The History of… the Louis Vuitton Trunk

The Louis Vuitton trunk is one of the most iconic pieces in fashion history. There are many elements to the Louis Vuitton trunk which have been meticulously designed. From structure to hardware and leather to monogram, each element has a rich history. Therefore, only the safe and capable hands of our atelier could be trusted to restore, repair and revive a piece as valuable as a vintage trunk. But how did the piece come to be in the first place?

The History of… is a new series celebrating the history and design of some of the most iconic pieces in our wardrobes and fashion history. Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment.

The History

In 1837, Louis Vuitton, aged 16, travelled to Paris to start his career as a trunk maker. He honed his skills for 17 years before he started his own company in 1854. He established his business in a chic neighbourhood that was home to a lot of the Parisian fashion elite at the time. Outside of his shop hung a sign that read: “Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specialising in packing fashions.”

Vuitton’s rectangular canvas trunks were revolutionary at a time when there were only rounded-top leather trunks on the market. Leather is not waterproof, therefore most trunks had domed lids to allow water to run off, but this makes stacking almost impossible. Vuitton created a waterproof coated canvas fabric for the trunks’ exterior and his designs had flat tops, far more similar to the luggage we use today.

In 1886, Vuitton and son, Georges, adopted a single lock system with two spring buckles. After several years of development, Georges patented this revolutionary system. Prioritising the trunk’s functionality and security, the lock’s effectiveness is still renowned. 

Vuitton’s designs were so popular that in 1859 he opened his legendary atelier in Asnières, where products are still crafted today. The workshop started with 20 employees, grew to nearly 100 in 1900, and 225 by 1914.

After the death of Louis Vuitton, his son Georges took over the company, building its global reputation. However, the success of the Louis Vuitton designs also meant that counterfeits and imitations began to be sold by competitors. Old magazine adverts of Louis Vuitton products from the 1880’s and 1890’s warned the customer to ‘Beware of Spurious Imitations!’. And so, in 1896, Georges introduced the famous Louis Vuitton monogram, making pieces much harder to imitate.

The Restoration

We often receive well loved items that are well loved, holding sentimental value as well as historical significance. Our cleaning, stitching and restoration teams worked together in restoring this particular Louis Vuitton trunk.

White we are unsure of when this trunk dates back to, it certainly. has a rich history. It was covered in travel stickers attained through travelling across the globe. Due to love and use over the years, the lining was falling apart and barely salvageable held in with rusty nails. The exterior saw extreme rusting of the hardware and the lid was covered in splashes of red paint. Some of the coated canvas material was worn away exposing the original wood underneath.

To begin, the original Louis Vuitton label was carefully removed to be cleaned and kept safe throughout the restoration process. We thoroughly cleaning the lining with a specialist substance to remove mould and prevent it from spreading. Even after cleaning, it was clear the interior lining has to be replaced. The lid had what was once a beautiful feature of quilted ribbon pinned in in a criss cross pattern. After rivets had oxidised over time and fabric had discoloured, we sourced new fabric lining, satin ribbon and rivets to recreate this original design. A new lining pattern was cut in an off-white canvas. We steamed to remove any creases before it was fit into place. A special tool was used to put the original label back in its rightful place.

Once the inside was complete, it was time to tackle the exterior. We carefully cleaned the canvas and wood to remove as much dust and dirt as possible. The red paint spillage was gently scraped off so as not to damage the canvas underneath. We used a special gel on the entirety of the external surface to restore and re-bond worn fibres. Worn wood was glued, washed, sanded, brightened and polished with specialist solutions. We wanted to improve the sections of missing canvas without compromising the vintage feel. Therefore, we dyed the visible wood. We hand mixed a similar colour to the canvas in order to create a more uniform effect in the surfaces. 

Finally, we brightened the hardware. We used specialist tools to rigorously polish all the hardware, adapting techniques used by jewellers. We used rotary tools to polish handles and studs, allowing the branding to shine through once again. Our artisans then used a softer sanding tool to reveal the high shine gold that would have been there originally.

We understand the value your wardrobe holds to you. From reheeling and resoling to restoring and changing colour, we care for the items that are important to you. Get a preliminary quote or book a collection to prepare your summer wardrobe.

Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to read new posts