Story of Louis Vuitton: As travel changed, so did luggage



As travel changed, so did luggage.

That’s the story told by an elaborate exhibition about Louis Vuitton, the luxury luggage and fashion brand.

The exhibition, free to visit and on display in Lower Manhattan through Jan. 7, is called "Volez, Voguez, Voyagez," which means fly, sail, travel. It showcases the company’s history, products and craftsmanship, demonstrating how designs changed with the evolution of travel. Luggage was designed first for transport by wagon, then for travel by sea, on trains, in cars and planes.

Trunks and bags are behind glass like works of art in a series of museumlike galleries. Lids open to reveal intricate compartments as if they were the contents of treasure chests. Included are cases and carriers designed for everything from toiletries to hats and art supplies. Trunks with small drawers protected fragile objects; standing trunks had rollout wardrobe racks so clothes could be hung, not folded. A plane is on display, along with a boat.

There’s even a room where human artisans show how they cut leather and snip threads for luggage tags and handles, living proof of the craftsmanship behind the brand.

The company’s history begins with Louis Vuitton himself. He started a trunkmaking business in Paris in 1854 after leaving his village in eastern France and working for a boxmaker. His designs were strong but light, distinguished by patterned motifs. The luggage has been a favorite of the rich and famous going back to Napoleon’s wife Empress Eugenie, with later clients ranging from artist Henri Matisse to banker J.P. Morgan. John Wanamaker began to sell Vuitton luggage in his American department stores after meeting Louis’ son at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The brand remains a favorite today among celebs from the worlds of fashion and Hollywood.

The exhibition’s timing coincides with the holiday shopping season, and the location is in New York’s financial district. But most visitors will likely lack the means to buy Vuitton products, which can run in the thousands of dollars. Still, attention-getting temporary displays like this are becoming a standard way for brands to tell their story.

"Volez, Voguez, Voyagez — Louis Vuitton"

The exhibition is on display at 86 Trinity Place in Lower Manhattan through Jan. 7.

Admission: Free. Tickets are not required, but timed reservations are available at

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. (Check the website for holiday hours.)