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An Atelier Then and Now

Acclaimed trunk-maker Louis Vuitton creates lasting traditions on the banks of the Seine

There is little that offers more insight into a man than his home. In 1859, during the fledgling years of his business, a young Louis Vuitton knew he had outgrown his Paris operations and looked to the idyllic Asnières-sur-Seine suburb to build his new atelier, home, and legacy.

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A rendering of the Louis Vuitton factory when it was built in 1859. Photography by L.Guiguet

To stay close to his atelier, Vuitton built his home on the property. In the late 19th century, the living quarters were renovated in the ornate Art Nouveau style, as it remains today. Stained glass windows and delicate floral motifs show that he was a man of modernity and exquisite taste.

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The Vuitton residence has been preserved in the decadent Art Nouveau style. Photography by Tommaso Sartori

Vuitton took advantage of the bucolic scenery of Asnières-sur-Seine and built a factory in the glass and steel style of Eiffel that allowed natural light to flood in while his craftsmen worked. The location, which would go on to inspire generations of artists, also took into account geographical advantage. Louis Vuitton barges from Paris could float down the Seine river ferrying the poplar wood Vuitton needed to make his trademark cases.

Just eight kilometres from Paris, Asnières sits above the left bank of the Seine. Photography by Bae Bien-U

Known for innovation from the inception of his famous brand, Vuitton took the pedestrian steamer trunk and redesigned it for his age by flattening the top to enable stacking and decreasing the weight with his thoughtful use of materials. His new atelier has remained steadfast to this vision of innovation ever since as it continues to make leather goods, hardside designs, and bespoke and custom orders.

While the poplar might be delivered by different means in the 21st century, the atelier remains largely the same. Craftsmen still hand-stretch the canvas and leather over wooden frames to create iconic trunks, and use the same nails and stitches. Although now the leather is precision-cut by machine, a leather-cutting expert ensures it’s up to exacting standards.

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Left: A craftsman hand stitches a leather strap. Right: An artisan prepares the poplar wood that will become a classic trunk. Photography by Gregoire Vieille

Today, the atelier showcases carefully selected pieces from the extensive Louis Vuitton vault beside pieces from its newest collections. Its “Time Capsule” exhibition in its on-site museum, La Galerie, takes visitors through over 160 years of Louis Vuitton history, highlighting rare creations, implementations of grand ideas such as the iconic Monogram, and contemporary pieces that embody Vuitton’s dedication to ongoing innovation and classic design.

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Left: Light shines through a vintage Louis Vuitton logo at La Galerie. Right: La Galerie exhibits classic pieces from Louis Vuitton’s archives and modern handbag. Photography by Cristal Leonard

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