As I have mentioned before elsewhere, as a marketing associate I do a lot of traveling to promote Louis Vuitton products and to meet with all kinds of people to get advertising campaigns in motion and running smoothly. I spent a lot of time in China as a result, which means I don’t spend as much time as I’d like in my own home.
Here’s one helluva story for you
From time to time I like to share a person story or two about my life even if they are only tangentially related to Louis Vuitton . I was recently assigned to go to Shanghai for an assignment, but I wasnt given as much lead time as I normally am. Usually I’m given at least 48 hours before I’m scheduled to go all the way across the world, but this time I was given less than 24 hours to get all my things packed and ready to go. I was annoyed and a little nervous that I would forget something along the way, but you’ll never guess what happened.
I maniacally packed up all my bags (Louis Vuitton of course – I’m always rocking with a couple of classic Damiers, in addition to whatever other new products I’m given to test or show to potential buyers and marketing people) and called a taxi to take me to the airport, and while I’m waiting there, a storm blows up. The wind is howling outside, but I’m not paying much attention – that is, until a very large tree in my front yard falls over!
What do you do with no time and a fallen tree?
I quickly looked through the phonebook and found some certified arborist surgeons, and I was lucky enough to find one that advertised 24-hour emergency removals. If I hadn’t found them, I’d probably still have a tree fallen in the middle of the street outside my house. God knows what kind of lawsuit that could get started, and then I wouldn’t be traveling anywhere for a while!
In any case, the company was gracious enough to send someone out. He must have thought I had a lot of money due to my luggage, because he made a point of trying to sell me additional services, including “affordable stump grinding” for the stump that was left over where my beautiful tree was.
You’ll never believe it: because they were so quick at coming out, I was able to set all the services up before my taxi arrived, and I made my plane. Now that’s good service all around!
Louis Vuitton only gets the most attractive and successful people to model their clothing, accessories, and bags – I mean, they almost got Michael Phelps, perhaps the greatest athlete of all time if the Olympic Games are any indication of an athlete’s abilities, disqualified they wanted him so badly! So it was no surprise when they hired Michelle Williams (that’s the actress, not the member of former girl-band Destiny’s Child, mind you) to represent their products way back in mid-2000s, and has continued to pay her to appear in their advertisements for their products.
An actress with acting chops
Depending on your age, you might remember Michelle or not from any number of shows, as she’s been popular for a number of roles. She got her start in 1994’s film feature Lassie, for which she won a Youth in Film nomination – a sign of the incredibly successful career she’d have in front of her. She had cameo roles in television on popular 90s shows like Baywatch, Step by Step, and Home Improvement, as well as film roles in movies like Species and Halloween H20, before landing what might be her most popular role as Jen on Dawson’s Creek. That show, of course, was one of the most popular shows in television during its run, from 1998 to 2003.
Williams has shown a range of impressive acting abilities in movies like Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, and Shutter Island, and has also recently been acting in some pretty serious broadway shoes: first Cabaret, and most recently Blackbird.
The relationship between Louis Vuitton and counterfeiting is a long and complicated one. Founder Vuitton established his company on innovation, and yet he was constantly distracted from that goal because he was always changing the style of his luggage in order to prevent copycats from selling similar products. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Let’s think about it.
Counterfeiting drives LV to create iconic looks
Whether the counterfeiters were right or wrong in their endeavor to mimic Vuitton’s designs, there’s no question that they forced both Louis and his son Georges to create many of the iconic styles of Louis Vuitton’s luggage, some of which are even still around today. In fact, it could be said that LV owes both its brown on brown color scheme and its infamous monogram to counterfeiters: both were designed in order to make the products look more unique and to make them harder to copy. Without those counterfeiters, Louis Vuitton bags might still be the original grey canvas!
Counterfeiting follows LV into the 21st century
The problem, however, still dogs the company, even today. It was reported that about 18 percent of all confiscated counterfeit accessories apprehended by authorities are Louis Vuitton fakes – a pretty incredible figure. It presents a very chicken-or-egg scenario: is it because Vuitton’s original designs were so great that the counterfeiting problem emerged, or did Vuitton create the problem himself by creating a product so unique that others wanted it so badly that they copied its design? The world may never know, but it will always have LV copycats.
