Louis Vuitton’s new exhibit in downtown New York City, “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez,” walks visitors through the history of one of the world’s most iconic fashion houses. Though a Louis Vuitton bag costs upwards of $1,000, this exhibit is free to the public through Jan. 7, 2018. Each room corresponds to a certain time period, from the company’s inception as a luggage brand to its red carpet presence today.
It starts humbly enough with the life and creations of Louis Vuitton, who created his company in Paris in 1854. Rising quickly to fame and acclaim, Vuitton’s work set itself apart through its streamlined design, light feel and, of course, its distinctive patterns. Though the first few rooms reflect these small beginnings with early sketches and 19th century trunks, the exhibit soon reflects Louis Vuitton’s cultural importance with big, dazzling displays. Visitors find themselves at sea under a massive mast, gazing upon painted waves and rows of Louis Vuitton Steamer bags. They are enclosed in walls made of Vuittonite suede, in rooms littered with antique writing sets once belonging to Yves Saint Laurent. They see couture worn by Madonna and Emma Stone and dresses upon dresses threaded with a pricelessness the general public can only dream of owning. Of course, Louis Vuitton was never for the general public; the high price of its worldly luxury is consistent in that.
Louis Vuitton is, actually, all about consistency. Though the rooms are strung together in chronological order, bags from the spring of 2008 often wound up next to 20th century luggage. This is entirely deliberate. One can see how the metallic sheen of vintage copper trunks influenced the blindingly reflective Miroir Speedy bag — a favorite of the Kardashians. The giant canvas Steamer bags of yore are now similarly-shaped, identically-named bags sized down for the modern shoulder. Fashion is, by nature, cyclical. Designs come into vogue and out of it just as quickly, permuting with every decade while still holding some of their original form. VVV is a love letter to that cycle and to the reinventions of Louis Vuitton’s history.
That’s not to say that Louis Vuitton never does anything new. The end of the exhibit houses more recent and perhaps more controversial designs, including pieces from the men’s Fall/Winter 2017 line. The collection is a collaboration with Supreme, a skate couture company with a cult following, and VVV houses its Supreme red, Vuittonite-patterned skateboard and case. The line also features a casket covered in both brands’ logos lacquered in red and white.
The pomp and circumstance of the exhibit do not end until visitors are out the door. Louis Vuitton imported some of its French bag makers to do their jobs in the gift shop; one may talk to them through a translator as they sew leather handles together. At the door is a free treat: a limited edition pin, made in collaboration with novelty pin company PINTRILL. “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” is as beautiful as it is engaging from beginning to end. It is well worth the trip and, for those of us unable to drop thousands of dollars on a bag, it’s worth the envy, too.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 6 print edition. Email Amela McBain at [email protected]