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Timeless Treasures: Legendary Louis Vuitton Trunks at Christie’s Auction

Louis Vuitton was born in 1821 in the mountain town of Anchay, in eastern France. Around the age of 13, he set off on foot to find his fortune in Paris. It was a journey of some 300 miles, and it took him more than two years.

On arriving in Paris, aged 16, Vuitton became an apprentice to a manufacturer of packing boxes. He excelled at his craft and in 1853 was hired as the personal box-maker and packer to Eugénie, Empress of France. Before long, he was the travel goods manufacturer of choice among the aristocracy.


Louis Vuitton trunks, all offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online.



Harnessing his experience and growing reputation, Vuitton opened his own workshop in 1854 at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines near the Place Vendôme. With his clients travelling farther, faster and more often, he set about designing durable, more easily transportable luggage. In 1858, he introduced the first flat-topped trunk that could be stacked — a revolution, because until then packing boxes had had curved lids.


Commercial success soon followed, and in 1859, Vuitton opened a larger atelier in Asnières, just outside Paris, where Louis Vuitton products are still crafted to this day.


By 1867, Vuitton was showcasing his creations at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, winning a bronze medal and gaining international acclaim. The evolution continued in 1872, with the introduction of the company’s iconic striped canvas, followed in 1875 by the pioneering wardrobe trunk, which revolutionised travel packing.


In June 2024, Christie’s will present Legendary Trunks: A European Private Collection, the largest single-owner collection of Louis Vuitton trunks ever offered at auction. Featuring around 100 trunks and accessories from across the 20th century, it traces the evolution of luxury travel and the design and function of Louis Vuitton trunks. The sale is live for bidding until 3 July 2024.


Louis Vuitton’s signature materials


Louis Vuitton’s early trunks were crafted from Trianon canvas, a grey, water-resistant fabric that was odourless and extremely hard-wearing. As the popularity of Vuitton’s trunks grew, however, so too did the number of imitations. In a bid to prevent plagiarism, Vuitton expanded his range of canvas coverings: he introduced striped canvases in red and white (1872) and beige and brown (1876), followed in 1888 by the Damier canvas — the checkerboard design that is now synonymous with the brand.

A beige and brown striped canvas Cabin 90 trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1895. 85 x 33.5 x 48.5 cm. Estimate: €5,000-10,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


In 1896, Vuitton’s son Georges introduced the LV monogram canvas in memory of his late father. The signature design, which still adorns a wide range of Louis Vuitton products, from handbags and trunks to clothes and accessories, has a floral and star motif alongside the initials of the company’s founder.

An orange Vuittonite canvas trunk for 30 pairs of shoes, with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1926. 63.5 x 115 x 40 cm Estimate: €10,000-15,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


Coloured Vuittonite canvas — in yellow, red, green or orange (as seen in the example above) — usually appears on trunks made between 1900 and 1920. A robust fabric that can withstand exposure to the elements, it was sewn directly onto wooden trunks. It was also popular for use in cars, as it could easily be dyed to match the colour of the vehicle. (Most cars of that era were black, so black Vuittonite was widely used.) Other materials that appear in special-order pieces and smaller travel accessories include wood, zinc, copper and animal skins such as crocodile.


The unpickable lock


In 1886 — the year after the opening of the company’s first store outside France, on Oxford Street in London — Louis Vuitton adopted a single-lock system with two spring buckles that was ‘unpickable’. The lock was deemed so effective that Georges Vuitton challenged Harry Houdini, the celebrated American escapologist, to escape from a locked Vuitton box. Houdini didn’t rise to the challenge, but the lock’s innovative system remains one of the brand’s greatest innovations. It is now a hallmark of Louis Vuitton trunks, and is still used on new models produced today.


Classic models


New collectors often begin their journey with classic hard-sided models, such as wardrobe, steamer and cabin trunks, in the monogram canvas or Damier Ebene, the distinctive checkerboard design in light and dark brown. ‘These models epitomise the quintessential Louis Vuitton aesthetic and the art of travel through the ages,’ says Christie’s Handbags & Accessories specialist Lucile Andreani. ‘They also retain their value exceptionally well over time, making them perpetually popular among collectors.’