Louis Vuitton spent much of his life trying to create an original product that his company could sell. While he was incredibly successful at creating an innovative set of trunks that changed the way people traveled and what they desired for their luggage needs, it was his son, Georges, who really took the company to new heights as a luxury brand with incredible style.
Victorian trope becomes modern day calling card
Georges desire to turn Louis Vuitton into a luxury company began with the continued investment in innovation, the opening of stores outside of France, and developing an original look that would be difficult to duplicate. He succeeded on all fronts.
While his father was still alive, Georges opened a store in London, which became an overnight success. In 1890, he invented the five-tumbler lock, providing each customer with a personalized combination so that no one else could access their luggage, increasing the trunks’ appeal to the upper class.
It was in 1892, however, the Georges really outdid himself as he was working to make LV’s products less easy to counterfeit: he came up with the now-infamous LV monogram. Georges came up with the monogram by setting his father’s initials, LV, against a backdrop of stars and flowers with an Oriental theme, which was very popular in the Victorian era. The monogram would come to be used on many of Louis Vuitton’s products, and is, by far, it’s most recognizable canvas even today, more than a century later. You can’t deny Georges success in this aspect.
Continued imitation results in new look
While we appreciate the look of Louis Vuitton products now because of their high quality and the insanely high value of the brand, we often forget that the luggage was born out of innovation and not just style. We’ve talked a little bit, over the last few days, about how the flat tops and bottoms of Vuitton’s trunks resulted in their immediate popularity due to their ability to be easily stacked, but we haven’t touched that much on how the style of the trunks developed over time.
As Vuitton’s trunks continued to increase in popularity, so too did the number of imitations of his products. He had already changed the looks at least twice in order to make his trunks unique, but he’d do it again one more time before his death.
Famous colors in checker pattern
In 1888, Vuitton introduced the Damier canvas, a name that has carried forward over 125 years – one can still purchase a Damier canvas today, though it looks radically different from the original. The original Damier canvases came in checker patterns: a rare one with red and white, and the more common light and dark brown checker, the latter, of course, being colors that are familiar to us due to their continued use by the modern incarnation of Louis Vuitton. In order to further minimize imitation, Vuitton had each trunk marked with “marque L. Vuitton déposée” on the inside, which loosely translates to L. Vuitton trademark.
Vuitton died in 1892, and left the company to his son, Georges Vuitton.
Continuing our history lesson
I’ve recently become really interested in the history of Louis Vuitton, and so yesterday we started talking specfically about the man who gave the company its name. As we said yesterday, the great innovation that launched the career of Louis Vuitton Malletier and Louis Vuitton the fashion house was a trunk, called the Trianon canvas, a grey luggage case with a flat top and a flat bottom. Because of this innovation, the luggage could be stacked – a proposition which, though we might find completely ridiculous as a contemporary selling point, was novel in 1858. Up to that point, luggage had been rounded in order that rain might slide off it.
Piracy is second only to necessity when it comes to invention
Vuitton’s luggage was so popular, that other companies began to copy his flat design. In order to combat the theft of his design, Vuitton came up with a specific pattern that would identify any piece of luggage as authentically LV. He introduced this pattern on his next trunk, called the Rayée canvas – French for “striped” – which featured a red and white striped design. This design appeared in 1872, and remained until 1876, when the red and black stripes were replaced with beige and brown stripes.
Vuitton stuck with this design for about twelve years, until the introduction of the Damier in 1888, the iconic trunk that would change the company forever. In the meantime, copycats did their best to imitate the look of Louis Vuitton’s trunks, forcing him to come up with the pattern that would become iconic.
When we talk about Louis Vuitton, we’re usually talking about a fancy handbag or some other product from the fashion house that is making the rounds in fashion mags or being worn by some famous celebrity on some runway for some awards ceremony. But how often do we stop and think about the man, Louis Vuitton, the one who founded the company that would go on to become one of the most recognizable and valuable brands in the history of the world? My guess is that it probably doesn’t cross anyone’s mind too very often, so today I want to highlight the history of the man who gave the luxury brand its name.
