Louis Vuitton’s Vintage Bags Are Changing With the Times
With its origins in 1854 Paris, Louis Vuitton is one of the oldest fashion houses in the world. The brand has amassed a collection of vintage bags arguably rivalling none. We investigate how these vintage offerings have evolved throughout the house’s storied history.
Beginning as a malletier (French for trunk-maker), Louis Vuitton became famous by making luggage for Europe’s elite. Its bags in particular transformed the house from a humble 19th century trunk making business to a multi-billion dollar fashion conglomerate. With the explosion of the vintage fashion and resale markets in recent years, vintage Louis Vuitton bags have never been more in demand. And with more and more bags reaching the age of vintage status each year, there are hordes to choose from. Once contemporary designs, notably the plethora of early ‘00s artist collaborations, now find themselves labelled vintage. How should fans of the house navigate the changing landscape of vintage Louis Vuitton and just how much have the house’s vintage offerings evolved?
Louis Vuitton’s Original Handbags
From the outset, Louis Vuitton wanted to prioritize quality and functionality in addition to luxury appeal. Louis Vuitton’s first ever handbag created for everyday use was the Speedy, launched in 1930. Originally named the Express, after the era’s travel revolution, it was modelled after the Keepall which had been introduced earlier that year. The Speedy is above all else a handbag. However, the bag’s structured, yet flexible and spacious design expertly captures the house’s spirit of travel whilst still having practical appeal. The bag instantly garnered fame and widespread popularity and remains intrinsically linked to the house today.
Technically the Speedy was Vuitton’s first ever handbag. However, the Alma was in fact designed first in 1925 for none other than Coco Chanel herself. The style’s origins date back even further to the 19th century in the form of linen and night bags designed to keep Vuitton’s trunks tidy. This was the basis for the Steamer Bag created in 1901. The Alma was custom-made for Coco as a day version of this style. In 1934, with Coco’s permission, the bag was produced and put on sale for the general public. The Speedy and the Alma stand out in particular as classic bags which today remain as popular as ever. Both are continuously reimagined each season in new materials, colorways and collaborations. However, throughout the 20th century, Louis Vuitton released a plethora of bag designs, such as the Noé, Dauphine, Papillon, Serviette Conseiller and the Trocadéro. Many of these are now considered some of the most rare and sought-after vintage bags in the world. The house also offers a considerable amount of these bags today in modernized versions.
The term ‘vintage’ was once an almost dirty word in fashion and many viewed vintage pieces as antiquated. However, this has all changed! Fashion is becoming an increasingly sustainability-conscious industry and consumers and fashion brands alike are waking up to the joys of vintage fashion. As a result, the demand for vintage designs, and particularly bags, has never been higher. Crucially, this is not just among collectors. Vintage designs are increasingly amassing mainstream appeal.
Louis Vuitton has responded to this change. The house has managed to successfully capitalize on the appeal of vintage by re-releasing many of its popular designs from the previous century in its new collections. Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Nicolas Ghesquière, released the Dauphine Bag in his Cruise 2019 collection. The style was modelled after a design released in 1976. Ghesquière also re-launched the house’s 1980s Odéon bag for Fall 2020. Moreover, many newer Louis Vuitton bags are the clear descendants of some of the house’s previous styles. The Pochette Métis bears a striking resemblance to the structured Monceau satchel. While the Petite Malle is a miniature version of Louis Vuitton’s trunks which date back to the 1800s.
21st Century Vintage and Beyond
The turning of the decade has ushered in a whole new era of vintage Louis Vuitton bags. Typically, designs are considered vintage once they are over 10 years old and particularly if that certain style or edition is no longer in production. Due to Vuitton’s almost conveyor belt-like release of bags, each year, more and more designs become certified vintage Louis Vuitton pieces. The 20-year fashion cycle dictates that fashion from any given decade typically surges again in popularity 20 or so years later. Therefore, the house’s bag releases from the early ‘00s are now not only considered vintage but experiencing a widespread revival in popularity.
Subsequently, the 2020s are a good time to be a fan of vintage Louis Vuitton bags. The number of collaborations which resulted in cult classics during the early ‘00s has not been matched by any other era in the house’s long history. During this time, artistic director Marc Jacobs released a series of widely popular collaborations with high profile artists. These collaborations reimagined Vuitton’s Monogram print and in the process redefined the very DNA of the house, which had up until then been known for its traditional designs. The Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse Graffiti collaboration for the spring/summer 2001 collection saw the house’s over a century old Monogram print defaced with graffiti-style writing. And for spring/summer 2003, Takashi Murakami reinterpreted the print in a rainbow of colors, creating the now famed Monogram Multicolore. Other Louis Vuitton artist collaborations which helped define the era were Murakami’s Cherry Blossom Monogram and his Monogramouflage. All have since become highly covetable vintage Vuitton finds.
These collaborations demonstrated the house’s desire to mix up its age-old print, and more broadly its brand identity, for the new millennium. In modern times, they have redefined luxury vintage and helped to dispel the misconception of vintage bags as strictly classic looking designs. They are therefore a symbol of the power of Louis Vuitton’s vintage bags and the many decades of vintage treasures fans of the house have yet to uncover.
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