Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Evolution of Vuitton

I wrote this sometime back...

The maker of the world’s most iconic handbags, Louis Vuitton, has done it again.

At their recent Autumn/Winter 2005 fashion show in Paris, models decked out in black sashayed down the runway bearing gorgeous totes, shoulder and barrel bags which were spilling with decadence, embellished with fur trims, kiss-locks, immaculate quilted leather and of course, that signature monogram LV logo etched on canvas in gleaming gold.

Watching the runway slideshow from the website had me drooling with lust for the stunning cases, which seemed to be flirting with me from the screen, tempting me with their fabulousness.

Ahh, such seduction can only come from a Vuitton bag – today’s symbol of bona fide luxury; an icon that speaks for itself.

In 1854, French trunk-maker Louis Vuitton created the world’s largest luxury house – House of Louis Vuitton – an establishment to provide travel accessories of flawless craftsmanship and distinctive quality to the rich and the beautiful.

He would go on to create a legend around travel by crafting handsome handmade trunks, totes and purses that were as innovative as they were elegant and practical. A century and a half later, his legend lives on as the brand has become a proverbial landmark in the fashion world.

Today, the house’s success can be seen from the 300 and more stores they have worldwide which they fully own and operate.

Such is the exclusivity of these luscious bags that Louis Vuitton has never had a sale nor would you ever be able to purchase a Louis Vuitton product on an airline or at a duty-free shop. After all, with such a huge clientele, demand always exceeds supply at Vuitton, and waiting lists for its trunks (which take 150 hours to make) number the thousands.

Monsieur Louis Vuitton passed away in 1892, but his sons Georges and Gaston Vuitton continued his legacy by coming up with numerous innovations to appeal to the well-heeled traveller.

One such example is the hallmark Louis Vuitton Monogram canvas, which Georges Vuitton conceived in 1896, with exquisite intertwined LV initials and simple flower shapes. This became a classic trademark for Louis Vuitton and made their luggage and bags instantly recognisable. It still remains highly coveted today, and is repeatedly and shamelessly copied by counterfeits year after year.

But it was in 1998 that Louis Vuitton crossed uncharted waters by appointing superstar New York designer, Marc Jacobs, as artistic designer for Louis Vuitton. He produced its first prêt-a-porter line, propelling the brand into the ephemeral world of fashion. This risky move proved to be a success as it breathed new life into the brand, launching it into super stardom.

Suddenly, Louis Vuitton wasn’t just associated with royalty and the like; it was being shown on the runway and sported by fabulous fashionistas. The talented Marc Jacobs helped shed its dusty image by injecting modern pop culture and youth energy into the brand, coming up with playful designs as colouful as its history.

With the help of several artists, wunderkind Jacobs recreated the Vuitton bags, bestowing upon them cult status.

He first worked with New York fashion designer, painter and pop-punk visionary Stephen Sprouse to create the limited-edition Graffiti line in 2001 by splashing super sized graffiti across the company’s leather goods, giving the brand a shot of cool.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Jacobs then collaborated with avant-garde English illustrator Julie Verhoeven to create the Patchwork Collection of handbags, utilising a mix of all Louis Vuitton fabrications placed on Monogram Satin and Monogram Mini backgrounds.

2002 marked Jacob’s alliance with Japan's hottest contemporary artist Takashi Murakami for its Spring/Summer leather goods collection. Together, they redesigned the Monogram Canvas into a multihued riot of LV logos and saucer-shape, cartoon-eye designs on a field of shocking white. These manga-inspired bags provided Louis Vuitton with an international identity and became a fetish objects for many women and girls.

For the Spring/Summer 2005 collection, Jacobs and Murakami conceptualized the fruitful Monogram Cerises line – sprinkling the standard monogram with intense, bright and appetizing red cherries. These chirpy motifs have become one of the hottest items this spring, with Uma Thurman gracing the advertisement campaigns, once again proving Marc Jacobs as a worthy successor of Vuitton’s legacy.

Despite its entrance into the fashion world, Louis Vuitton still stays true to its tradition of excellence. Each bag is still crafted by the cunning hands of leather artisans to achieve that exceptional handmade quality no counterfeit can ever dream of attaining.

A visit to the Vuitton website provides insight into this intricate process. Watching the video of the craftsmen sewing each handle and hammering each nail into the luxury cases at the atelier, it is easy to see why Louis Vuitton bags carry such heavy prestige equivalent to that of royalty. For the Monogram Cerises bags for example, a genuine technical process is used for the design due to its intricacy and extremely delicate nature. A thin outliner is used for the details of the stalk, leaf, eyes and veins of the cherry; and fifteen colours are successively layered one on top of each other and applied in shaded tones with various degrees of pigmentation to achieve the exceptional effect of each cherry.

However, like all popular art, the counterfeit market for these bags is huge. In Singapore for example, it is not unusual to come across illegal stalls selling fake Louis Vuittons along Orchard Road or even in the pasar malams at HDB estates. These counterfeits however, spoil the market with their shoddy workmanship and ridiculously low prices.

So resolute to put an end to counterfeiting, Louis Vuitton has hired a team of specialists in Paris, with offices abroad, to crackdown on these schlock goods, which demean the pains put into the creation of each bag. Last year, over 8,200 anti-counterfeiting complaints were filed and 4,200 raids took place, leading to the arrest of nearly 1,000 counterfeiters.

In my opinion, purchasing these elaborate works of art should be a special experience for the buyer, not done quickly over the Internet or at some shady store. Just making the decision of what to buy requires much thought – should it be the timeless Monogram Canvas, the sophisticated Epi Leather, the noble Damier Canvas or the elegant Nomade Leather? And don’t get me started on deciding the shape and size of the bag.

I’ll admit, buying such an expensive bag to hold your lipsticks and keys can be quite an extravagance, but it can also be seen as an investment of sorts. Who knows, if kept in mint condition, your Monogram Cerises Sac Plat might be worth double its original price ten years down the road.

Then again, you might not want to sell your Vuitton bags ten years from now. They are, as lovers of everything Vuitton will tell you, not just accessories. They are symbols of art and fashion, of luxury and history. And most importantly, they are an ageless creation of the brilliant House of Louis Vuitton.

The Monogram Cerises line is the latest fruit of the creative partnership between Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami, the leading figure of Japanese Contemporary Art, designed for the Spring-Summer 2005 show

My first written piece :)

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