In the heart of downtown New York City, Louis Vuitton recently planted a pop-up museum dedicated to the designer’s luggage production. I had the pleasure of visiting this alluring exhibition over Thanksgiving break.
Titled “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” — meaning “sail, fly, travel” in French — the exhibition was designed by Robert Carsen and curated by Olivier Saillard. It retraces the adventure of the House of Louis Vuitton from 1854 to the present day, telling a story through the portraits of its founders as well as those who continue to contribute to the future of the brand.
Simply by being housed in the heart of the city’s financial district, the show gives a grand initial impression. The curators started off the exhibit by projecting a digital subway station in the waiting area, complete with surround sound of familiar effects that one would regularly experience in a real subway station. Every few minutes, these subways, with “Louis Vuitton” graffitied all over them, rolled into place. It is characteristic of subways all over New York to be covered with brand names for the sake of advertising. Throughout the first hall, the walls were also mosaiced with the brand’s name.
It was particularly compelling for the crowd to first be presented with these visuals of modern travel before going back in time to Vuitton’s travel-making history. The main focus of the museum was showcasing the evolution of travel, and naturally, travel luggage. As travelling made its way from ships, to planes, to cars, luggage also changed and progressed into more convenient means. Before Louis Vuitton, all luggage consisted of large wooden crates, no matter what was being stored inside.
As a luggage designer and producer in Paris during the 1850s, Louis Vuitton was the first to think of covering wood crates with leather canvas to better resist rain and heat. The result is what we now recognize as his signature brown and tan “LV” logo.
Vuitton was a careful craftsman with high attention to detail. He would make travel cases for just about anything. When walking through the pop-up museum, visitors saw luggage ranging from clothing specific trunks, book cases, and art supply carriers to musical instrument trunks, perfume cases, and hat boxes, and even more.
Throughout the years, Vuitton’s son and grandson eventually took hold of the brand and promoted it to a whole new level, through updated designs and a continuation of the haute couture fashion of the brand.
The exhibition is currently on view, free of charge, in the American Stock Exchange Building in lower Manhattan until January 7.