As one of the most recognizable luxury brands today, what remains at the heart of Louis Vuitton is travel. From stagecoaches and steam trains, to the golden age of ocean liners and the onset of air travel, the brand has a rich history in providing luggage for the jet set and adventurous. Below, we dive into LV luggage history and different models produced and seek out insight and tips for collectors straight from specialists.
Louis Vuitton’s Bright Beginnings
Arriving in Paris in 1837 following a two-year journey by foot, Louis Vuitton took an apprenticeship as box-maker and packer in a renowned Parisian workshop, before being hired by Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, which was the catalyst for his ascent.
Considered as the birth of modern luggage, Vuitton’s first trunk was designed in 1858 and unlike previous dome shaped trunks, his were flat topped and rectangular, therefore more suited for travel. In 1875, Vuitton created a wardrobe trunk for long distance travelers: a vertical armoire with two fitted-out halves. Advances in transportation and the expansion of travel generated increasing demand for Vuitton’s trunks.
In 1888, his son Georges created the now infamous Marque Louis Vuitton before creating the LV monogram pattern as a backlash against counterfeiting, as well as the revolutionary theft-proof five tumbler lock in 1890.
A pioneering spirit remained over 100 years later when Marc Jacobs spurred a series of fashion and art collaborations in the 2000s, creating some of the most copied bags of all time. Collaborations included: Stephan Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Jeff Koons.
Key Examples of Louis Vuitton Luggage
One-hundred fifty years later, the skill and craftsmanship in producing these trunks remains the same. Although unfit for modern travel, Ruth Davis, specialist at Lyon & Turnbull notes that “they look great as design pieces in homes.” Featured in the 2007 cult independent film Darjeeling Limited , the classic trunks further propelled their iconic status for a new generation. Here are some examples of the most sought-after pieces by collectors.
Trunks, or malle in French, are the most popular and saleable LV luggage pieces. Varying in shape and size, with exquisite design and materials, Max Brownawell, Senior Specialist in Luxury Accessories at Heritage Auctions, says “the most desirable pieces are often the newest, as well as the rare old standing wardrobe trunks [or the bed trunks that go back to 1865] and older trunks with lots of attractive travel stickers or markings.”
Still in production are the Malle Courier 110, Malle Haute 110, and Malle Fleurs – and “on special order, you can have new wardrobe trunks and specialty pieces made,” Brownawell confirms.
The Steamer Trunk was one of the first to have “the flat top design we now associate with suitcases,” according to Meg Randell, Designer Handbag and Fashion Specialist at Chiswick Auctions. She adds that they “often make four figures, particularly if they are early examples.”
The Wardrobe trunk (Malle Armoire) varies in design depending on the owner’s needs. As an auction house favorite, they often sell for over $10,000. The Cabin trunk, the Aero trunk and the Car trunk vary in size and shape depending on the transport type and storage capacity. The rarer, smaller trunks made for storing accessories usually fetch a high price at auction.
Originally designed for the English market and train traveller, the first suitcase was created in 1899. Still in production, like the Alzer model, suitcases are easy to find at auction. Depending on size, height and outer material, prices start from £140 (~$180) and reach up to around £1,500 (~$1,935) for the hard-sided models.
3. Beauty & Jewelry Cases
Due to both their rarity and practicality, these particular types do very well at auction. According to Randall, jewelry cases “are very commercial as they are still very useful.”
4. Traveling Bags
Made with soft leather, these sit at the cheaper end of the market. Still in production, variations include the Cruiser bag, Steamer bag and Keepall bag. The latter “is always popular – a good sports bag, or weekend bag,” says Randell.
How to Authenticate & Maintain Your Louis Vuitton Luggage
Rife counterfeiting means authentication is crucial. Davies advises that “the quality and consistency of the pieces are always an important place to start. Date stamps and the quality of the hardware can always be a good indicator. Today a lot of clients keep the paperwork from when the piece were bought, or re-authenticated by the relevant brand.”
Lettering in the stamping should somewhat thin, clear and very crisp. Furthermore, date codes can be found in bags made after the early 1980s, either inside or near the seam.
To preserve condition, Davies advises that there are simple methods one can take, “like using the dust bags and storing them carefully when not in use.” Also, Vuitton has “repair services which mean the pieces are properly repaired in the most sympathetic way.”
For vintage trunks kept in the home, Brownawell says to “make sure it is not too humid; this is going to be the main cause of degradation over time.”
Louis Vuitton luggage are not only a valuable fashion item but an elegant status symbol that will stand the test of time. Now with Nicholas Ghesquiere steering the brand’s future, modern versions of the malle will most certainly make their way to be at the top of collectors’ wish lists.