The Story of Louis Vuitton: How to Build The Most Valuable Brand in the World

In this C'EST DU LUXE article, we'll answer the following questions:

  1. What is the story of Louis Vuitton?
  2. Who was Louis Vuitton, the founder?
  3. How do you start a company like Louis Vuitton?
  4. How did the luxury fashion brand come to be?
  5. How did Louis Vuitton's brand strategy position it for global growth?
  6. How did Louis Vuitton become the most valuable brand in the world?

The Story of Louis Vuitton

With a history of over 160 years and contributing to LVMH's 2020 brand value of 51.8 billion U.S. dollars, many admire the lasting luxury brand strategy of Louis Vuitton.

But who was the creator behind the brand?

What can we learn about entrepreneurship, luxury branding, and expansion from the famed luxury fashion house?

From the birth of its founder to a global luxury sensation, we will take you through the story of one of the most valuable brands in the world, Louis Vuitton.

Who was Louis Vuitton?

As a teenager, Louis Vuitton cemented one of the greatest brand origin stories of all time.

Born in Anchay, Jura, France, to modest means, his father was a carpenter and perhaps the first influencer for the craft that would define Vuitton's life.

His mother, a hatmaker, passed away when he was just ten.

As a teenager, he left the green mountains of Jura for Paris's bustling industrial life, embarking on the journey on foot.

Two years later, in 1837, Louis arrived in Paris at the age of sixteen, the place that would change his life forever.

The Louis Vuitton brand often evocates the same ennobling spirit of Louis Vuitton's own transformational rags-to-riches journey from a life of certain poverty in Jura to a journey of entrepreneurship, innovation, and elegance in Paris.

The Louis Vuitton story is about the transformative power of travel.

Here in Paris's colorful city, the young Vuitton apprenticed as a malletier, or a trunkmaker, for Monsieur Maréchal at a box-making and packing workshop.

Arriving amid the industrialization of the city, the city flooded with creativity and innovation.

With new forms of travel came impractical costs.

At first, getaways and vacations only attracted elite classes of travelers who were open to invest and indulge in expensive excursions.

The job of a malletier was a highly respected craft.

Although Louis Vuitton worked with many members of the royal and elite class, the Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, redefined his world.

As her trunkmaker, this royal endorsement and the elite clientele that followed gave Vuitton and his future namesake brand a gilded stamp of prestige.

Newly married, and now with two decades of experience, Louis Vuitton created a path of his own, opening his first shop under the Louis Vuitton brand.

How to start a company like Louis Vuitton

Still referred to as 'the soul of travel since 1854' by LVMH, the Louis Vuitton brand has adapted to every new age of exploration.

The signage outside his shop attested, "Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specializing in packing fashions."

How you travel became as important as arriving.

The luxury brand offered a pleasant travel experience as an alternative.

Dedicated to the exploration of travel, the brand celebrated the journey, adapting to the time's vehicles and fashion.

When it came time to reinvent, a new lock, The Tumbler Lock, designed by Louis's only son, Georges, created a safer traveling experience.

The new lock made it difficult for burglars who had come to recognize the brand's suitcases and its high-class passengers.

And in 1867, Louis Vuitton exhibited his trunks at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Vuitton's handmade creations were on display for an international crowd.


The luxury brand strategy of Louis Vuitton

The Vuitton family

Louis Vuitton left not only a legacy of craftsmanship and design but a family legacy as well.

When the founder passed away, his son, Georges Vuitton, set his eyes on turning the company into a worldwide phenomenon.

He exhibited the company's products at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, traveling through Ellis Island just a year after his father's death.

Organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival to the Americas, the exposition was a highly influential social and cultural event.

It had a profound effect on architecture, sanitation, and the arts.

Georges created the opportunity for Louis Vuitton to be sold outside of France for the very first time.

Georges Vuitton traveled to the United States several times for business, passing through Ellis Island immigration in New York.

If Louis Vuitton was the great creator, Georges Vuitton, his son and only heir to the Louis Vuitton legacy, was the businessman of the operation.

He took great care in polishing the foundation his father left behind.

Georges Vuitton created a global brand, iconic products, and many of the best practices we consider common with luxury brands today.

Although his father, Louis Vuitton, lived an eventful life, details of his life were curated and amplified to cement the brand's positioning as an elitist brand for travel enthusiasts.

Iconic Symbols

In 1896, four years after Vuitton's death, Georges introduced the first LV monogram.

The new print helped to ward off counterfeits making an authentic Vuitton instantly recognizable.

Today, the "LV" monogram is still the brand's most iconic print.

Signature Design

Louis Vuitton's trunk designs also solved significant challenges for travelers of the time.

The luggage of the day was rounded to encourage water run-off to keep your belongings dry, but, in turn, they were impossible to stack.

