Some logos move in and out of favor with the seasons. Then there’s Louis Vuitton’s signature monogram canvas, with its interlaced L and V flanked by various geometric flowers, which seems to be another thing entirely, one impervious to trends and maybe even time itself. In fact, the monogram hasn’t always been around, nor does it date to the house’s founding in 1854, when Louis Vuitton, who had previously been a packer for Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, began selling travel trunks out of a store on Paris’s Rue Neuve-des-Capucines, just off Place Vendôme. His go-to motif was a waterproof gray canvas. The monogram came into existence just over four decades later, when Louis’s son, Georges, took inspiration from the kitchen tiles of the family’s home in Asnières in north-central France. The house, built in 1859, was decorated in the Art Nouveau style, and the tile pattern featured a trio of flowers outlined by a clover that was in turn set within a circle, as well as diamonds with petal-like points. Another reference may have been the Gothic Revival then sweeping through France — when seen through that lens, the monogram can’t help but recall architectural quatrefoils carved out of stone or glass in the era’s great cathedrals. What is certain is that, in designing it, Georges was acting in honor of his father, who had died four years prior, leaving the brand’s legacy in his son’s hands.
Today, that legacy has largely been conferred to Nicolas Ghesquière, who, since becoming the artistic director in 2013, has proved himself especially adept at honoring the house’s storied past while making designs that are resoundingly current, if not futuristic-feeling. His Petit Malle bag shrinks a traditional steamer trunk to a size not much larger than a cellphone, and his fall 2020 collection features hybridized jackets made of leather and knitted wool that nod to high-tech protective athletic gear but are embroidered with baroque threading reminiscent of that found on 17th-century fashions. Ghesquière’s latest tribute to the Vuitton men is called Since 1854. Launching next month, the 56-piece capsule collection includes a sleeveless minidress, a combat boot, a bucket bag and a Speedy 25 purse — a miniature version of the house’s Keepall duffel that was reportedly created at the request of Audrey Hepburn — all covered in an updated jacquard version of the monogram: Here, “1854” is set with a repeating series of concave diamonds, the symmetrical loops of the “8” becoming their own sort of petals. Like Georges before him, Ghesquière looked to interior design, namely to wallpapers from the 1960s. Though, as ever with the designer, what is old is appealingly new again.
How much should a legacy brand change and how much should it stay the same? It’s a question that Ghesquière must consider often, and he’s hardly the first. Stephen Sprouse covered the Vuitton design in neon graffiti, Takashi Murakami with smiling cherries. Ghesquière’s take is perhaps more subtle, but no less ambitious. It’s also further evidence that while innovation endures at the house, Georges indeed succeeded in creating something essentially timeless.