Do we buy into something like Louis Vuitton for happiness? For status? Or an intrinsic connection with a piece of fashion history that has trumped trends and has validated itself over time?
In Status Anxiety Alain De Botton asserts that we’ve always been attached to status, and objects are it’s accredited symbols. That once food and shelter have been secured, the main impulse behind our desire to ascend the social ladder lies not in the goods themselves but rather “ the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status.” So basically he says, it’s all about looking for love. Botton talks about early status objects such as the “candidly tasteless” flamboyant Victorian furniture, like an 1852 Jackson & Graham carved cabinet of oak replete with little boys gathering grapes, and two female caryatids. Oh, and a 60 centimetre high gold bull at the top. It was a hit.
According to the Louis Vuitton Oceania CEO Philip Corne, the bespoke nature of personalisation is a modern twist with an homage to it’s past – “ Today the client more than ever is requesting personalized products and the made to order workshop located at the site of the Vuitton family home in Asnieres on the outskirts of Paris still produces products to meet the specific needs of our clients.” For me, walking into Louis Vuitton Queen Street I wasn’t looking for love, as Botton puts it. Actually, I’m not sure what I was looking for, outside of a cool bag with my initials on it. But I do know that whether I’m travelling on the Go West 165 to Waterview, to Wellington airport, or to Narita airport Tokyo I’m a traveller in style. That, yes, it was worth two and a half grand, that it was a logical purchase. Or maybe I’m just seriously deluding myself.
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