A natural cowhide leather Ideal trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1894. 100.5 x 46 x 47.5 cm. Estimate: €6,000-8,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


The Ideal trunk is also highly prized for its elegant shape and functional double-top design. The example above, which is crafted from cowhide and embellished with brass hardware, has separate compartments for shoes, hats and scarves.


‘The Ideal trunk was first introduced in 1905 and originally named “Perfect” because it was the perfect — or ideal — size for a week-long business trip or vacation,’ explains Andreani, adding that the model was particularly favoured by gentlemen travellers. ‘The compartments within open up to reveal their contents like a toolbox.’


From clothes to books, paints, wine and cake


As the luxury travel industry evolved, Louis Vuitton adapted its trunks to suit the changing needs of its clients. In the early 20th century, the company embraced the idea that it wasn’t only clothing that could travel. It has since designed boxes to store and transport everything from picnic sets and billiard cues to records, watercolour paints, cakes, Christmas decorations, wine decanters and books.


Louis Vuitton’s library trunks, which could be placed on a table, elegantly showcasing the volumes inside, are today among the brand’s most popular and collectable models. Over the years they have become sought-after by collectors and bibliophiles, including some well-known writers.

A yellow Vuittonite canvas library trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1926. 37 x 68 x 46 cm. Estimate: €4,000-6,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


The Hemingway library trunk, which features drawers, convertible book compartments and space for a typewriter, was originally conceived by Gaston-Louis Vuitton for Ernest Hemingway. Library trunks in the Hemingway style come in various materials, including yellow Vuittonite, as seen in the example above.


‘Library trunks and other vintage models have transcended their original purpose as travel companions to become exquisite decorative collectables,’ notes Andreani. ‘Classic models in timeless hues like brown or black, or those crafted from Louis Vuitton’s signature materials, seamlessly double as chic coffee or side tables. Meanwhile, trunks featuring distinctive colours such as forest-green, red or yellow Vuittonite, as well as rare metal trunks originally designed for expeditions, can add an elegant touch to grand entertaining spaces, showcasing their enduring appeal and versatility.’


Special-order trunks


Louis Vuitton’s Asnières atelier has been producing special orders since the early 1900s. ‘Special-order trunks tend to be acquired by established trunk collectors with a deep knowledge of the brand and its heritage,’ says Andreani. ‘Collectors are drawn to these pieces for their rarity, innovative design, quality craftsmanship — and, of course, the story they represent.’

A monogram canvas desk trunk for 36 pairs of shoes, with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1926. 63.5 x 114 x 40 cm. Estimate: €15,000-20,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


The company’s most extravagant and innovative creations were published in Louis Vuitton: 100 Legendary Trunks (2010). Celebrated special orders include the Trunk Bed, designed for Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza for his 1905 expedition to the Congo, and the Lily Pons Shoe Secretary Trunk (1925), which was designed to accommodate the opera singer’s extensive footwear collection. Louis Vuitton used the Lily Pons trunk as the model for others, including the monogram example above.

A red Vuittonite canvas trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, circa 1926. 73 x 31 x 39 cm. Estimate: €20,000-30,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


Albert Kahn’s custom-made, air- and watertight trunks were designed to accompany the banker on his photographic expeditions around the world. The interiors, lined with grey fabric, featured compartments for his cameras and other equipment, while the exteriors were covered in red Vuittonite and adorned with three white birds. Khan’s signature motif appeared on numerous trunks ordered between 1911 and 1929, including the example above, offered in the current online sale.



Limited-edition trunks


Louis Vuitton constantly reinvents classic models and looks to the brand’s archive for inspiration. The resulting designs are often produced in limited editions, making them highly sought-after by collectors around the world.


In 2021, the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh reimagined the company’s famous Courrier trunk, covering it in a yellow monogram canvas with silver hardware. ‘Abloh transformed the classic steamer trunk into a vibrant contemporary masterpiece,’ says Andreani. ‘This collaboration marks a significant moment in the brand’s history — it highlights the house’s spirit of innovation, as well as its ability to reinvent itself in an ever-changing world of luxury fashion.’

