Louis Vuitton was born in August 1821 in Eastern France. His ancestors were joiners, carpenters, farmers and milliners and both of his parents had passed away by the time Louis was 10 years old. In 1835, at age 13, the orphaned Vuitton left home alone and on foot, bound for Paris. He took 2 years to travel the 500-kilometer trek, taking odd jobs to feed himself along the way.
When he arrived in Paris aged 16 he encountered widespread poverty but also a transformation taking place due to the Industrial Revolution. Vuitton was taken on as an apprentice at the workshop of a successful box maker and packer, a highly respectable and urbane craft at the time. It only took Vuitton a few years to stake out a reputation amongst Paris's fashionable class as one of the city's best practitioners of his new craft. In 1854, at age 33, he opened his own box-making and packing workshop in Paris and four years later introduced his revolutionary stackable rectangular shaped trunks to a market that only had rounded tops. After the re-establishment of the French Empire under Napoleon III, Vuitton was hired as personal box maker and packer to the Empress of France. She charged him with "packing the most beautiful clothes in an exquisite way" and provided a gateway to other elite and royal clients. Louis Vuitton died in 1892 and the company's management passed to his son.
After the death of his father, Georges Vuitton began a campaign to build the company into a worldwide corporation. In 1896, the company launched the signature Monogram Canvas based on the trend of using Japanese Mon designs in the late Victorian era and patented it worldwide. The Louis Vuitton Building on the Champs-Elysées was the largest travel-goods store in the world at the time. In 1936 Georges Vuitton died, and his son, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, assumed control of the company. During World War II, Louis Vuitton collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France. It is said that the Vuitton family actively aided the puppet government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain and increased their wealth from their business affairs with the Germans. The family set up a factory dedicated to producing artefacts glorifying Pétain, including more than 2,500 busts.
After WWII Louis Vuitton began to incorporate leather into most of its products, which ranged from small purses and wallets to larger pieces of luggage. 1987 saw the creation of LVMH: Moët et Chandon and Hennessy, leading manufacturers of champagne and cognac, merged with Louis Vuitton to form the luxury goods conglomerate. Ten years later, Louis Vuitton made Marc Jacobs its Artistic Director and he designed the company's first "prêt-à-porter" line of clothing for men and women. For six consecutive years (2006–2012), Louis Vuitton was named the world's most valuable luxury brand.
In honour of the house's 160th anniversary in 2014, LV asked creative visionaries Karl Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo, Cindy Sherman, Frank Gehry, Marc Newson, and Christian Louboutin to reinterpret the famous Vuitton monogram by designing an accessory each (full story here). ￼Each of them, in their own way, enhanced or subverted the well-known logo. Karl Lagerfeld was in the mood for a fight—of the luxury kind. His Punching Bag and Trunk (yes, for the Punching Bag) are a handy fashion-industry metaphor if there ever was one. Cindy Sherman, known for her unsettling self-portraits, went behind the scenes with the trunk she created. "I was thinking, sort of selfishly, of what I could use. Initially, my idea was just a makeup case, just a small old-fashioned kind. The team at Vuitton asked what I would like in an ideal fantasy world. At home in New York, I have shelves for fake eyeballs, fake nails, eyelashes, and things like that. So it became a little traveling studio in a way"—a foldout trunk complete with labeled drawers, a makeup mirror, and a stool, and covered in retro travel stamps from imaginary destinations. Christian Louboutin designed a shopping bag about which he says: "Okay, when you're going to the organic market, you can be super glamorous. You don't have to feel like a loser with your leeks inside your bag." Of the iconic LV, Louboutin says, "I not only see two letters, but I really see a drawing. Your eyes are captivated.That's the strength of that monogram." "When I designed the bag, I really wanted to give back to Paris, to Vuitton," says Louboutin.