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The Importance of Innovation on The Example of Louis Vuitton

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To design is to create a product which could be used for functional or aesthetic purposes. The process of design involves planning, constructing and distributing. Branding is a hugely important area of design as it is a form of advertisement and allows the company’s consumers to have trust in the product’s quality. A brand is ‘a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name’[footnoteRef:1].The development of branding within the fashion industry began in Paris during the nineteenth century when Charles Fredrick Worth become the first fashion designer to sew his label into his clothing. Prior to this, the dressmakers and designers remained anonymous. His establishment inspired many historical designers, such as Jeanne Lanvin and Thierry Hermès, to label their creations and develop their own brand. Today most garments are labelled, whether they have been designed by a fashion house or by fast fashion brands. It is important for all companies, in all industries, to label their products as it helps them avoid imitation of their designs or replicas being released. 

In 1854, Frenchman Louis Vuitton Malletier founded one of the oldest fashion houses that is still in business today, Louis Vuitton, in Paris. Vuitton started as a trunk maker during a time when travelling was a luxury and so, he designed for the French elite. Vuitton was a stubborn child and was very unhappy in his family home due to the presence of his step-mother. He decided to move out and travel away from his home by foot at the age of 13. By the age of 16 he had arrived in Paris during the year 1837 and began an apprenticeship for Monsieur Maréchal, who was a successful box maker, and he eventually gained a reputation throughout Paris for being one of the best at his crafts resulting in the empress of France hiring him as her personal box maker. ‘Louis Vuitton stayed for 17 years before opening his own workshop at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendome.’

In 1858, Vuitton developed a new trunk that was made from grey canvas instead of the traditional leather material, making it lighter as well as more durable and water resistant. The trunk was also rectangular shaped as opposed to dome-shaped, allowing the trunks to be stackable and more suitable for travelling by ship or train. Consumers appreciated this new style of trunk for its innovative design and it was a huge commercial success, and so in 1859, Vuitton had to move out of Paris to establish a new workshop in Asnières sur Seine, and the building is still in use today as a factory, private museum and family home. He later grew his business by catering to international clients of royalty in Egypt and in 1871, he set up a new shop at 1 Rue Scribe.

In 1872, Louis Vuitton developed further developed his business as a luxury fashion house when he designed another new trunk which was made from Rayée canvas rather than the traditional Trianon canvas. ‘The Rayée canvas was used until the introduction of the Damier canvas in 1888.’[footnoteRef:3] It was created to protect Vuitton’s brand from imitation as replicas of his designs where being produced and sold. It was a beige canvas with red stripes and soon after, he began to use brown stripes on the beige canvas. 

In 1873, Louis Vuitton’s son, Georges Vuitton, joined his father’s business. At this time travellers carried their essentials in their trunks which often attracted thieves. Louis and his son Georges Vuitton decided to collaborate in the process of designing a new innovative way of protecting their consumer’s goods. After years of developing, Georges finally created and patented an effective lock system that ‘revolutionized luggage locks with an ingenious closing system that turned travel trunks into real treasure chests.’ The lock’s design included a single lock system with two spring buckles. Georges’ lock system was so successful that is still in use to this day. 

Imitations were still in production after the introduction of the Rayée canvas trunk and so, to avoid further imitation of Vuitton’s brand, he designed the Damier canvas trunk in 1888. Vuitton manufactured this new trunk in two different colour schemes. The rarer design was a dark brown background with red dots with white checker which, and the light and dark brown checker which was more common. ‘Upon the introduction of the Damier pattern, Vuitton began placing ‘marque L. Vuitton déposée’ inside each trunk, which loosely translates to ‘L. Vuitton trademark’’[footnoteRef:5] which was an innovative way of showing the trunk was trademarked by Louis Vuitton without interfering with the exterior’s aesthetic. This Damier canvas is still being used today. 

After the death of Louis Vuitton in 1892, the management of the business was passed onto his son Georges Vuitton, who fortunately had already had years of experience within the fashion house. Georges hand great dreams for the business and wanted to transform it into an international luxury corporation. In 1896, he designed the signature LV Monogram canvas trunk which included the graphic flower and quatrefoil. These symbols ‘echo the Oriental design trend of the late Victorian era’[footnoteRef:6] and went on sale for the first time in 1897. This was the same year that Gaston-Louis Vuitton, Georges’ son, joined the business. The LV Monogram canvas is the most famous trunk designed by the company and is still widely in use today throughout the world.

With the turn of the century, the house of Louis Vuitton began to design a new trunk called the Vuittonite canvas and was produced in colours of orange, brown, yellow and black, along with others. These design of trunks where produced from early the early years of 1900 to the 1920’s and can be sold, if in excellent condition, for similar prices to fine Damiers and Monograms as they are son rare. A special edition of the Vuittonite canvas trunk was designed in the colour red for the transportation of photography equipment for a French philanthropist beginning his journey to India along with two other photographers.

During the year of 1914, the Louis Vuitton company opened a new store on the Champs-Elysees in Paris which replaced the store at 1 Rue Scribe. At the time, this was the largest luggage and travel accessories store in the world and soon after, the fashion house opened stores in many other popular cities such as New York, Buenos Aires, London, Bombay, and Washington.

From the beginning of the brand, in the 19th century, to the present day, Louis Vuitton has been innovative with their use of creative materials for their specially designed editions. The materials they use include copper, wood, zinc and canvas, as well as a variety of different leathers such as elephant, alligator, snake, seal, calf, crocodile, lizard, natural cowhide and walrus. The company uses a number of different treatments for the leather – grained leather, nomade leather, morocco leather, suhali leather and taiga leather.

Unfortunately, Louis Vuitton’s French firm has been overshadowed by its collaboration with Moët-Hennessey, which become Moët-Hennessey Louis Vuitton (LVMH).

‘Louis Vuitton has been the supplier of luggage to the wealthy and powerful for well over 100 years and is known for combining quality fabrication with innovative designs to reflect the needs of customers and the ever-changing modes of world travel.’ With the help of his son Georges, who designed the signature LV Monogram, and the future generations of Vuitton, the company has developed into an international luxury leather and lifestyle fashion house and is one of the most famous businesses in the fashion industry. 

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