A rare monogram canvas Casino Trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 2009. 53.5 x 110 x 53.5 cm. Estimate: €50,000-100,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


Equally desirable are new limited-edition designs such as the Casino Trunk, which was launched in 2009 to celebrate the grand opening of Louis Vuitton’s store in Macau. The exterior showcases the company’s signature monogram print, while its interior features storage compartments for gambling paraphernalia, including a roulette wheel, 20 packs of cards and 800 poker chips.


‘For collectors and enthusiasts, the Louis Vuitton Casino Trunk is more than just a piece of luggage,’ says Andreani. ‘It is an extraordinary and elegant example of the brand’s ability to blend luxury with functionality and entertainment.’


Collaborations


Louis Vuitton trunks, bags and accessories conceived in collaboration with renowned fashion designers and artists combine the heritage and prestige of the brand with contemporary creativity and style, resulting in highly collectable pieces.

A limited-edition red and white monogram Malle Courrier 90 trunk with silver hardware, by Supreme, Louis Vuitton, 2017. 90 x 51 x 48 cm. Sold for HK$1,100,000 on 25 November 2019 at Christie’s in Hong Kong


In 2017, Louis Vuitton teamed up with Supreme, a mainstay of New York City streetwear and one of the most coveted brands in the world. ‘The trunks are the perfect blend of New York street style and French savoir-faire, and they epitomise the ingenuity, artistry and heritage of Louis Vuitton,’ says Andreani. ‘They command high prices at auction.’


In celebration of Vuitton’s bicentennial birthday in 2021, Louis Vuitton presented another collaborative project, Louis 200, that exemplified its desire to evolve while also respecting its heritage and history. The company invited 200 leading figures from the arts, sciences, sports and politics to reimagine the original 1858 trunk.


The 200 bespoke trunks were then presented in 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibition, which travelled from Asnières to Singapore and Los Angeles, before landing for its final stop in New York. Collaborators included the architect Frank Gehry, the astrologer Susan Miller and fashion designer Marc Jacobs.


A collecting phenomenon


In recent years, the secondary market for Louis Vuitton trunks has expanded. ‘Vintage and rare models have seen an uptick of interest from collectors worldwide, driven by their scarcity and historical value,’ explains Andreani.

Which, of course, drives up auction prices. In 2014, Christie’s offered the largest single-owner collection of Louis Vuitton trunks to date in The Ski Sale, Travel in Style, with a wardrobe trunk in monogram canvas from the 1930s achieving £37,500.


Since then, prices for Louis Vuitton trunks have skyrocketed. In December 2018, an aluminium trunk sold for £162,500 — a record-breaking price for a Louis Vuitton trunk — while in May 2019 a brass trunk sold for HK$1,250,000 (around $160,000) in Hong Kong. A rare copper wardrobe trunk from 1925, pictured below, is offered in Legendary Trunks: A European Private Collection.

A rare hermetic copper Explorer wardrobe trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1925. 55 x 110.5 x 54.5 cm. Estimate: €120,000-180,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


Because of their rarity, metal trunks — also known as Explorer trunks — command high prices at auction. ‘Metals such as copper and aluminium are extremely durable and so protect the contents within from heat, humidity and moisture,’ explains Andreani. ‘They are also symbolic of a golden era when exploration was synonymous with style, glamour and elegance.’

A monogram canvas wardrobe trunk with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 1930. 55 x 110 x 65 cm. Estimate: €24,000-35,000. Offered in Legendary trunks: A European Private Collection until 3 July 2024 at Christie’s Online


Celebrity provenance is another factor driving prices up. In 2011, a set of Alzer suitcases and a boîte pharmacie offered from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor achieved $110,500, more than 22 times the high estimate; while in 2022, a set of three suitcases offered from The Collection of André Leon Talley sold for $94,500, more than 23 times the high estimate.


Among the lots with celebrity provenance in the current sale are threes trunks formerly owned by the English actor John Moffat, best known for his portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The monogram wardrobe trunk above has six drawers and hangers, and features Moffat’s name prominently on the exterior.


ML Staff. Content/image courtesy of Christies. Click here for the latest Christies auctions


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