Louis Vuitton, the novel

Before becoming the name of one of the world’s most famous brands, Louis Vuitton was the name of a man. A craftsman and visionary entrepreneur, born 200 years ago in France’s Jura region. Dive into Louis Vuitton, l’Audacieux, his fictionalised biography published by Gallimard. And let SoBARNES introduce you to its author, Caroline Bongrand.

His name was Vuitton, meaning "hard-headed" in the dialect of the Jura region. Born in 1821, the young Louis was just 14 years old but full of determination when he left the family mill, wearing clogs on his feet and without a penny to his name, to escape his tyrannical stepmother. The legend had begun, even though no-one knew it at the time. This 2-year journey would lead him to Paris where he found his first real job as an apprentice to the most prestigious box-maker and packer in Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Romain Maréchal. From then on, his lucky star never left him.

Caroline Bongrand’s Louis Vuitton, l’Audacieux (*) vividly relates the rise of this young virtuoso and visionary craftsman in a Paris transformed by Haussmann.

When Eugénie de Montijo became Empress of France, she continued to enlist the services of her favourite “packer”, with whom she developed a sincere and lasting friendship. With this high-profile backing, Louis Vuitton set up his own business in 1854 and created the brand that bears his name. Benefiting from the splendour of France's Second Empire, he invented increasingly daring trunks adapted to the extravagant clothes and exotic journeys favoured by the European aristocracy. He thus turned his life into an epic tale and his name into a leading brand.

Written by novelist Caroline Bongrand, who also wrote the screenplay of the film Eiffel, this biography in which reality outdoes fiction has received support from the Louis Vuitton fashion house and its archives. And because we’re among friends, here’s a little secret in the form of Columbus’ egg: one of Louis Vuitton’s greatest strokes of genius was designing the flat-top trunk, the forerunner to almost all modern-day luggage. Before this invention, trunks had a domed cover, making it much less practical to stack them, especially on trains. It just takes someone to think of it. And to dare to be different!

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Louis Vuitton, l’Audacieux, by Caroline Bongrand, 333 p., Editions Gallimard, Special Edition Literature, €20


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