Necessity is the mother of invention – and luxury handbags
Few people know that Louis Vuitton Malletier, the man who gave the Louis Vuitton fashion house and brand its name, was actually quite a genius. The whole reason his products stood out, in the beginning, was because he decided to do something radically different from his competitors – something which seems ridiculous, now, but in 1854 was revolutionary: he decided to make luggage that was stackable. That’s right, before Louis Vuitton came along, luggage was much more difficult to stack.
Vuitton created a new kind of trunk, one that was flat on both the top and the bottom. There’s a joke in here somewhere about the world being flat, but we’ll leave it for keener minds to find and share with us at a later time.
If you’re looking for heaven on Earth, look no farther than the West Lake in Hangzhou China. As the saying goes, “Above there is heaven, below there are Hangzhou and Suzhou.” Hangzhou is one of China’s oldest cities, having been known as one of China’s most prosperous cities for over a millenium. The area has been inhabited by humans for the last seven thousand years, and it was here that rice was first cultivated in southeastern China. If that’s not enough of a pull to draw you to this sanctuary, keep reading.
“The most beautiful and elegant city in the world.”
One of history’s most famous travelers, Marco Polo, called Hangzhou “the most beautiful and elegant city in the world,” and for good reason. West Lake is a freshwater lake divided into five sections by three causeways, with a temples, gardens, pagodas and artificial islands dotting it. Known as place poets and painters have come for centuries for inspiration, it’s a place whose beauty must be seen to be believed. In addition, the world’s largest tidal bore — that is, the wave that marks the boundary of the incoming tide — can be found here.
More than just a pretty landscape
In addition to the incredible landscape, however, Hangzhou also contains many famous historical and cultural sites, including temples and pagodas. China’s National Silk Museum and National Tea Museum are both located here as well, as silk and tea are major exports from this area. If you want to learn about Chinese culture, Hangzhou is a great place to begin.
Not unlike Shanghai, Hong Kong is a fusion of colonialist and Chinese cultures wondrous to behold. Although technically a part of China, Hong Kong enjoys a very high level of autonomy thanks to political and judicial systems that are run almost entirely independently from mainland China’s. As one of the three most important financial centers in the world – the others being New York and London – Hong Kong is an incredibly metropolitan city.
A financial powerhouse – with a caveat
Hong Kong has the 44th-largest economy in the world, and ranks in the top 10 GDP per capita, making it a very rich city — however, like the United States, Hong Kong has an incredibly severe income inequality probelm. In fact, Hong Kong has the most sever income inequality of any advanced economy in the world; stray too far from downtown and the beautiful coast, and you’ll quickly run into poverty. Nevertheless, the municipality has been named the freest market economy in the world, with free trade and very low taxation, and the most laissez-faire economic policies in the world.
Visit for the shopping
All that information is fascinating, but what’s the draw for you? Well, the skyline and the shopping. Hong Kong has one of the mostr striking skylines of any Chinese city, and, on top of that, an incredible shopping experience. Try the tourist friendly shopping malls of Central and Admiralty, and the street fashion factory in Causeway Bay for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience unique to this blend of British and Chinese influence.
Yesterday, we highlighted Beijing, which is undoubtedly the best destination for anyone who is interested in the history of China. With it’s many historic locations, along with the brand new Olympic Village, Beijing will keep any history buff occupied for weeks. If modernity is what you seek, however, look no further than China’s largest and most prosperous city, Shanghai, which offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere than can rival anything in the west.
A blend of Chinese and colonial influences
Unlike Beijing, Shanghai doesn’t have a series of tourist attractions for one to visit from day to day, with a few exceptions: if you really want to do the tourist thing in Shanghai, you can visit the City God Temple, home to the five-acre Yuyuan Garden which features a 5-ton stone rumored to originally have been meant for Beijing; the Jade Buddha Temple, a modern Buddhist temple that once contained two jade buddha statues imported from Burma; or a number of river cruises.
The real reason to visit Shanghai is the reason you visit any other big, metropolitan city: the parks, the shopping the nightlife. Shanghai’s skyline is one of the fastest-growing, a confluence of many different influences combining to create something new and interesting that not even New York or Paris can match. As an economic powerhouse, the city keeps growing at a rate faster than most other metropolitan cities in the world. For a great example of the mixing of colonial and Chinese influences, visit the waterfront to see colonial architecture mingle with modern Chinese.