A Globetrotting Exhibition that Asks Us to Play Collaborator

At 14, Louis Vuitton left home to pursue his dreams in Paris. Almost two centuries on, a recent exhibition chronicles the history of the house he built.

Article by Mariela Summerhays

221101 - LOUIS VUITTON - SEE LV-00062133-EditA viewer makes their mark on a projected image of the monogram print. Photography courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Having perfected the art of travel with its immaculately crafted luggage, it’s only fitting that Louis Vuitton continues to mark its notable anniversaries with globe-spanning travelling exhibitions. The latest of these, See LV, celebrates 160 years of the maison and was unveiled two years ago in Wuhan, China, with subsequent shows held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, as well as Dubai and Tokyo. The pop-up museum landed on the shore of this country’s storied harbour at The Rocks, Sydney, where it remained until December 11, 2022. 

The exhibition explores the brand’s origin story, which begins with its then-14-year-old founder walking alone for two years from his home in provincial Jura, in eastern France, to Paris. It is a  remarkable story but perhaps the most captivating aspect of See LV is the opportunity to revisit the house’s artistic collaborations — pieces that prove the adage that if you want to go further, go together. 

A portrait of the young founder, conceived by the Turkish-American digital artist Refik Anadol and created using artificial intelligence, comprises one million images of the region from which Louis Vuitton set out on his journey. From there, guests come face to face with the house’s most celebrated bags, including several iterations of the Keepall, the brand’s famed weekender. Louis’ son, Georges Ferréol Vuitton, and his own son Gaston-Louis created this most identifiable piece of luggage in 1930 to meet the sudden demand for a lighter, more flexible carryall that could be brought into a plane cabin (the number of Americans travelling by air would swell to 1.2 million in 1938, up from a mere 6,000 in 1930).

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An installation featuring Marcel Wanders’ lounge chair for Louis Vuitton. Photography courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Yet it wasn’t until the turn of the century, and an unprecedented collaboration, that the Keepall became the travel icon it is today. Just as Louis’ descendants upended the perception of his brand — transforming the house’s signature from boxy, flat-topped trunks to a soft-bodied duffel bag — the maison’s first artistic director, Marc Jacobs, set upon its famous monogram. 

“I had this idea to kind of deface the monogram,” Jacobs said of his spring 2001 Stephen Sprouse collaboration, which would become a blueprint for artistic partnerships industry-wide. “I wanted to do that with graffiti, which to me was always a kind of defiant act — a rebellious act, an anarchic act — but also something that creates a new surface and a new meaning with something old.”  

Exhibited alongside the Sprouse creation is Yayoi Kusama’s decade-old Pop Art “pumpkin dot”-printed Keepall, a design so beloved that Louis Vuitton has teased another collaboration with the Japanese artist, showing new designs at its most recent cruise show. “A true first taste of a transversal collaboration that, come January 2023, will radiate through all Maison categories,” promised the house.

Elsewhere in See LV, atop a podium stands a kangaroo pieced together from monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage — here, cosmetics cases as feet; there, a drawstring bucket bag as a pouch complete with joey — a nod to the launch of the Sydney store 11 years ago. A commission by the British artist Billie Achilleos, the marsupial graced the flagship’s windows alongside an elaborately fashioned crocodile, koala and other native animals constructed from coin purses and handbags.

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A kangaroo bag sculpture by the British artist Billie Achilleos. Photography courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

her, a precious Wardrobe trunk stands upright and open. A hand-embroidered dress once worn by the French actor Léa Seydoux at Cannes Film Festival hangs from a purpose-designed hanger on one side; six wooden drawers, built to protect precious accessories, line the other. “A Vuitton trunk is a must for any traveller wishing to store their clothing safely and conveniently in true elegance,” claims an advertising insert dated June 28, 1924. At the foot of the piece sits an Alzer Soft Trunk from the spring 2022 collection. A playful dialogue between the house’s iconographic codes and the former artistic director for menswear, the late Virgil Abloh, who had a penchant for challenging convention, the case features all the elements of classic Louis Vuitton luggage — canvas, metal corners and rivets — giving nothing away of its soft (rather than rigid) body.

And last, ending at the beginning, a space dedicated to the house’s monogram canvas, a signature that consists of the founder’s interlaced initials and a diamond-shaped floral motif, a tribute by Georges to his father. Guests are invited to interact with a digital manipulation of the monogram, a projected image that changes with their every step. In this way, we become the latest in a long line of distinguished collaborators to add to Louis Vuitton’s legacy

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 38 of T Australia with the headline: “Emotional Baggage”