There is a Chinese saying that literally process developed by Mr Louis Vuitton himself. translates to when one drinks water, The dividers and inner drawers are created think of its source. This applies aptly to Louis Vuitton’s historic home and atelier in Asnières-sur-Seine, where its location on the banks of the Seine river is no coincidence.
That Chinese saying’s deeper meaning is to remind later generations to have gratitude for what their elders have built for them. Before Louis Vuitton – the fashion maverick maison – came into being de rigueur for statement looks and accessories of this generation, there was Louis Vuitton – the ingenious founder – who created the “flat” trunk as a practical solution for travellers during a time when long- distance voyages were journeyed via ships or trains. The far-reaching tales of a fashionable “flat” trunk started at the Asnières house and would later solidify the Louis Vuitton’s reputation as a purveyor of luxury trunks.
When visitors walk through the gates of the Louis Vuitton Asnières property, they will be greeted by the lush garden where the Vuitton children spent their formative years playing in. To the left stands the family home, and at its back is the atelier where the magic of trunk-making takes place.
Stepping into the Asnières atelier, one might be surprised to find the space ample and free of clutter – very “un-factory”. The scent of freshly cut wood wafts through the workshop, and reasonably so, as wood is the base material of the Louis Vuitton hard-case trunks (whereas leather serves as the base material for soft-case trunks). Poplar and exotic okoume wood are used to create the structure of a Louis Vuitton trunk, whose sturdiness is derived from the enforcement of the beech and poplar wood, with beech wood as additional support.
The workshop houses approximately 150 craftsmen of various ages and countries of origin, each a dedicated specialist in the process of trunk-making. There are craftsmen who work on the process of glueing the canvas – be it the signature Monogram canvas or Epi leather – onto the wood structure. Instead of simply utilising a machine to do the glueing, the craftsmen painstakingly apply glue to stretch the canvas across the wood structure, nailing it from the edges to corners and ensure that no “bubbling” of the canvas occurs. There are also locksmiths who create unique lock and key pairs for every trunk that leaves Asnières. In fact, the locksmiths have generations of elders who used to work at Asnières.
Hence, it takes an average of about eight months for a trunk to be delivered from the point of order, with all the manual labour involved in crafting a trunk. The advent of technology is not lost at the Asnières workshop though, machines are present – the cutting machine uses a computer programme to precisely slice leather and perfectly optimise the surface of each skin. Heritage, craftsmanship, and technology coexist harmoniously at Asnières as the machine-cutting process is supervised by the atelier’s leather-cutting experts. The need for precision cuts down wastage as the Asnières atelier is one of three Louis Vuitton workshops that specialise in producing exotic-skin leather trunks.
Louis Vuitton trunk-making is truly magical because the sky is the limit. Every trunk can be customised to hold any item in the world – from watch winders to travelling bars that can hold alcohol, decanters, and glasses. If there is an item that the craftsmen have never encountered, the workshop would borrow said item, make a three-dimensional print, and devise a structure to contain it.
Around the Asnières property, visitors can also see trunk-vases that hold flowers. It is said that in the past, Louis Vuitton created these trunk-vases containing flowers to gift loyal patrons as an appreciative gesture and because they were not commercialised or sold, they were highly desirable and sought after. This proves that Louis Vuitton trunks can truly be customised to hold anything.
More contemporary examples include the Monogram Titanium trunk – made from titanium and trimmed with house signature VVN leather – created to carry the FIFA World Cup Trophy and the Absolute Black DJ box – made from black Vuittonette canvas – to hold DJ essentials like vinyl records and headphones.
While the options are limitless, there are exceptions – Louis Vuitton trunks cannot be made to contain dead people (coffins) or weaponry. In addition, the to-be-created trunk must conform to the basis of a Louis Vuitton trunk – it has to be “flat”. Trunks used to be domed-shape to pack crinolines and wide skirts before Louis Vuitton created the revolutionary “flat” trunk in 1854, the right-angle shape allows them to be stacked and easily transported.
Vuitton’s visionary mind pervaded beyond the unique selling point of the trunk to his entire business, which was why Asnières was chosen as his home ground for both family and atelier. Being close to the Seine river, finished trunks could be conveniently transported to its boutique at Rue Neuve des Capucines before the invention of the modern car. He also chose to set up his family home next to the atelier, which allowed him to have his finger on the pulse of the business.
A visit to the family home, conceived in the French Art Nouveau style, completes the magical journey of the Asnières grounds. Stained glass windows, wall decorations, furniture, and family members’ portraits – untouched from the last renovation in the late 19th century – bear witness to all the landmark events of the Louis Vuitton history.
Complete the visit with the Time Capsule exhibition at Asnières, which documents the maison’s history with rare and celebrated objects from the archives. Here, one will also see heirloom designs being displayed alongside current fashion pieces to highlight the house’s ongoing commitment to constant innovation. The Louis Vuitton Asnières is the epicentre of the French luxury fashion maison, safeguarding the promise that owning a Louis Vuitton trunk is an appreciation towards heritage, craftsmanship, innovation, quality, and luxury.