Traveling Through Time: Volez, Voguez, Voyagez
It’s easy to take travel for granted these days with the ease of trains, planes and automobiles. Despite relatively easy access to all modes of transportation and the existence of low-cost carriers, much of the glamour and mystique has disappeared as we wait in security lines, or sit traffic jams. At times it can be hard to imagine what travel used to be like, and that is really wasn’t something everyone could afford to do. The current Louis Vuitton show Volez, Voguez, Voyagez at the Grand Palais is a fascinating look back in time through travel and craftsmanship. With trunks and travel bags at the core of the Vuitton business, it is easy to see the ways styles emerged alongside new modes of travel.
The exhibition introduction reads “The House of Louis Vuitton is based on the principles of French style, recognizing the beauty of an object in its function and mobility.” Louis Vuitton founded his company in 1854 as a skilled box maker. He worked to perfect the design of the flat trunk, which would become the iconic piece of LV, and a precursor to modern luggage. Louis Vuitton and later his son George, and grandson Gaston-Louis sought to perfect details through the use of materials, keeping the trunks light and ergonomically designed, with interior compartments and padding, designing tumblr locks (including the use of a single lock that can be used on multiple pieces), and creating canvas patterns to make their works stand apart.
The traditions of craftsmanship continue to this day in the Louis Vuitton ateliers in Asnières-sur-Seine, just north of Paris, for one of a kind and special order pieces. One of the most special details to see which has carried on throughout time is the use of hand painted monograms. Of particular interest was Louis Vuitton’s own bleu, blanc et rouge “V” on his own luggage.
Over time, the luggage took on different forms, from needing a vertical trunk to use as a dresser on a trans-Atlantic ship and a “steamer bag” to be carried on-board (a precursor to the handbag), metal trucks for colonial expeditions, trapezoidal bags to fit into the trunk of an automobile, a more malleable, lighter bag for air travel, or a thin trunk for easy under seat access during train travel. Elements of each of these iterations of travel can be see in the Louis Vuitton bags of today.
Each room of the exhibition takes you through this experience back in time including sketches in Vuitton’s notebooks, patent sketches, order forms, and publicity of the time. The final room has artisans working as they do today, which is ironically not that different than how it all first started.
Volez, Voguez, Voyagez is on at the Grand Palais until February 21st. Besides being free, the exhibition also has a fantastic accompanying app (download it even if you can’t go in person). The exhibition is visually rich, but I enjoyed the extras in the audio guide, which can also be found in the app. You’ll travel like you never thought possible through the vision of Louis Vuitton. Even if I can’t afford my own custom Louis Vuitton trunk any time soon, I still have an incredible appreciation of all the work that goes into making one.
With photography less common than it is today, stickers from hotels were a way to document where one had visited. The designs are beautiful, and much of the Vuitton collection is on display in the train room.
Le Grand Palais is located at 3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. The closest metro is Champs-Elysées Clemenceau.
Read more about the exhibition on QZ.