Louis Vuitton exhibition: trunks for the memories

Label’s exhibition in Paris explores the 160-year history of its founder and the art of travelling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 4:16pm

Louis Vuitton is the subject of a new exhibition, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton,” at the Grand Palais in Paris that looks at 160 years of its founder and the art of travelling .

“The story of Louis Vuitton is defined by the history of the means of travel, such as the evolution of trains, boats, planes and cars,” says Olivier Saillard, Galliera’s museum director and curator of the exhibition. “But what is striking is that these means of travel became a true reflection of an art of living under Louis Vuitton’s influence.”

Saillard is known infusing exhibitions with poetry and story telling, and as such “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” (Fly, Sail, Travel) is more than just another fashion-meets-art exhibition – it’s above all a tribute to the incredible life story of a man, an homage to his journey and heritage.

A man who had a life-long passion for trunk making, Louis Vuitton left his native village in the Jura mountains of eastern France in 1835 at the age of 14 on a two-year journey by foot, ending in Paris.

The objects in the exhibition: flat trunks, cabin trunks, car trunks, restrictive trunks, new and archived collection pieces, bags and accessories, travel, beauty, grooming and writing utensils, are given a narrative that takes the viewer on a journey from Louis Vuitton’s beginnings to the present and future of the house.

It is this historicity that fascinated Robert Carsen, the exhibition’s art director and set designer who conceived a thematic journey around Vuitton’s emblematic symbol. An ode to escapism that epitomises the meaning of a journey, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” includes a conceptual set design that moves around the themes of yachting, cars, trains and special orders for celebrities and to music – the latter gives a nod to Carsen’s career as a staging director for operas and musicals.

“It’s an exhibition for the real content of social history. We highlight objects that were made to have a true, innovative purpose – where form follows function,” says Carsen. “It’s a heritage world. In a way it’s almost representative of French savoir-faire – representative of the artisans involved in the making of these trunks ... from the woodworking, to the fabric, to the leather ... I tried to use the same materials used to make the trunks for my scenography.”

But what has also been striking about this exhibition is the level of intimacy in both set design and curation.

“There is always something very personal about bags or trunks,” says Saillard, referring to the commissioned trunks and bags that belonged to Hollywood celebrities and fashion personalities, in addition to the many documents and hand-written registers that complete the archive. “When you look into somebody’s trunk or bag, you see their personal belongings, details of their life. This is why we can say that this is a truly intimate exhibition.”