The Louis 200 project, an art-culture initiative created to honor the 200th birthday of Louis Vuitton’s namesake founder, opened at the site of the Vuitton family house and atelier in Asnières-sur-Seine, France. The celebrations kicked off last December in the birthplace of the famed designer’s Maison, and after a whirlwind year, events are set to conclude this fall in New York City after traversing the globe.
Born Aug. 4, 1821, Vuitton first earned a reputation as a skilled trunk-maker at the atelier of Monsieur Maréchal, and he was at the top of his game by the time he established his own workshop in 1854.
“Louis’ coming-of-age tale, that of a risk-taking, innovative, natural leader, defines the Maison he founded and advances us into the future,” Michael Burke, the chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, explained at the opening event. “Through the disruptive and dynamic initiatives of Louis 200, we can appreciate how Louis was a figure of his time — and ours.”
As part of Louis 200, the luxury fashion house returned to Vuitton’s roots and looked ahead at the same time with the creation of “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibition.” Faye McLeod, visual image director at Louis Vuitton, tapped individuals from across the globe at the top of their games in the arts, sciences, sports and other professions and gave them carte blanche to reimagine trunks with their distinctive and imaginative viewpoints.
Once the visionaries completed their trunks, the finished products embarked on a global tour fit for a fashion rock star. At the exhibition’s debut in Asnières-sur-Seine, trunks arranged in random configurations across different floors of the space conveyed an imaginative timeline and a bridge from the past to the future. Animation, videos, and musical elements breathed life into the exhibition. Next, all 200 art trunks in the Louis 200 exhibition traveled to Singapore. In July, the trunks landed at the LVX space on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, and now the residency is landing in New York — just in time for fall.
The specially designed travel trunks, based on one of the first Vuitton made in 1851, are rectangular boxes measuring 50x50x100 centimeters, and the pieces are numbered 1 through 200 in a symbolic nod to both Vuitton’s bicentennial birthday and the dimensions of the originals.
Starchitect Frank Gehry created the first trunk in the series, a colorful mockup of a tea party. Fellow architect Peter Marino (2/200), meanwhile, covered his box entirely in black canvas and leather harnesses that are reminiscent of S&M leather and mirror his unique sense of style. “I set out to create a trunk that even Harry Houdini could not get out of,” Marino shared of his escape artist inspiration. “The challenge now is open to any aspiring Houdini to escape this ‘Houdini Trunk.’”
LEGO (5/200) crafted a birthday cake out of its colorful bricks and displayed it inside a monogrammed trunk; English visual artist Kate Daudy (6/200) made a toy chest in the form of a sheep with 200 tiny sheep accessories; Marc Jacobs (7/200) recreated his famous Stephen Sprouse monogram from 2001 on a bright fuchsia-pink box; conceptual artist Jwan Yosef (111/200) wrapped a light gray painted canvas around the wooden box standing on four white circulars “feet”; and K-pop group BTS (146/200) adorned their trunk with whimsical cartoons.
Some of the art pieces in the exhibition merit dedicated rooms separate from the other group installations. At the Los Angeles exhibit, a working jukebox by DJ Benji B (61/200) is contained within a monogrammed trunk like one his parents bought at a flea market for £2 in the 1970s and is showcased in a room covered with floor-to-ceiling red velvet panels. “The music carefully selected for this jukebox experience are 100 classic 7” singles from across genres and decades, some well-known, some rarer, but all favorites of mine, and highlights of digging into this specific format,” the DJ explained of what he called a “snapshot” of his personal record collection and best-loved artists of all time.
The artist and founder of Brooklyn Balloon Company Robert Moy (116/200) molded ordinary rubber balloons into sculptures that reveal the pliability and shape-shifting capabilities of the colorful birthday party decorations. For his dedicated trunk room, balloons of all sizes and colors adorn the walls. “The vessel-shaped sculpture is made from 122 inflated latex balloons dripped in 14 coats of epoxy; then sanded, and polished to a high gloss; and finally brush painted,” Moy said of his trunk. The kitschy object was completed when he painted the sculptural trunk with LV logos and various balloon imagery to mimic party celebrations, a clever ode to Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday.
The Louis 200 exhibition celebrates legacy but the focus is squarely on the future. In embedding each wooden box with their own visual art symbols and associations, the invited creators made unique artworks honoring the fabled fashion brand’s past while also deploying signs and vestiges of pop culture familiar to a new, younger audience.
Louis 200 is a transformative — not commercial — initiative unlike other Louis Vuitton mega art endeavors over the last two decades, such as the brand’s collaborations with Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, and, more recently, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Instead, the exhibition symbolizes the kaleidoscope of current culture creators within their respective fields in the arts and business.
In the end, Louis 200 isn’t about selling any specific products, but about creating and coalescing a new mindset — deploying the regenerative power of fashion to connect a heritage via the classic trunk to a new generation. With these 200 wooden boxes, Louis Vuitton has affirmed its cultural agency by actively participating in the creation and support of art, not as a passive observer or even as collector, but as a brand building street credibility that reflects the values and aspirations of its clients.
In keeping with founder Louis Vuitton’s reputation as a natural and innovative leader and to conclude the bicentennial birthday celebrations, the fashion house is leveraging the trunks to gift emerging talents with the chance to explore their own paths forward. Louis Vuitton is contributing 10,000 euros for each of the 200 trunks to 15 international non-profit organizations. Once the exhibition in New York closes, the pieces will be auctioned off, with the proceeds endowing scholarships for struggling young creatives from disadvantaged communities in 13 countries.
The exhibition opens to the public in New York City on Oct. 14 through Dec. 31. It’s located in the landmark Barneys New York building and on the 9th floor, exhibit-goers will find a revival of the restaurant Freds, the iconic lunch location frequented by New Yorkers, where favorites from the original menu will be served.
Written by Long Nguyen