Georges prototyped and introduced an innovative design and started experimenting with leather.

The new Louis Vuitton waterproof flat trunk kept your belongings dry and was lightweight.

The ability to stack allowed for more trunks and a more comfortable travel experience.

Product Universe

A product universe began to take shape.

In 1901, the Steamer Bag was introduced, a smaller piece of luggage designed to go inside luggage trunks.

Gifts

As is standard with most luxury brands today, Louis Vuitton does not discount its products.

Instead, Louis Vuitton's gift-giving tradition was born to reward loyalty - placing loyal customers into a more exclusive tier.

In 1910, Georges and his eldest son, Gaston-Louis, created mini Louis Vuitton trunks with the typical LV monogram canvas containing a bouquet of fresh flowers inside.

Since the mini trunks were exclusive and could not be ordered, receiving one at your home was an incredible show of the brand's esteem for you as a client.

Flagship stores

By 1913, the Louis Vuitton brand made a move that would go on to set a standard for luxury brands to come.

It gave the Louis Vuitton brand a physical home, its first flagship store.

As the largest travel good store in the world at the time, the Louis Vuitton flagship opened on Champs-Elysees, the historic promenade home to the Arc de Triomphe, and today celebrates Paris's resilience and opulence.

Luxury Marketing

Georges was instrumental in introducing Louis Vuitton's first evergreen branded content initiative.

Evergreen content is content that persists and produces returns for the brand throughout time.

Artistically designed city travel books, Le Voyage, became a big part of Louis Vuitton's marketing and, at the time, a resource on the history of travel.

Georges created the first Le Voyage book about Paris in 1901, printed only in French.

Today, the modern evolution of La Voyage, Louis Vuitton City Guide, highlights cities around the world like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Barcelona.

Georges passed away in 1936.

His son, Gaston Louis Vuitton, took over the brand after his father's passing.

He managed the brand for 50 years, cementing a legacy for a third and final generation of Vuitton men to lead the brand.

A New Era: LVMH

The Global Growth of Louis Vuitton

LVMH was the 1987 merger of Louis Vuitton with Moët Hennessy, which was the result of a previous merger in 1971 between the champagner Moët & Chandon and cognacer Hennessy.

In 1989, Louis Vuitton operated 130 stores worldwide.

By 2013, the brand was now operating 460 stores around the world.

Meet Marc Jacobs

In 1997, Marc Jacobs, a young designer from New York, brought a wave of explosive creativity to the Louis Vuitton brand.

As Artistic Director, he started by introducing Louis Vuitton's first ready-to-wear collection for men and women.

The luxury brand's push into standard off-the-rack sizing attracted entirely new customers who previously could never afford to own a custom Louis Vuitton.

Continuing the tradition of La Voyage, Marc Jacobs introduced the Louis Vuitton City Guide and LV scrapbooks to their product line.

2001 was a huge year.

Louis Vuitton launched its first venture into jewelry with a charm bracelet by Jacobs.

Marc Jacobs x Stephen Sprouse's collaboration set the world ablaze with a limited line of handbags with graffiti over the monogram pattern.

Pieces without the monogram background were available only to Louis Vuitton's VIP list of customers.

In 2002, the Tambour watch collection was introduced.

Louis Vuitton began to open stores around the world.

In 2002, the Louis Vuitton building in Tokyo's Ginza opened.

Known for its upscale shopping, Ginza is one of the most expensive, elegant, and luxurious streets in the world.

The Marc Jacobs x Takashi Murakami collection of 2003 was a collection of colorful monogram handbags and accessories that saturated popular culture.

In 2004, Louis Vuitton commemorated its 150th anniversary by inaugurating stores on New York City's Fifth Avenue.

Fifth Avenue is home to Millionaire's Row; a shopping district ranked among the most expensive shopping streets in the world since the 1950s.

Louis Vuitton also celebrated this historic birthday with its first global store in Shanghai.

And more stores opened in São Paulo, Mexico City, Cancun, and Johannesburg.

By 2005, Louis Vuitton reopened its Champs-Élysées store in Paris.

In 2014, after sixteen years, Marc Jacobs stepped down from his role at Louis Vuitton to focus entirely on his fashion brand, Marc Jacobs.

The Modern Luxury Playbook: Streetwear

Collaborations with Pharrell, Kanye West, global streetwear sensation, Supreme, and artists like Jeff Koons have helped the brand further the narrative between the Louis Vuitton brand and modern culture.

In 2018, Virgil Abloh was named Artistic Director of mens' wear, making Louis Vuitton home of one of the few black designers of a major European fashion house.

His opening show was staged in the courtyard of the historical Palais-Royal gardens.

Today, Louis Vuitton is worth $16.48 billion.